Central Point restricts medical pot sites

CENTRAL POINT — Four days before medical marijuana dispensaries become legal under state law, city officials have fast-tracked an ordinance that would restrict where dispensaries can locate and what hours they can operate.

The Central Point City Council voted unanimously Thursday to keep dispensaries at least 500 feet from residential areas, limit their hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and keep them in certain commercial and industrial areas. The restrictions become effective immediately.

Dispensaries' business- license applications require approval of neighboring businesses under the new ordinance.

"My preference is to ban them completely," said Mayor Hank Williams, but added the council should wait until the state decides whether local jurisdictions have the power to enact their own bans.

Council member Rick Samuelson voiced frustration that cities must deal with a contradiction between state and federal law, but said he felt the city handled the issue in the best way possible.

"It's a damn mess," Samuelson said. "The federal government won't enforce its own law and the state came in and wrote a law that ... essentially what they did to all the cities was hang them up like piñatas."

"Anybody that wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary can do so and if you try to stop them they can sue you," Samuelson said. "We can't outright prohibit it yet, but we can put rules in place to control it."

In Phoenix, council members are poised to vote Monday on a four-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and may take a look at an ordinance that would restrict or ban marijuana-related businesses. It is also set to consider zoning restrictions on grow sites.

The council's efforts have drawn ire from supporters of The Greenery, a patient resource center that has been operating without a business license on North Main Street.

Last week, patients filed complaints with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program in an attempt to discourage efforts by the Phoenix council to ban or limit dispensaries and grow sites.

Mayor Jeff Bellah said Phoenix's situation was more complicated than other cities because The Greenery was already in operation.

State legislators were set to vote Friday on whether local cities could declare an outright ban on dispensaries, a decision both Bellah and Williams say could affect discussions in their own cities. But the House adjourned before a vote could be taken.

John Michaels, a Medford City Council member, urged the Central Point council Thursday to take a stricter stance and ban dispensaries entirely.

"Please adopt the temporary ban. Don't be in a hurry to feel like you have to rush anything on this," he said.

"Federal law trumps state law. I understand you're not in a position to handle a lot of challenges, but my feeling is you are not going to have to. There are other cities with larger pocketbooks who will do so."

Samuelson said beefing up city zoning law, for now, was the best policy but that the council would entertain a ban if state legislators decide such a measure was legal.

"I think we would come back and approve a ban if we were told the state would support that," he said.

"For now, federal law says you can't (allow dispensaries) and state law says you have to. I think everyone is waiting around wondering what in the world these cities are all supposed to do."

Phoenix city officials will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday to review a possible moratorium. The meeting will take place at the City Council annex, 1000 S. B St.

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

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