DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: The Voter’s Will
In last week’s elections, Jackson County voters kindly approved Measure 15-141, a temporary property tax levy that will provide funding for Rogue Valley Transportation District (RVTD) to restore services on Saturdays, provide services for students and generally keep public transportation viable in the region. For the past few issues of the Messenger, we have been soapboxing about why this is important—for environmental reasons, to help students and workers get to school and jobs—and we were pleased to see an overwhelming 60 percent of voters agree.
Unfortunately, the past few weeks also have been a frustrating time for previous ballot measures, as Medford City Council has recommended a ballot measure (with a second one pending at presstime) to push back allowances for marijuana growing within city limits; and, as a judge struck down the ban on GMO crops in Josephine County.
Since the debate over legalizing recreational marijuana kicked off in Oregon a couple years ago, the majority of Medford elected officials and the minority of Medford residents have been vocal about their opposition. However, a statewide initiative passed in November 2014 and recreational marijuana has been legal in Oregon for nearly a year, including limited growing privileges. In spite of the state ordinance, Medford City Council has been grumpy about these allowance, and last winter, was poised to ban outdoor grows—and rounded medicinal grows into the mix as well. At that time, residents flooded council chambers, and council proposed to punt the matter—and send the question to city voters.
The approved ballot measure proposes to ban outdoor grows (for both recreation and medical), and also coattails a ban against indoor grows that have any odor a neighbor complains about. The second proposal would ban both indoor and outdoor grows outright.
What is both interesting and frustrating is that allowances for recreational marijuana use and growing have been in place for nearly a year—and the sky has not yet fallen, and there is important and relevant information that elected officials can now use to consider the success of these laws. But, in spite of the year’s worth of information, Medford city councilors seem to be stuck in their same viewpoints and prejudices.
As best as possible, laws should be based on empirical data, not conjecture. For example, councilmembers routinely have voiced their rationale for the grow bans is to protect neighbors from the smell of marijuana. Yet, police in Medford only reported 30 complaints in the seven months leading up to March 2016, or about one a week, or about one in every 2500 residents. Some estimates have put the number of marijuana grows—recreational and medical—in Medford at 2000; meaning, that, using very rough math and data, about one in every 60 grow sites has generated a complaint, which we would hazard is less than the number of neighbors complaining about barking dogs and we don’t hear proposals for banning dogs in backyards in Medford.
On the other end of the equation, there is also information about the benefits from the legalization of recreational marijuana; namely, the Oregon Department of Revenue reported nearly $7 million in tax revenue collected in January and February from the sale of recreational marijuana. These are funds earmarked for law enforcement and public education—two matters that are largely underfunded in southern Oregon and certainly could use a financial boost. Meanwhile, sending a proposition to the voters that will cost the City of Medford tens of thousands.
In another slap in the face of voter’s wishes, in early May, a Josephine County judge wiped out the voter-supported ban on GMO crops. In May 2014, 58 percent of voters in Josephine County had approved the ban, but it seemed to counter a hastily enacted 2013 state law that banned bans on GMO crops.
Although we are pleased that voters approved funding for public transportation, these two recent issues—a rollback of the GMO ban in Josephine County and a proposed rollback on marijuana grow allowances in Medford—certainly provide a couple cautionary tales to temper our post-election celebrations.