PHOENIX — After months of heated debate, the City Council approved a four-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries Monday, the first day they became legal in Oregon.

PHOENIX — After months of heated debate, the City Council approved a four-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries Monday, the first day they became legal in Oregon.

Phoenix joins a growing number of cities locally and statewide passing ordinances attempting to restrict or ban dispensaries within city limits. Central Point has restricted where dispensaries can be located, Medford has banned them outright citing federal law, and Jacksonville is set to consider a ban in April.

The moratorium, which takes effect April 3, may force The Greenery to close.

The nonprofit, medical marijuana resource center opened in downtown Phoenix last year but was denied a business license and has been issued citations of up to $500 per day for the past several months.

Phoenix's moratorium was approved by a vote of 4-2, with council members Carolyn and Stan Bartell, Chris Luz and Bruce Sophie in favor and Terry Helfrich and Karen Jones against.

Patients served by The Greenery who attended the Monday meeting left in protest, many shouting at the council and slamming doors on their way out.

"My civil rights were attacked and squished underfoot by my elected officials tonight," said Greenery Manager Melanie Barniskis.

Barniskis took issue with several council members referring to marijuana facilities as "pot shops" and directing what she perceived as insults towards medical marijuana cardholders.

"For them to openly acknowledge that the place that I get my medication is nothing more than a pot shop. ... I'm old," Barniskis said.

"I know exactly what that implies in his mind. It just infuriates me and I have a strong feeling that there are going to be some civil rights issues discussed."

One audience member asked where the citizens who opposed dispensaries were. Council member Luz said were they home "with their families" and unable to attend meetings held on the topic.

Mayor Jeff Bellah said citizens opposed to medical marijuana were intimidated by the number of cannabis supporters attending the meetings.

"I can't speak for the citizens, but I talked to a man for 30 minutes," Bellah said. "He said it's intimidating coming in here when you have 50 people for an issue and you have two against it."

Council member Stan Bartell's comments on investigating controversial businesses garnered anger from the audience and prompted at least four people to walk out in protest.

"I think that, as a council, if we had this many people coming to us about a legitimate business," Bartell said, then corrected himself, "not a legitimate business. Any type of business coming into town. If we had this many people coming to us about any business, we would definitely investigate it and look into it. We wouldn't just give them their business license if we had a ton of our citizens coming out here and opposing something."

Helfrich applauded cardholders who gave public testimony and cited medical marijuana usage as "a private thing" and "nobody's business."

"Somebody very close to this council, I was very, very surprised to find out, is a medical marijuana cardholder," Helfrich told the council.

"Those people are being represented here. They're our friends and neighbors. It could be a loved one or my son or daughter or my wife.

"We had a first meeting in September so this isn't new, yet you guys want to kick the can down the road for four more months. I totally disagree."

Councilwoman Karen Jones said The Greenery had not caused problems and that closure of the facility would affect access to medication for patients who had come to rely on it.

"By passing this, we are shutting down The Greenery for four months. We can't put that toothpaste back in the tube once it's squeezed out," Jones said, adding the city was "in denial" that change was happening.

"Here we are expecting an inundation of I don't know what, but this business has been operating for more than six months and nothing hideous has happened. We're expecting mobs of cardholders oozing out into the street and stoners lying in the parks. This has not happened," Jones said.

"We've been thrown under the bus to make these decisions about whether we want it in our town or not, but it's already here."

Former council member Steve Schulman has started paperwork toward a referendum that would end the moratorium, City Manager Steve Dahl confirmed Tuesday. If his petition is accepted by city officials, Schulman will have 30 days to collect signatures from 10 percent of registered Phoenix voters.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at