Central Point OKs plan to limit dispensaries

Unanimous council vote sets limits on locations, allowed operating hours

CENTRAL POINT — Hoping to head off issues faced by neighboring communities — and anticipating more interest after state licensing for medical marijuana facilities begins March 3 — council members have approved an ordinance to restrict marijuana dispensaries inside city limits.

Unanimously approved and set for a final vote on Feb. 27, the proposed ordinance would restrict marijuana dispensaries and facilities beyond the planned state rules.

Community development director Tom Humphrey said while state law addresses proximity to such facilities as schools, the city's ordinance would add restrictions for residential areas and require special permits beyond those expected of other businesses.

State Senate Bill 1531, which initially would have allowed cities to ban medical marijuana facilities, was rewritten Thursday by legislators in Salem to remove the ban option. But local cities, including Phoenix and Medford, have had ongoing discussions in recent months related to city control over such businesses.

Phoenix council members have discussed a moratorium prohibiting issuing of business licenses to businesses related to medical marijuana in any way. The Medford council effectively banned them by approving a measure that prevents the issuing of a business license to an operation that is in violation of federal law.

In Central Point, only certain zoning inside the city would be available for medical marijuana facilities, including commercial medical districts and tourist and commercial districts. Humphrey said Central Point sought to figure out "how to live with" such facilities versus an attempt at prohibition.

If the proposal garners final council approval later this month, Humphrey said, siting for such businesses would be limited, specifically to the Albertson's shopping center on the east end of town and commercial properties east of the freeway.

"Our ordinance basically emphasizes the importance of protecting youth so we recognize the state standards in place for distance from schools," Humphrey said. "The only real part where we are stricter than the state will be the distance from residential areas. We will require a 500-foot buffer."

Humphrey said an additional use permit would give Planning Commission members and the City Council final authority to determine if a marijuana-related business would create problems for existing property owners.

Dispensaries would only be allowed to operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

If approved, the ordinance would immediately go into effect on Feb. 27, five days before the legal dispensaries can begin operations in Oregon. Some state officials have said the city ordinances likely would be overturned by the courts if they were challenged.

Humphrey said the city had watched situations arise in other cities in the valley and wanted to establish acceptable zoning for such facilities.

"We just don't want to get into a situation of places opening and then dealing with issues that come up after the fact where we would have to revoke a business license," he said.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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