4/1/2014 12:27:00 PM Voters to have their say on medical marijuana
By John Griffith
The city council passed a temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city Thursday night on a 5-0 vote. This first step eliminated the risk of a lawsuit as a result of being in the cross-fire between state law and federal law.
Current Oregon law allows and is now licensing medical marijuana dispensaries. An Oregon city that denies a proper request for a business license for a dispensary could be sued. At the same time, federal statutes still carry marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. As a Schedule I substance, the growing of or possession of any quantity of marijuana for any reason is subject to federal felony prosecution.
The council also voted 5-0 to place a measure on the November ballot to give Sisters residents the opportunity to decide whether or not they would support medical marijuana dispensaries in Sisters.
Even though current state law allows cities to issue a business license for medical marijuana dispensaries, SB1531, passed in the closing minutes of the last legislative session, gives cities "cover" until May 2015 by allowing the cities and counties to ban such dispensaries.
The conventional wisdom is that by May 2015, state and federal regulations will have somehow been mitigated to work together. Madras, Prineville, La Pine and unincorporated Deschutes County currently have enacted or are considering a ban on dispensaries until 2015. Bend has eight dispensaries permitted and is moving to 12. A growing number of these dispensaries have been licensed by the State Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program in the last several weeks.
Mayor Brad Boyd indicated at Thursday's council meeting that the City would quickly craft and implement a city ordinance based on the results of the November ballot measure. He expected that if the citizens voted in favor of allowing dispensaries, the ordinance would include restrictions on the number and location of dispensaries, and it would also include a taxation mechanism on the sales of those dispensaries. He cautioned that no matter what the citizen vote decides in November, any city ordinance could still be modified or overturned by state or federal decisions.
The council heard from several local folks speaking against the ban. Each of the speakers spoke of their direct experience with the positive results of medical marijuana in a healthcare setting.
"When I worked for hospice, I had a number of clients or their families wanting to procure marijuana for relief of symptoms at the end of life," Sue Stafford told The Nugget. "I couldn't help them. (Sisters has) the opportunity to make it possible for people to be able to legally access medical marijuana here in Sisters from licensed facilities. It is unreasonable to deny them the convenience of a local dispensary.
"Now that the citizens of Oregon have voted to have medical marijuana legal in our state, I would hope the City of Sisters will show compassion, foresight, and courage in making it possible for a legal dispensary to open in Sisters, sooner rather than later or never. We are looking for economic stimulus for our town, we are encouraging people to be creative and come to Sisters for business. Why not prove that we are a progressive, enlightened place and that we don't hold onto old, outdated, and erroneous stereotypes about marijuana..."
Speaking in favor of the ban and for the Deschutes County Health Department, Jessica Jacks said, "I am a prevention coordinator, involved in substance-abuse prevention in Oregon for the past 14 years. We are concerned accessing drugs both legal and illegal. We are concerned about the increased availability of marijuana because we know that with increased availability, whether it is legal or illegal, youth rates will increase."
None of the public testimony related to the legal issue the City faced if they did not pass the ban.
The majority of the public input was centered on the larger question: the pros and cons of medical marijuana, and marijuana use in general - which is an issue that should be widely debated once the City's ballot measure is drafted before the November election.