Illegal marijuana grows brought to federal attention as county leaders pass new ordinance

JOSEPHINE CO., Ore.- The fight against illegal marijuana grows in southern Oregon continues this week. As commissioners levy what local resources they have against illegal grows, one of southern Oregon’s congressman is bringing the issue to Capitol Hill.

The Josephine County Board of Commissioners adopted a temporary ordinance Wednesday that could strengthen enforcement against violations of the rural land development code. The change gives more power to county code enforcement authority, allowing them to write citations, and impose fines at illegal grow sites. It was adopted in a 2-1 vote. The dissenting vote was commissioner Herman Baertschiger, who argued the change did not directly address issues related to the grows.

“It doesn’t provide any more resources, doesn’t provide anymore law enforcement,” he said. “This ordinance gives absolutely no jurisdiction to Josephine county over water issues.”

The ordinance will take effect in January with annual reviews of the new rules. The change could become permanent after a public vote. Baertschiger suggested putting it on the May ballot, but commissioners Darin Fowler and Dan DeYoung supported a November 2022 ballot vote.

“I think we do need to have a full grow season of this ordinance in effect to see what the actual effect is,” Fowler said. Each commissioner and much of the public comment agreed the county needs more help from the state and federal government.

“But we have to show movement on our end in some way or we are just talking to another bureaucratic wall in Salem,” DeYoung said.

The issue is also being brought to Washington D.C. this week. During an oversight hearing with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland Thursday, southern Oregon congressman Cliff Bentz detailed the issues local governments are facing.

“We have a situation in Oregon that I think is going to be copied across the United States,” he said. Bentz pointing out not only the local impacts of crime, but the toll it’s taking on the workers.

“The miserable suffering of thousands, if not tens of thousands of people coming across the border illegally and then pressed into indentured servitude by cartels,” the representative said. He also highlighted the support needed for local law enforcement in southern Oregon: “Your department needs to be doing something about it at all the levels that you can.”

Bentz also cited Jackson County’s emergency declaration last week when talking about the illegal grows in the area.

Grace Smith is co-anchor for NBC5 News at 6. The Chicago native is a recent graduate of University of Miami with a Communication Honors degree specializing in Broadcast Journalism. She minored in Creative Writing and focused her senior thesis on social media usage and engagement. During her time at the University of Miami, she anchored multiple award-winning student television programs, covering everything from music festivals to the Super Bowl. Though she loved Miami's beaches, she's thrilled to be in the Pacific Northwest where she can experience all four seasons and have a real Christmas tree! When she’s not at work, you can find Grace glued to any television showing live sports (especially if it's the Chicago Bears) or attempting a new recipe as she learns to cook.
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