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Josephine County Residents Voice Concerns About Impacts Of Hemp Farming

Erik Neumann/JPR News
Community members listened to state officials at a hemp symposium in Grants Pass on Wednesday night.

Overflow crowds filled the Josephine County Fairgrounds auditorium in Grants Pass Wednesday night for a symposium on the region’s booming hemp industry. State officials discussed power usage in greenhouses, fire risks posed by the CBD extraction process with hemp, and threats to fish from agricultural water diversions. 

Community members applauded when Williams resident Wendy Reordan chastised officials for not having better answers about the impact of hemp farming on creeks and streams, or for providing rules to protect water sources. 

“There are no excuses from any of you agencies to have not stepped up and figured this out,” Reordan said.  

Hemp cultivation has gone up 537% statewide since 2015, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. For many residents, water usage has become a prime concern. 

“How do we deal with a major shift from certain crops to this new one?” said Sunny Summers the cannabis policy coordinator at the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “How do we manage that?” 

According to Summers, while hemp is no longer considered a federally controlled substance, local laws are still being written to regulate the crop.  

The Oregon Water Resources Department’s Jake Johnstone downplayed the impact of hemp farming on local water sources, noting that streamflow numbers today are similar to what they were in 2015 when hemp cultivation had just begun. 

“It’s a new crop. We had this issue with wineries when they first came into the area. We definitely had it with cannabis when it went legal in 2015. And now we’re feeling this with hemp as well,” Johnstone said. 

But officials from the Department of Fish and Wildlife warned that comparing today’s water level to 2015 may not demonstrate healthy water levels since, at the time, Jackson and Josephine Counties were experiencing a serious drought. 

Officials at the meeting stressed that regulating Oregon’s hemp industry requires action from the state legislature.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.