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Phoenix joins list of those with marijuana dispensary moratorium

Phoenix this week became the 10th governing body in Jackson and Josephine counties to pass a moratorium prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries for up to a year, even though dispensaries have been legal under state law since March 1.

Only one town — Ashland — allows the dispensaries, though it passed a temporary moratorium on any new dispensaries downtown or within employment zones.

Three towns — Medford, Jacksonville and Butte Falls — have banned the dispensaries outright, saying they conflict with federal laws that prohibit the sale of marijuana.

City councils and boards of commissioners across both counties say they want time to devise ordinances to regulate a new type of business that not only conflicts with federal law, but could have ramifications for neighbors and law enforcement.

On Wednesday, Cave Junction filed a lawsuit against the state in the hope of forcing a judge to decide whether the dispensaries law, approved by the Legislature in 2013, complies with Oregon and U.S. constitutions.

Statewide, at least 25 counties and 128 cities have adopted moratoriums, according to The Associated Press. Out of 355 dispensary applications, 73 have been approved so far, including 15 approved Friday in Bend, Portland, Salem, McMinnville, Eugene, Astoria and Klamath Falls, according to the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program.

Many councils have complained about the lack of guidance from the Legislature, but Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, believes the rules are clearly spelled out in the new law.

"Several cities, like Bend, Portland and Eugene, have simply used the regulations that were developed through the rules process," Buckley said. "Cities that have additional concerns about the impact of dispensaries are going the moratorium route in order to have some additional time, but from the state's standpoint, it's very much spelled out."

Buckley applauded Ashland's focus to determine where facilities would be allowed under existing city ordinances and state guidelines.

"For most cities, it might make sense in one and not in another," he said.

"It always was the intention of the state to make sure cities could designate the proper area for a dispensary but also to ensure that medical marijuana patients have safe access to medicine," Buckley said.

Phoenix voted Tuesday to extend its four-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries to a full year at the urging of Mayor Jeff Bellah, who said he wanted to ensure the council had enough time to determine regulations that best meet the city's needs.

Council member Terry Helfrich, the lone "no" vote, encouraged the council to settle the issue before the next council election.

He also said The Greenery, a patient resource center in town, and a proposed marijuana testing facility should be granted business licenses by year's end.

"When I'm driving through Phoenix five years from now, if nothing has happened and it looks anything like it does now, then I didn't deserve to have ever been elected," Helfrich said. "We've done all this legwork and had months of testimony. It's time to move forward and not kick the can down the road for a new council to start this process all over again."

Moving forward would be a welcome development for The Greenery, said Leland Berger, a Portland lawyer who represents the Phoenix dispensary.

"I just think that everyone involved would like to see this resolved as soon as possible," Berger said. "All we can do is wait and see."

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

Mail Tribune / file photo - file photo