The race is on to see who can be the first to open a medical marijuana dispensary after House Bill 3460 takes effect March 3.

The race is on to see who can be the first to open a medical marijuana dispensary after House Bill 3460 takes effect March 3.

Brent Thompson, who leases commercial spaces in Ashland, has been contacted by eight parties who want to open a dispensary on one of his properties.

Generally a supporter of marijuana legalization, Thompson said he didn't think his locations were appropriate and is unsure about the new law, which will make it easier for growers to provide medical marijuana to patients.

Thompson said some of the people called him multiple times to see whether he'd had a change of heart.

"This is overwhelming," Thompson said. "There are too many unknowns, so I decided to take a pass."

Ashland has changed its business license ordinance to pave the way for dispensaries, while cities such as Medford have attempted to ban them.

Other states in the country have gone through growing pains as marijuana becomes more mainstream. Both Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana last year.

Mike Welch, owner of Puff's Smoke Shop in Ashland, wanted to be one of the first to offer medical marijuana to patients, so he opened a dispensary in his shop at the end of last year.

He said the state probably will limit the number of licensed marijuana dispensaries the way it has limited the number of licensed liquor stores.

Welch, who said he doesn't smoke pot himself, said he views his decision to offer medical marijuana to patients as a strategic business move.

"I wanted something professional that was clean and well lit," he said. "I don't want people to feel like they are doing something shady."

He has a business license for the portion of the store that sells pipes and paraphernalia, but the city rejected his business license application for a marijuana dispensary, which is in a separate room.

However, since Ashland changed its ordinance recently, Welch plans to seek a business license after March 3.

He said that even though Ashland has opened its doors to marijuana dispensaries, House Bill 3460 has limitations on where the dispensaries can be located.

There are an estimated 200 unregulated medical marijuana retail outlets in Oregon now.

Under existing state law, Oregon's 55,000 medical marijuana cardholders can grow pot themselves or find a person to grow it for them.

House Bill 3460 gives cardholders another option: purchasing their medicine from state-regulated medical marijuana retail outlets.

The bill prohibits any medical marijuana outlets from operating near schools, but permits them to operate in agricultural, industrial or commercial areas. And they would be required to test all batches of marijuana for pesticides, molds and mildews.

Even though he's not a pot smoker, Welch said he does see the medicinal benefits of marijuana, but also believes it could be recreational.

He said he personally welcomes the day when pot is legal, but more importantly, he said, he hopes the country gets behind hemp production, which only recently is starting to become legal in the United States — including Oregon.

Welch said the state-regulated shops should provide a professional framework for medical marijuana distribution.

"The '60s were fine, but we're well past that," Welch said. "We don't need Cheech and Chong head shops."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him at