Medical marijuana dispensaries could begin popping up in cities throughout Jackson County after March 2014.
The Medical Marijuana Dispensary Law Rules Advisory Committee held its first meeting last week to create a framework that will guide how and where lawfully operated dispensaries will be placed throughout the state.
"We made good progress, but we have a long way to go," said state Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat who co-sponsored House Bill 3460, which created the dispensary system.
Under existing state law, Oregon's 55,000 medical marijuana cardholders can grow pot themselves or find a person to grow it for them. The new law offers an additional option of purchasing medicine from state-regulated medical marijuana retail outlets.
Buckley said the general thinking is that some 70 to 80 percent of medical marijuana cardholders will seek pot from a licensed dispensary.
He said cardholders have expressed an interest in receiving high-quality marijuana products and a consistent supply.
Buckley said officials from law enforcement, land use, health care and others will be involved in hashing out the technical details of the law.
"We want to set them up as a really transparent business," he said. "We want to make sure they are safe."
The dispensaries will be required to test marijuana products so they are free of pesticides and mold. Record keeping by the dispensaries will be subject to review by the state.
"We want to professionalize the medical marijuana program," Buckley said.
Some of the issues confronting the committee will be difficult to sort out in the coming months, Buckley said.
Under the House bill, the dispensaries can't be located within 1,000 feet of each other or 1,000 feet of a school.
Buckley said one of the questions posed is what to do if a school moves in after a dispensary has opened.
"Should there be grandfathering in the clause or not?" Buckley said.
The rules committee will look at how many dispensaries should be available for a given population, though Buckley said a lot of discretion will be given to local communities.
"They could potentially impose additional regulations if they choose," he said. "I don't think they can ban dispensaries."
Almost anyone could open a dispensary as long as the person doesn't have a felony background. The clinic cannot make a profit, though it can pay employees a wage and health insurance. The owner can also receive a salary, Buckley said.
In Ashland, Buckley said, he's had discussions with locals who are interested in opening a "squeaky clean" dispensary operation.
Other issues have also come to mind, he said.
"How do we take advantage of the fact that marijuana can grow so well in Southern Oregon and Portland cannot?" Buckley said.
Some prospective dispensary owners have discussed identifying and labeling marijuana that is organic and GMO-free (genetically modified), he said.
THC-free marijuana is also growing in popularity, Buckley said. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high. Apparently some patients want the medicinal effects without the high, Buckley said.
One of the hopes of the dispensaries is to cut down on the black market.
"We're not making any pretense that we're going to fully control the black market," Buckley said. "People who step outside the boundaries will be prosecuted. I'm sure some people will still get greedy."
Another potential change to the medical marijuana landscape could come if Oregon were to legalize marijuana use. Buckley said he expects the Legislature to craft a bill in February 2014 that would ask voters whether to legalize marijuana for adults, similar to a law passed in Colorado.
Kelly Madding, director of Development Services for Jackson County, is on a subcommittee looking at potential land-use issues for dispensaries.
Under the House bill, the dispensaries can be located on land zoned commercial, industrial or mixed-use, but not residential. The dispensaries can also be located on agricultural land, though not at the same address as a marijuana grow site.
Jackson County has a lot of land zoned for exclusive farm use that could potentially be suitable for dispensaries.
Writing local ordinances to deal with the dispensaries will be part of the discussion of the subcommittee, she said.
"There are a lot of questions," Madding said.
Because of the zoning limitations, many small cities might not have enough area to permit a dispensary within their boundaries, particularly with setback issues and zoning restrictions, she said.
"It is important to allow these local governments to define the terms of how they will fit the dispensaries into their communities," she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com.