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MailTribune.com
  • State's marijuana dispensary bill backfires in Southern Oregon

    Oregon's attempt at regulation has led to local backlash against pot outlets
  • House Bill 3460 was supposed to offer a system of well-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Oregon.
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  • House Bill 3460 was supposed to offer a system of well-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Oregon.
    The bill, which took effect in March, was designed, in part, to answer concerns about providing safe access points for medical marijuana in Southern Oregon, where the bulk of the state's cannabis is grown.
    Instead, the intent of the bill appears to have backfired, and many local cities have taken a hard line against dispensaries, shutting down some and preventing others from opening.
    "Are there temporary setbacks?" said Rep. Peter Buckley, a Democrat who was one of the co-authors of HB 3460. "Yes, there are temporary setbacks."
    But, he said, the fear surrounding marijuana dispensaries will diminish over time.
    He said he's encouraged by the steps Gold Hill has taken to enact a reasonable ordinance that allowed the opening of Breeze Botanicals, the only pot dispensary in the area at the moment.
    HB 3460 created regulations for establishing medical marijuana dispensaries, but the measure sparked disputes between cities and the bill's sponsors over whether it allows cities to enact local bans.
    Earlier this year, Buckley said that cities cannot ban dispensaries under House Bill 3460 or under Senate Bill 863, a state law regarding genetically modified organisms.
    The Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities both disagreed with Buckley and maintained cities had the right to ban dispensaries.
    Then, on March 19, Senate Bill 1531 was signed into law, giving local governments the ability to regulate and restrict medical marijuana. The bill also allows cities to enact moratoriums on dispensaries until May 1, 2015.
    Buckley said change is difficult, but professionally run dispensaries such as Breeze Botanicals will help dispel many of the fears.
    He said Ashland is moving forward with an ordinance that will allow placement of dispensaries, and he said he expects Talent might also find a way to have dispensaries.
    "I actually think things are moving forward despite some of the roadblocks being put up by some of the cities in Southern Oregon," Buckley said. "It is worth the effort to get to a professional system that is effective."
    Medford Councilor Daniel Bunn said he agrees with Buckley that fears about marijuana dispensaries will fade over time if they prove they can operate within the rules.
    "If Buckley believes that, he shouldn't try to force cities to have dispensaries," Bunn said. "Basically, he was saying that he wanted to force every town to take them right now."
    Bunn said that even Buckley's home town of Ashland has taken a cautious approach to enacting a dispensary ordinance.
    "I thought it was pretty great when Ashland said, 'We want local control,' " Bunn said.
    Medford has placed a permanent moratorium on dispensaries, and it revoked the business license for MaryJane's Attic and Basement, a boutique and pot dispensary in the Winco Shopping Center on Barnett Road. The city relied on federal law, which provides criminal penalties for medical use of marijuana.
    Medford likely will wait a couple of years to see how marijuana dispensaries work in other communities, Bunn said. Medford wants to learn what's working and what's not working, he said.
    Gold Hill is an example of local control improving on a state law by requiring background checks of all employees, Bunn said.
    "We're not against it to be against it," he said. "It should be the last resort to force something on people."
    Buckley said he is considering an amendment to HB 3460 to require background checks on all dispensary employees, not just the owner.
    Leland Berger, a Portland lawyer who represents marijuana dispensaries in Medford and Phoenix that have been forced to shut down, said, "The Legislature in general didn't anticipate that the bill would be sabotaged."
    Berger said positions taken by the League of Oregon Cities and Association of Oregon Counties encouraged city lawyers, city managers and mayors to amend business license ordinances.
    Both Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Buckley, who co-authored HB 3460, were "blindsided" by the proponents of SB 1531, Berger said.
    "They decided that local control and power was greater than state pre-emption," he said.
    In the northern part of the state, marijuana dispensaries have operated for years with very little interference from local governments, Berger said.
    HB 3460 removed the gray area that these dispensaries operated under in the northern part of the state and opened up the potential for more dispensaries in the southern part of the state, he said.
    "I think there are two Oregons," Berger said.
    In the north, dispensaries have operated for years, but in Southern Oregon, they have had a difficult time, he said.
    "There remains this disconnect where municipalities like Medford seize local control and justify it through bigotry and a claim to be upholding federal law," Berger said.
    Andrea Adams, owner of The Greenery in Phoenix, said that since raids on some local dispensaries last year and the passage of HB 3460, there is probably 90-percent less access to safe medical marijuana from stores in the area.
    "It's been a huge crackdown," she said. "I'm disappointed in the bigotry on behalf of local governments and lobbying groups to undermine 3460."
    Adams said The Greenery is complying with a Jackson County Circuit Court injunction to halt the dispensing of medical marijuana. She said The Greenery remains open to advise patients about their needs, referring them to dispensaries in Gold Hill and Klamath Falls.
    She said she shares Buckley's feelings that over a relatively short period of time, there will be greater acceptance.
    The country has endured about 100 years of prohibitions against marijuana that have created unfair laws and unfair sentiments against pot, Adams said.
    "When you clean up messy situations, sometimes it gets messier before it's cleaned," she said. "The battles heat up before they're over."
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.
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