PHOENIX — Andrea Adams estimates that 3,500 people, about half of the 7,058 medical marijuana cardholders in Jackson County, are obtaining their medicine from The Greenery, a nonprofit she operates in town.
She has been working with city officials for nearly a year to obtain a business license so she can legally operate inside city limits, but so far she hasn't been able to make it happen.
Following raids of several medical marijuana dispensaries last May, the Medford City Council adopted an ordinance to ban dispensaries, saying the businesses would violate federal law. Some members of an advisory committee in Salem that is writing rules for the dispensary program said Medford's stance violated the spirit of House Bill 3460.
To learn more about the dispensary law, see www.oregon.gov/oha/Pages/medicalmarijuanadispensaries.aspx
Adams says she wants to be a model for medical marijuana dispensaries — legal under state law beginning in March — but city officials are leery of navigating uncharted waters before the state defines regulations.
Under House Bill 3460, dispensaries can start applying on March 3 for a license from the Oregon Health Authority. OHA says it plans to approve rules for the new program, which are still being hashed out by an advisory committee, by Jan. 31.
Without a business license, Adams has been cited by police and attended countless meetings with city officials, but so far to no avail.
"We have been reaching out and trying to work with the city for a number of months now to obtain our business license. We want to be legal and we want to be a contributing business in the community," she said.
"I understand the cities are in a little bit of a tricky spot but, in my opinion, for the city it's a pretty simple issue of permitting and allowing businesses to create a revenue stream for the city or spending community resources to fight."
After a four-hour council session last Monday that delved into both marijuana cultivation and operation of dispensaries, the city scheduled a study session on Tuesday, Jan. 28, to hash out details of a proposed ordinance to ensure marijuana growers aren't a nuisance to neighboring property owners.
Mayor Jeff Bellah said further sessions are likely to discuss the issue of dispensaries.
Adams, who first approached the city last February, says city officials gave her an unofficial nod of approval before she bought a property on Main Street in March.
In the time between her initial meeting with the city and purchase of the property, an ordinance pertaining to businesses that violate federal law was fine-tuned. But Adams said she is still hopeful the city will work with rather than against her facility in the interest of cardholders.
Bellah contends that revision of the ordinance prohibiting businesses that violate federal law was more of response to a general climate around the state than to the opening of The Greenery.
After watching raids take place last year at medical marijuana facilities around the valley, the city is hesitant to be "first in the valley" to deal with an issue on which state and federal laws disagree. Bellah said the city's issues are more about complying with federal law than debating "the merit of medical marijuana."
"Basically the state went and wrote this law and then started developing regulations and guidance after the fact. You can't even apply for certification of a dispensary until March 3," he said.
"In the meantime, folks are applying for business licenses while we have no idea what the final rules are going to be."
Bellah voiced frustration that city council meetings have become debates about the validity of medical cannabis, which he called a non-issue.
"We're trying to be open-minded and say, 'Hey let's get the public opinion on this,' but to keep having open sessions where the same people keep coming to advocate for medical marijuana isn't really giving us a feel for how to deal with city and state and federal laws conflicting," said the mayor.
"We're getting lots of letters from people about their health and how they need their medicine. And I believe them. We're not a medical group trying to give a ruling on the merit of medical marijuana, but we're just trying to figure out how to regulate things on a city level so we don't do it wrong, then have to go back and fix it."
Tere Knight, a client and volunteer at The Greenery, said safe access, consistent quality and education is crucial for patients — and hard to come by.
"It's scary to think of going to some shady backroom dealer who doesn't do any testing. This establishment is the most professional dispensary I have seen. Before here, I had no medicine," she said.
After nine months of working with the city, Adams said she is frustrated yet "still optimistic" that Phoenix can be "the flagship city" for properly run marijuana dispensaries.
"It can be as easy and wonderful a process as everyone is willing to make it, or it can be as expensive and difficult and frustrating as everyone wants to make it," Adams said.
"We will fight as hard as we have to in order to keep doing this and to be here for people who need us. I really feel like people who have opposing views need to start explaining them a lot better."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.