Pubdate: Thu, 15 Oct 2015
Source: Albany Democrat-Herald (OR)
Copyright: 2015 Lee Enterprises


So, maybe the Albany City Council didn't intend to talk about 
marijuana at its meeting Wednesday night after all.

That's OK. But it's becoming clear how the council should talk about 
marijuana when it finally returns to the issue in a work session 
scheduled for Nov. 2.

You might have followed some of the council's gyrations on the issue, 
which date back to the good old days, when all we were worried about 
was the location of the dispensaries allowed by state law to serve 
medical marijuana patients.

The issues have only become more complicated since then, especially 
when voters statewide approving Ballot Measure 91, which legalized 
the use (and eventual sale) of recreational marijuana.

It's fair to say that the Albany City Council is divided on the 
issue. Mayor Sharon Konopa, who gets to cast a vote only when the 
council is tied, has long worried about the impact of dispensaries 
(and now, potentially, recreational pot retail outlets) on neighborhoods.

Other councilors share Konopa's concerns and have expressed 
additional doubts about the impact of legalized marijuana in Albany. 
But still other councilors note that the state's voters made their 
decision on the question when they approved Measure 91, and argue 
that any additional restrictions Albany might place on marijuana are 
futile attempts to swim against the tide.

Lately, the council has considered proposals that could increase the 
zoning and regulatory hoops that marijuana businesses would need to 
jump through before they opened in Albany. (It also has, like other 
cities and counties, banned dispensaries from the early sale of 
recreational pot.)

There's a better way for the city to move forward on this, though, 
and the outlines of that approach started to become clear at a 
council work session on Monday. (Councilors at that meeting suggested 
that they would resume the conversation at their Wednesday meeting, 
but apparently changed their minds before that meeting.)

The Legislature allows communities like Albany to ban the sale of 
recreational marijuana. There's a catch, though: In Albany's case, 
any such ban must be ratified by voters in an election that likely 
would be held in November 2016.

At the same time the council moves forward on a ban, however, it 
should rescind its decision blocking existing dispensaries from the 
early sales of recreational marijuana.

Here's why: Albany voters narrowly voted in favor of Measure 91 in 
the November 2014 election. Konopa has argued that if voters had a 
full understanding of how the measure would play out (in particular, 
that it would not create the amount of tax revenue for cities that 
some voters thought it might), they might reconsider that judgment.

That might be true. But it also likely is true that Albany voters 
would be able to collect additional information about pot sales by 
watching what happens if dispensaries get the green light to join the 
early sales.

The council could continue dreaming up new regulatory hurdles to toss 
in the way of recreational pot sales. Or it could let voters make the 
final call. The latter approach is simpler and cleaner, although it 
would force the council to find other topics to discuss for the next 
year or so. (mm)
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom