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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Bill could limit city's ability to ban medical marijuana dispensaries

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Bill could limit city's ability to ban medical marijuana dispensaries


By Pat Caldwell

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A legislative edict originally intended to allow Oregon cities and counties to ban medical marijuana dispensaries cleared the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday in Salem.

Yet Senate Bill 1531 departed the Judiciary Committee with fewer teeth and a softer bark than the version first sponsored by Sens. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rod Monroe (D-Portland). That early version gave cities and counties the power to “regulate or restrict” the operations of a medical marijuana dispensaries.

The version of the bill pushed out of the Judiciary Committee offers several proposed amendments — but not an outright ban — on medical marijuana dispensaries. A key portion of the amended bill allows cities counties to “. . . adopt ordinances that impose reasonable regulations on the operation of medical marijuana facilities registered or applying for registration . . .”

But the word “restrict” is absent from the amended bill.

Currently, Oregon Law compels the Oregon Health Authority to create and then execute a program to register medical marijuana facilities/dispensaries. Such facilities must be situated on property zoned commercial, industrial or agriculture. The law goes into effect March 1.

The medical marijuana dispensary dispute secured a place in the local limelight after the Baker City Council directed city staff to develop a mandate to prohibit such businesses in town. At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Police Chief Wyn Lohner delivered two separate ordinances — one an outright ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and another a business license proposal that includes language to restrict such ventures. The Council elected to put its support behind the outright ban — Ordinance 3330.

Councilors endorsed the first and second reading of Ordinance 3330 and the proposed mandate will face just one more reading at the next Council session before it can go on the books.

Senate Bill 1531, though weaker in its current amended version, is still very relevant, Hansell said Thursday afternoon.

“There is the saying, sometimes you don’t get the whole loaf, and sometimes you get half a loaf. For some of us this is a quarter of a loaf. But we are still in play and it is better than what we have,” Hansell said about the amended bill.

As with any piece of legislation, an array of political factors did, and will continue to, come into play as his bill moves forward, he said.

Now, the bill will go to the floor of the Senate, and if it is approved, will go to a committee in the Oregon House of Representatives.

“We anticipate it (SB 1531) should pass (the Senate). It is still alive and moving,” Hansell said.

In essence, there remains a sizeable amount of political horse trading to be conducted regarding SB 1531 once it enters the House.

Lohner said the legislative action Thursday was interesting but hardly a definitive conclusion to the issue.

“It takes a while to sort out. To me there is still some uncertainty because it is still in the process of the Legislature. It (SB 1531) has the potential to be altered numerous times,” he said.

Baker City Councilor Mike Downing said that although he had not read the amended bill, his views regarding medical marijuana dispensaries have not changed.

“We don’t want them here. And I’m totally with that. We are going to do our best to find a way to ban them,” Downing said.

Councilor Roger Coles said if the Legislature does not provide clear guidance, the medical marijuana dispensary issue will probably end up as a legal conflict.

“I bet it ends up in a court battle before the dust settles,” he said.

City Councilor Kim Mosier said it is just too early in the legislative process to draw any firm conclusions about the final structure of SB 1531.

“It sounds like it is still in the process. Until we see the final product I am not going to venture a guess,” she said. 

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