There are places in Dan DeYoung’s county where law enforcement doesn’t dare to tread, mostly because of a lack of funding to address problems associated with large, illegal recreational marijuana grows, the Josephine County Commissioner told his Curry County peers last week.
“We’ve found ourselves with problems with law enforcement unable to respond to complaints in these neighborhoods,” DeYoung said. “They’ve found themselves unable to respond even to growers who’ve had their crops stolen. A severe element has come into the valley that couldn’t be taken care of.”
His idea is two-pronged: Beef up law enforcement and nudge illegal marijuana grows into the legal realm. Josephine and Jackson counties grow the most marijuana — 40 percent — in Oregon, DeYoung said. But 80 percent of what’s grown goes into the black market.
“I’m going to throw OSP (state police) and the Josephine sheriff under the bus,” DeYoung said. “In 2018, how many busts did they make? (If asked) how many plants were ripped up and someone put in jail? He’s going to say none. They don’t have the revenue and staff to physically rip up plants.”
The bill he has proposed would implement a business license fee on commercial marijuana growers in Josephine, Jackson, Curry, Coos and Lane counties and put revenue in local law enforcement trust funds.
He also proposes the counties that generate the revenue keep it, as well, which is not done with state sales taxes. That system collects sales taxes and returns it to counties based on population figures, leaving the biggest grow counties with some of the least revenue.
“In the timber industry,” he noted of timber tax revenue, “it’s by the stump.”
DeYoung said Josephine County received $800,000 for its share of state tax revenue on sales of marijuana last year.
“It left us with a big hole (in the budget),” he said. “We need a full-blown sheriff’s office like we used to have.”
DeYong said he didn’t propose it until now because he wanted to see how the marijuana industry and laws that govern it shook out in the long term.
The Law Enforcement Stability Act was sponsored by Reps. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay and Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, and introduced in House Bill 2382 in the short session.
It has the support of the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, League of Oregon Cities, Oregon Association of Realtors and the Association of Oregon Counties, DeYoung said.
The bill would allow the five counties to charge a business license fee when a grower registers their business with the state. He is suggesting a fee of $1 a square foot for recreational grows and $50 a plant for personal medicinal grows. That would bring $19 million to the five counties, he said.
Curry County isn’t the greatest pot-growing country but is home to six state-registered marijuana producers with indoor canopies of 14,564 square feet and outdoor canopies of 28,092, his figures show. If they are charged $1 a square foot — and using a conservative estimate of four crops a year — they would generate $86,348 for law enforcement.
Add to that the county’s 330 medical marijuana patients who grow their own — legally no more than six mature plants per patient, or 1,980 plants — and law enforcement would receive another $99,000 boost for a total of $185,348.
The problem is all due to a lack of sufficient funding for law enforcement, particularly in O&C counties hit hard by declining timber sale revenues, DeYoung said.
“I want stable funding for law enforcement,” he said. “There will be some heavy lifting; I don’t know if we can pull it off. But I’m going to fight every chance I get.
While Douglas County was included among the original five counties to show a strong Southern Oregon contingent, its voters rejected legalizing recreational marijuana. But then Lane County threw its support behind the bill. Whether it would qualify to participate — the state requires a county to have lost more than 30 percent of its timber receipt revenue — is not yet known.
“When Lane County got on board, that told me they’ve got an issue,” he said. “They have a lot more pull than we will ever have down here. Lane stepping in really helped out.”
DeYoung said it’s difficult to get immediate action on a new bill at the legislature — it went nowhere during the last short session — but added if the state asked voters in a referendum on the November ballot if the counties should be permitted to implement the fee, it could more quickly move the issue through the state house.
Such a question would have to specifically outline how the money would be spent; in Josephine County, they are in desperate need of court security and a school resource officer, DeYoung said.
“I’ve been told by 76 percent of my constituents that that’s where we want to money to go,” he said of increased law enforcement. “I’m not going to deviate 5 inches. We have junior high kids trading marijuana for homework. and there’s no way to enforce it.”
Curry County might opt to direct funds to more sheriff’s patrol deputies and much-needed and long overdue improvements at the jail in Gold Beach.
The industry itself
The legislature might support the idea because a secondary goal is to force the black market into the legal realm, which would generate more money for the state.
DeYoung admits it still could be a bit of a slog.
“North of here, they don’t care about Southern Oregon,” he said. “If we can fix our stuff locally, we’ll be miles ahead.”
Although DeYoung admits being neutral about legalizing marijuana a few years ago, he now realizes that Southern Oregon grows some of the best product in the world.
“There’s Josephine County-stamped marijuana in Tennessee — in Denmark,” he said. “That’s Southern Oregon DNA. Myrtlewood and marijuana grow here.
“I am so fed up with Southern Oregon counties sitting on the front steps of the Capitol with a card saying, ‘Help me,’” DeYoung said. “I’m done with it. I’m not doing it anymore; it’s that important to me. This may be the answer we’ve all been looking for.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .