Medford officials are getting a little high-handed with their decision to ban medical marijuana dispensaries because they violate federal law. City Council members ought to have a say in where dispensaries are situated and when and how they may operate, but shouldn't be able to overrule a state law because they disagree with it.
The Legislature passed a law this year allowing dispensaries to distribute marijuana to patients authorized to use it under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. Until the new law takes effect next year, medical marijuana cardholders have to grow their own or find an authorized person to grow it for them. That has not always been easy, especially for disabled people and those debilitated from terminal illness.
In an attempt to address that problem and to better control distribution and reduce the black-market sale of marijuana, lawmakers created a system to authorize dispensaries under a variety of restrictions, including that a dispensary cannot be situated in a residential area and cannot be within 1,000 feet of another dispensary or within 1,000 feet of a school. The legislation created a committee to draw up detailed rules for the dispensaries, a process that won't be finished for months.
Medford officials should wait to see what rules emerge before deciding what the city's role should be, if any. The council is relying on an ordinance it enacted last month allowing it to deny a business license to any business that violates local, state or federal law. Because marijuana for any purpose remains illegal under federal law, the reasoning goes, no dispensaries may exist in the city.
But state law specifically allows marijuana possession and use for medical purposes, and is in the process of legalizing dispensaries as well. The U.S. Justice Department has said it will not prosecute marijuana cases in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana as long as there is no money laundering, sale to minors or growing on public lands.
The business license issue has become a sticking point in drawing up the new statewide rules, according to Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, sponsor of the dispensary bill. Some local jurisdictions do not issue business licenses, so the committee is considering striking a requirement that dispensaries obtain a license.
That doesn't make sense in cities where all other businesses are required to have licenses. The rules should specify that a dispensary must have a license if the jurisdiction where it operates requires one.
The city should have a say in where and how dispensaries operate. But it's not the City Council's job to overrule a state law because it conflicts with federal law.