An Oregon County is Suing the State to Overturn Cannabis Legalization
Josephine County wants the right to impose stricter regulations on marijuana farming, but could set a precedent that destroys all state-legal cannabis operations if successful.
Published on April 5, 2018

Photo via Sam Gehrke/ Eco Firma Farms

An Oregon county has filed a lawsuit against the state asking a federal judge to overturn state laws legalizing recreational and medical cannabis. Josephine County officials filed the suit with the U.S. District Court in Medford this week, arguing that the federal government’s prohibition on marijuana takes precedence over the state’s legalization of the plant.

The lawsuit is the most recent salvo in an ongoing battle between county officials and cannabis businesses who are growing legal marijuana in the municipality. Josephine County is currently one of the state's largest producers of cannabis, but last year, county officials passed an ordinance imposing greater limitations on these businesses. Specifically, the ordinance prevented commercial grow-ops on residentially-zoned plots of land smaller than five acres, and imposed additional limits on larger plots of land.

A group of cannabis farmers challenged the ordinance, and a state court ruled it invalid after it was determined the city hadn’t followed proper protocol for passing the law. The county is appealing that decision, but has also decided to take things much further by filing a federal lawsuit which could potentially destroy the state's entire cannabis industry.

Josephine County attorney Wally Hicks told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the county is “asking the court to declare whether the state lawfully has that ability to limit” the county’s options for regulating cannabis cultivators. Last May, 64% of voters in the county approved a non-binding ballot question expressing their official support for allowing the county to limit cannabis cultivation. Hicks said that the county is only trying to impose regulations “in the way that the people of the county and the governing body of the county have expressed that they would like to regulate it.”

Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who has supported a wide variety of cannabis reform measures in Congress, took to Twitter to criticize the county's decision.

“This [lawsuit] was drafted and filed in anger,” Portland cannabis attorney Will Patterson told OPB. “This is a massive overcorrection from what they really want…This is Josephine County asking a federal court to terminate legal recreational and medical regimes.” Patterson explained that if the federal court were to rule in favor of the county, it would set a precedent that could eventually allow cannabis legalization laws to be overturned in any state that has legalized the drug.

Whether or not the county can successfully pull off this feat remains to be seen. In 2014, the city of Cave Junction, also located in Josephine County, attempted to sue the state over the legality of medical cannabis, but ended up dropping the case. In 2016, officials from Nebraska and Oklahoma tried to get the federal government to strike down Colorado's recreational cannabis law, arguing that legal weed was crossing into their own states' black markets. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ultimately refused to consider the complaint, allowing Colorado's marijuana laws to remain in full effect.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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