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Phoenix backs away from marijuana moratorium

PHOENIX — A divided City Council let drop Monday a motion to pass an emergency moratorium on all medical marijuana-related businesses within the city limits.

Licensed medical marijuana dispensaries will become legal under state law beginning March 3, but a moratorium would have given the city up to six months to outline local restrictions for such businesses.

The emergency motion, which required unanimous approval, was favored by only four of six council members.

Council members Carolyn and Stan Bartell, Chris Luz and Bruce Sophie approved of a moratorium, while members Terry Helfrich and Karen Jones were against the idea.

Helfrich told the council a moratorium of up to six months seemed "ridiculous" and unnecessary.

"Dispensaries won't even be approved until March 3, so I don't understand the benefit of a moratorium," he said. "I'm not even going to spend $10,000 (legal fees) on a moratorium if we're still going to get to the same place.

"We're plowing ahead of something we don't know will happen. We're kind of jumping at our own shadows."

Mayor Jeff Bellah sided with the idea of the moratorium, noting The Greenery, a medical marijuana business near the city's downtown, had been operating without a business license, subjecting the city to liability concerns and other issues.

The city has issued daily citations of up to $500 to The Greenery, but it cannot force a business to close over the lack of a city license.

Public comments during the three-hour meeting were limited to two minutes each. Bellah requested that audience members focus on the issue at hand, rather than discuss the "merits of medical cannabis."

Brittney Nottingham of Talent urged the council not to deprive cardholders of safe access to medicine. She took offense that City Council members, whom she called "a disgrace" to the city, had implied that medical marijuana facilities ranked alongside "porn shops, methadone clinics and strip clubs."

Retired "Hill Street Blues" actor Jon Cypher and his wife, Carol Rosin, of Ashland urged the council not to impose restrictions beyond state law that would limit patient access to medicine and education. Of his use of medical marijuana, Cypher told the council, "It's good stuff. It helps us. And God invented it."

Midway through testimony, Bellah voiced frustration over the audience's comments.

"Folks, I know you're very sincere about what you're doing and I know you believe you're within the law, but you're not even within the state law right now," he said.

Nurse practitioner Claudia Little, a medical marijuana patient herself, said when she discovered a fellow cardholder was without needed medicine, she shared some of her own — which she said is permitted under state law.

Little called The Greenery "a good neighbor" and said patients are permitted under state law to share access to medical cannabis. The Greenery claims it is coordinating patient contact, while the city maintains it is a dispensary.

"No laws are being broken and no one is being arrested," Little said.

"Who is being harmed by responsible adults using medicine at home and in private?"

City Manager Steve Dahl said a nonemergency ordinance allowing a moratorium could be discussed by the council at a future meeting.

Council members approved putting an advisory vote on May ballots for which Dahl said city staff would devise a list of questions pertaining to medical marijuana inside city limits.

A town hall meeting is planned to receive public comments on marijuana businesses and special city regulations for backyard growers.

A copy of the final temporary rules regarding medical marijuana dispensaries are available online at www.oregon.gov/oha/Pages/medicalmarijuanadispensaries.aspx.

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