Big marijuana is becoming a problem for residents of Williams, Oregon. Large industrial cannabis grow facilities have moved into the rural town and are affecting the small grows that have been common in the town for a long time. Will problems grow with big marijuana companies similar to big oil?
Williams is known as one of Oregon’s pot-growing capitals, but longtime residents have raised alarms over industrialized grows they say are ruining the character of this remote but close-knit rural community.
“People are pissed off,” said Michael Johnson, chief operating officer of Siskiyou Sungrown Farms. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Small artisan cannabis farmers find themselves pitted against giant marijuana greenhouse conglomerates, said Johnson, whose outdoor cannabis grow, which relies on sunlight and native soil, is often cited by locals as a responsible operation.
Community organizers are drafting a September ballot initiative they hope will lead to a moratorium on activities associated with future large-scale grows until regulations addressing the community’s concerns can be implemented.
“This is not about marijuana, it’s about bringing industry into a rural-residential area,” said Sha’ana Fineberg, co-chair of the Williams Town Council and Citizens Advisory Committee. “It’s asking for a moratorium on the activities that are negatively impacting the community.”
Growing marijuana has long been a way of life in Williams, but gardens were relatively low-key until recreational marijuana use became legal in 2015. Now massive commercial operations have sprung up throughout the community, drawing concerns over increased traffic, fences that stretch for hundreds of feet, semi-trucks racing down rural roads and large greenhouses outfitted with bright lights and loud fans. Four such greenhouses, erected near Highway 238, look like giant rockets laid on their side.
Those who moved to Williams for the peace and quiet say their lifestyle has been threatened by dummy corporations buying up large tracts of land, making it difficult to determine who the real owners are, Johnson said.
Johnson’s 40,000 square-foot operation on Williams Highway has worked with the state to avoid installing the opaque fencing that annoys so many neighbors.
“You can’t do it with less impact than this type of operation,” he said. “Most of the frustration in the community comes from the big greenhouse operations.”
Williams sits in the middle of Oregon’s largest pot growing region. Jackson County has most marijuana producers of any county in the state at 299, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates the recreation marijuana industry. In Josephine County, where Williams is located, there are 213, the second highest in the state. Together the two counties have 512 producers, accounting for nearly one-third of the 1,535 licensed operations in Oregon.