By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

Just because recreational marijuana becomes legal in Oregon on July 1, state officials said people should not expect to see fields of pot growing in Central Oregon anytime soon.

Where and how recreational marijuana will be grown, and how the operations will relate to existing medical pot growing, are among the bevy of questions being tackled by Oregon lawmakers and agencies.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission is heading up licensing and regulation of recreational marijuana, while the Oregon Health Authority has been overseeing medical marijuana.

Measure 91, passed in November by Oregon voters, legalized recreational marijuana as of July 1, when users may possess up to 8 ounces of pot and four plants per resident. An individual may also carry up to 1 ounce in public and begin growing at home, according to the OLCC.

The ballot measure also requires the agency to begin accepting applications for growers, processors, wholesalers and retailers by Jan. 4. But it did not spell out the details for commercial marijuana growing, said Tom Towslee, OLCC marijuana program spokesman.

“There is going to be a lot of discussion about these grow operations,” Towslee said, “and if they should be small, medium or large, and what the definition of small, medium and large is.”

For now, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality are deferring to the OLCC when it comes to regulating the state’s new crop.

The agency is set to start accepting applications early next year. While Towslee did not have an estimate for the number of growers individually, he did have an estimate for all license types combined.

“We expect to get about 2,000 applications in January and approve as many of 1,300 of those,” he said.

The OLCC has sent officials around the state to talk to people about marijuana growing, and so far the response they have heard is for marijuana growing to be on the “small, boutique level,” Towslee said.

Along with watching the OLCC, officials with the Oregon Health Authority are monitoring state lawmakers to see if they change medical marijuana rules. Introduced in March, House Bill 3400 would direct the agency to develop and maintain a database of people growing under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

Oregon voters approved the medical marijuana program in November 1998, and the Oregon Health Authority has run the program since May 1999. State legalization of recreational marijuana has raised questions about how medical marijuana growers will be regulated and whether they can grow recreational along with medical, said Steve Wagner, administrator for Oregon Public Health Division’s Center for Health Protection. A branch of the Oregon Health Authority, Wagner’s office oversees the medical marijuana program.

Currently, patients in the program may list people as their growers, he said. Each grower may have up to four patients and grow six plants per patient, for a total of 24 plants. The legislation being discussed in Salem could bring rules and regulations about what chemicals may be used on the marijuana, and other specifics of growing.

“Right now we don’t have the authority to regulate growers, so we can’t tell them what they can and can’t use on pot,” Wagner said.

In his years of busting illegal marijuana grows on private and public land, Lt. Ken Mannix, of the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team, has seen all sorts of chemicals used to grow marijuana. The growers had no concern for the environment, he said.

Large-scale, illegal growers tending to thousands of plants have cut down trees, laid watering pipe for miles and used mass amounts of pesticides and fertilizers on their crops.

“They do a lot of damage to the forest,” he said. “And it takes years to bring that back to where it should be or where it once was.”

Add to the list of questions about recreational marijuana legalization in Oregon: whether the change in law will reduce the number of illegal grows.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,