Pubdate: Tue, 12 May 2015
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2015 The Oregonian
Author: Jeff Mapes


The Oregon Legislature's special pot committee is in danger of going 
up in smoke after it reached an impasse Monday night over the issue 
of allowing local communities to ban medical marijuana facilities.

After a series of failed votes, the House-Senate committee recessed 
for the night and legislators said they weren't sure what would happen next.

"The future of the committee is in the hands of the (legislative) 
leadership," said Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, 
adding that the panel could be dissolved or temporarily split into 
separate House and Senate committees.

Ironically, the marijuana committee had largely reached consensus on 
a sweeping measure, Senate Bill 844, that is aimed primarily at 
putting new regulations on medical marijuana growers to stop 
diversions to the black market.

Many legislators, law enforcement officials and even many figures in 
the emerging marijuana industry say that's essential to creating a 
legal market for recreational sales of the drug. Oregon voters in 
November voted to legalize possession and sale of small amounts of marijuana.

"This is really a good committee," said Sen. Ginny Burdick, 
D-Portland and a co-chair of the pot committee. "We came a long way" 
in working out a medical marijuana bill but "we did struggle" on the 
issue of local control, she said.

That's no minor issue. A total of 146 cities and 26 of the state's 36 
counties took advantage of a 2014 law that allowed them to block 
medical marijuana facilities until May 1 of this year. Now, the 
legality of local bans on dispensaries and processors is murky, and 
legislators can't agree on how to clarify the law.

Essentially, a majority of the House members of the committee said 
that they wanted any decision by local officials to ban medical 
marijuana sales be automatically sent to the ballot.

Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, said he didn't want local government 
officials telling medical marijuana patients they couldn't have their 
medicine. "Somehow we've drifted back to a war on drugs mentality," he charged.

Meanwhile, a majority of the senators stuck behind a compromise that 
Burdick said city and county organizations would accept  but that 
wouldn't guarantee that a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and 
processors would go to the ballot.

Instead, under the Senate proposal, a vote by city or county 
government bodies could be placed on the ballot if citizens gathered 
enough signatures - 4 percent of the votes cast in the last 
gubernatorial race in that locality.

Burdick said this allowed people to take the issue to the ballot if 
they really disagreed with their elected leaders. And if feelings 
change about medical marijuana facilities, she said it's easier for a 
city council or county commission to reverse itself than to take the 
issue out to the voters again.

Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, the other co-chair, said it was a 
deal breaker from her side not to automatically let voters decide if 
they're going to adopt a local ban.

She noted that Measure 91  the initiative that legalized marijuana 
required that voters enact any local ban on recreational sales of the 
drug. It shouldn't be any easier to ban medical marijuana sales, she said.

The impasse was frustrating both to legislators and many observers.

"I don't care what option you take," said Alan Tressidder, a lobbyist 
for the Oregon Cannabis PAC, before the meeting. "Just pick one."

Lininger and Burdick said they have continued to schedule meetings of 
the House-Senate committee to work on implementing legalization of 
recreational use of marijuana. On most issues, they said, the 
committee is working well together.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom