With no advance notice, the Medford City Council gave initial approval Thursday to a moratorium that would snuff out any immediate efforts to open medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
The ordinance, which must have a second reading before it can be adopted, is an attempt to strengthen the city's legal standing as it resists issuing business licenses to dispensaries, which are now allowed under state law.
"Everything is happening very quickly at the state, and we didn't want to miss the boat," City Attorney John Huttl said.
The Legislature is debating Senate Bill 1531, which would give local governments the option to pass a one-year moratorium on dispensaries. The council's ordinance anticipates the passage of SB 1531.
"We want to give John (Huttl) another arrow in his quiver," Councilor Tim Jackle said.
Under SB 1531, Oregon cities with moratoriums could keep them in place until May 2015. Over the next two months, local governments could continue to enact moratoriums. The bill has been approved by the House, but still must pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Last year, Medford passed an ordinance effectively banning dispensaries based on federal law that makes marijuana possession a crime. On Sept. 5, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to deny or revoke a business license for any business in violation of local, state or federal law.
Based on that ordinance, the city revoked the business license of Mary Jane's Attic and Mary Jane's Basement, located in the Winco shopping center on East Barnett Road.
Mary Jane's appealed the revocation to the City Council, and its owners have vowed to take the issue to court if necessary.
"I'm surprised and disappointed," Leland Berger, a Portland lawyer representing Mary Jane's, said of the council's Thursday vote.
He said the moratorium was approved just hours before his clients were scheduled to appear before the City Council to appeal the revocation.
Mary Jane's and other would-be dispensary operators applied this week to the Oregon Health Authority to register under House Bill 3460, which allows marijuana dispensaries and creates rules for their operation.
Under the city's moratorium, the city manager would notify the Health Authority of the ordinance so that a $4,000 registration fee could be returned to the dispensary applicants.
The moratorium ordinance was not listed on the Thursday agenda but was brought before the council by Huttl.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com.