Pubdate: Sat, 16 May 2015
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2015 The Oregonian
Author: Tony Hernandez


Gresham's debate this month over whether to allow medical marijuana 
businesses exposed a deep divide of opinion about the drug in the state.

Supporters, like Councilor Karylinn Echols, argued city government 
shouldn't stand in the way of a patient's need for medication while 
Council President Jerry Hinton, who opposes the businesses, said he 
doesn't want to provide access to another intoxicating drug to residents.

"I need to represent that half of the citizens of Gresham that did 
not vote for marijuana," Hinton said just before the City Council 
adopted regulations on a 4-3 vote that allow the businesses  but only 
with tight regulations and expensive fees.

Their debate mirrors what's happening in state Capitol as lawmakers 
reached an impasse last week over how much power cities and counties 
should have to prohibit medical marijuana facilities. Members of a 
House-Senate committee on marijuana couldn't agree whether or not any 
local ban should have to go directly to voters.

Just as in Gresham, the legislative debate revolved around whether it 
was more important to preserve patient access to medical 
marijuana  or whether the leaders of local communities should have 
the ability to chart their own course. The issue also goes beyond 
medical marijuana.

Legislators will also weigh demands from city and county associations 
that they revamp the marijuana legalization measure approved by 
voters last fall to give local governments the power to prohibit 
retail sales of the drug. Under the initiative, Measure 91, only 
voters can approve a ban by collecting enough signatures to put the 
issue on the ballot.

"The question that we've been struggling with is how to help 
communities that don't quite feel they're culturally ready for this 
transition to ease into a new situation," said Rep. Ann Lininger, 
D-Lake Oswego and the co-chair of the marijuana committee.

Lininger, along with a majority of the House members of the 
committee, argued that any local medical marijuana ban should be 
automatically sent to voters for their approval. Besides being fair 
to patients, she said it also keeps faith with Measure 91.

Cities and counties were allowed to place a one-year moratorium on 
medical marijuana dispensaries and processors while they considered 
how to regulate them. All told, 146 cities and 26 counties took 
advantage of the moratorium, which expired on May 1. Legislators and 
local officials alike are trying to figure out what comes next, and 
there's debate about whether local governments can continue to ban 
the facilities under existing law.

Senate leaders will attempt to break the legislative impasse on 
Monday when they send the medical marijuana bill through a newly 
created committee. That bill is expected to include a provision 
giving local governments the right to ban medical marijuana 
facilities  although local voters could attempt to overturn such a 
ban by collecting enough signatures to take the issue to the ballot.

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, co-chairs the House-Senate committee 
and the new panel that will meet Monday, said she thinks a strong 
majority of the Senate will support this approach, and that will help 
persuade the House to go along.

Meanwhile, residents in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties 
are seeing a mixed bag of decisions by city and county leaders.

At least, twelve cities have adopted policies to allow medical 
marijuana dispensaries, while at least five others have kept existing 
bans in place or issued new ones. Washington and Clackamas counties 
have also passed policies to allow the businesses in rural areas.

Lake Oswego, for example, adopted an ordinance banning medical 
marijuana businesses on April 21. City attorney David Powell said the 
ban isn't taking a position on the use of medical pot, but the city 
wants more time to see how dispensaries roll out.

Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker said he prefers the Senate's 
version requiring citizens to mount a petition campaign to challenge 
a vote by the council. It's not hard to get the signatures  4 percent 
of the votes cast in the city in the last governor's election  needed 
to qualify for the ballot, he said.

Studebaker said he didn't think city residents are against the 
purposes of medical marijuana for the purposes of pain management.

"I think our residents are smart enough and realize that medical 
marijuana is being abused and they understand that some of that may 
have an impact on what kind of people dispensaries attract," Studebaker said.

Last month, Wilsonville city councilors approved a resolution that 
said even though the moratorium on marijuana dispensaries expired in 
May, the city would continue to enforce an ordinance that prohibits 
licensing any business that violate state and federal law.

"We wanted to make it clear to the people in Wilsonville that until 
the Legislature finishes this session, we are staying with our status 
quo," Wilsonville Assistant City Attorney Barbara Jacobson said.

In Gresham, Alexander Pavich, one of the first business owners in the 
state to open a medical marijuana dispensary, drove around looking at 
the few siting options under consideration by the city.

He found mostly industrial areas and a few commercial areas that he 
said were either full or would not allow pot businesses. He reviewed 
the detailed rules and regulations that were eventually adopted by 
the City Council.

"By imposing too many restrictions up front, I believe you will only 
be discouraging our mission and continue to fuel black-market sales 
in the community," Pavich told the City Council.

In addition to strictly limiting locations, the city also said 
medical marijuana businesses will have to pay $5,250 in registration 
fees compared to $75 for a normal business license.

Despite the appearance by the City Council of allowing medical 
marijuana businesses, it is really saying businesses should stay 
away, Amy Margolis, an attorney and lobbyist for marijuana 
businesses, said on Monday.

No one has registered or picked up an application as of Friday 
morning, said Wendy Lawton, Gresham city spokeswoman. Some could 
start the process next week, she said.

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis voted against the regulations because he 
preferred to wait on the Legislature before moving forward. He also 
questioned the fairness of the business registration fees.

He doesn't know if the council's action will attract or repel medical 
marijuana businesses.

"Time will tell," Bemis said. "This is new territory for all, and 
local governments all over the state are trying to navigate through it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom