Wise to look at pot stores

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 08, 2014 08:15 am

We’ve not seen evidence that anyone plans to try to open a medical marijuana store in Baker County.

But we agree with Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner that local elected officials should start thinking about the issue, and in particular about whether they want to restrict or outright ban such businesses.

Whether such prohibitions would survive legal challenges is an open question, but that hasn’t discouraged other Oregon cities from taking action.

Since Aug. 14, when Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law House Bill 3460, which legalizes medical marijuana dispensaries, several cities, including Medford and Gresham, have enacted ordinances that in effect ban such businesses.

The basis for these bans is that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which does not recognize the Oregon statute, and that cities and counties have the legal right to prohibit businesses that violate federal law.

The League of Oregon Cities, of which Baker City is a member, contends such prohibitions are legal.

Attorneys from the state Office of Legislative Counsel, however, disagree. They argue that the state, not local governments, should regulate the sale of medical marijuana.

The bottom line, then, is that it’s possible that Baker City and Baker County could ban medical marijuana stores only to have a court override the decision.

We think that’s a risk worth taking, mainly because there’s not much at risk.

Neither the city nor the county needs to invest anything other than staff time in researching the issue and writing potential ordinances.

One thing we know for certain: A majority of county residents do not support medical marijuana dispensaries.

In 2010, when Oregon voters decided on Measure 74, which would have legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, Baker County voters answered with a resounding “no” — 69 percent to 31 percent.

(The measure was defeated statewide, as well; the Legislature and governor overrode that decision by passing House Bill 3460 this summer.)

In 1998 Oregon voters did approve a measure allowing personal use of medical marijuana (but not retail sales outlets), but Baker County voters balked at that measure, too, by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.

We don’t object to people using marijuana under a doctor’s prescription.

But we don’t think Baker City would be a better place to live if medical marijuana was treated as a retail commodity.

We agree with Lohner, who said he will recommend the City Council prohibit dispensaries.

And we’re confident a majority of the Council’s constituents would endorse that decision as well.