A county in Oregon has filed a lawsuit against the state in federal court, seeking to invalidate Oregon’s cannabis laws.
The Josephine County Board of Commissioners sued the State of Oregon, asserting that federal law, which considers cannabis illegal, pre-empts the state laws that legalized cannabis. Josephine County officials filed the suit before the U.S. District Court in Medford on April 3.
Josephine County’s officials have long been trying to restrict commercial cannabis production in the state, saying that marijuana farms are a nuisance.
“Rural residents are fed up with the growing number of farms even in the parts of the region that have been zoned as rural residential areas. Good residents are leaving while marijuana people are staying.” – Josephine County Commissioner Dan DeYoung
Josephine County lies in a prime cannabis-growing region in the southern part of Oregon.
In fact, there are currently 132 active licensed cannabis producers in the county, according to the Liquor Control Commission, which serves as the regulatory body for recreational cannabis in Oregon. This number already represents a significant chunk of the nearly 1,000 cannabis producers in the entire state.
Oregon legalized cannabis for recreational use after a ballot initiative in 2014. This prompted a “green rush,” with entrepreneurs setting up businesses in the state’s fertile and rainy mountainous region.
According to County Commissioner Dan DeYoung, rural residents are fed up with the growing number of farms even in the parts of the region that have been zoned as rural residential areas. Good residents leave while the marijuana people stay, he said.
In December, the board of commissioners tried to place restrictions on cannabis farming by enacting an ordinance that prohibits commercial cannabis cultivation on rural residential lots measuring five acres or less. It also tried to reduce the size of larger farms.
The ordinance, however, was challenged by cannabis growers and they won on a procedural issue. The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals decided to put the ordinance on hold on account of the county failing to properly notify the landowners.
Now, Josephine County is opting to settle its rift with the state by suing it in federal court. The county is arguing that it does not have to heed the state’s law on cannabis because under the federal law – specifically under the Controlled Substances Act – cannabis is illegal.
Under the Controlled Substance Act, cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 drug. This means it is illegal to possess, grow, or distribute, and is not considered to have a therapeutic value.
The county’s lawsuit is invoking the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. It is asking the federal court to delegitimize the state’s cannabis laws because they are in conflict with the federal drug laws.
The county’s lawsuit is invoking the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. The supremacy clause says that federal law is the supreme law of the land and therefore takes precedence over state laws.
In other words, the county is asking the federal court to delegitimize the state’s cannabis laws because they are in conflict with the stricter federal drug laws.
There are 16 counties in Oregon that have taken advantage of a state law provision allowing counties to prohibit cannabis-related activities in unincorporated areas. These counties were all able to do so even without voter referral before Dec. 27, 2015, thanks to a provision that permitted local bans if at least 55% of voters had voted against Oregon Ballot Measure 91. Measure 91 legalized cannabis for recreational purposes in November 2014.
Meanwhile, a majority of voters in Josephine County did vote against Measure 91. However, the “no” votes did not reach the required 55%. There were only 17,313 “no” votes against the 17,311 “yes” votes.