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Move to ban pot dispensaries falters in Salem

An effort in the state Senate to give cities such as Medford the authority to ban medical marijuana dispensaries appeared to die on Tuesday.

The Association of Oregon Counties and other organizations pushed for the adoption of Senate Bill 1531 to give local control over medical marijuana dispensaries once they begin operating after March 3.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he would amend SB 1531 to provide greater clarity about what regulations cities could impose on marijuana dispensaries but would remove the option for bans.

"They would not be able to outright ban them," said Prozanski, chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

Prozanski presided over a hearing Tuesday on the Senate bill, which is supported by the League of Oregon Cities, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, the Oregon Farm Bureau, the Associated Oregon Industries, the Oregon Forest Industries Council, the Oregon District Attorneys Association and the Oregon Association of Realtors.

Medford enacted an ordinance in September that effectively bans medical marijuana dispensaries. Ashland recently enacted an ordinance that essentially would treat dispensaries as any other business, and other local jurisdictions have taken up the issue, with most leaning toward bans.

House Bill 3460, which takes effect March 3, created regulations for establishing medical marijuana dispensaries, and there have been disputes among the cities and the bill's sponsors over whether it allows cities to enact local bans.

State Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, maintains that cities cannot ban dispensaries under House Bill 3460 or under Senate Bill 863, a state law regarding genetically modified organisms.

Rob Bovett, attorney for the Association of Oregon Counties, said cities want the ability to ban dispensaries because of the fear that HB 3460 would allow more access to marijuana.

"We're about to roll out the most unregulated medical marijuana dispensary system in the nation," he said.

Bovett said most municipal lawyers believe HB 3460 doesn't prevent cities from banning dispensaries. However, he said, Senate Bill 363 — the bill that prohibits local bans on GMOs — unintentionally could take away the rights of cities over local ordinances.

Bovett said language in Senate Bill 363 could set the stage for litigation that would undermine the original Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in federal courts.

Bovett said it appears that Senate Bill 1531 wouldn't survive in its original form after the hearing on Tuesday.

Legislators should allow some cities to ban dispensaries so they have a chance to see how they operate in other cities that welcome them, he said. "You could win over some cities if you just wait a while," Bovett said.

Medford police Chief Tim George sent legislators a letter on Feb. 8 urging support for the Senate bill:

"We here in Southern Oregon have to brace for the worst based on what currently happens to us," George wrote. "It is not one size fits all. This is why we believe local control is so important."

Beginning March 3, medical marijuana facilities registered with the Oregon Health Authority will be allowed to store marijuana and dispense it to Oregonians with medical marijuana cards or their caregivers. OHA rules require the marijuana to be tested for safety and set requirements for employee background checks, security systems and inspections at the facilities.

Under the law, dispensaries are not permitted within 1,000 feet of schools. At Tuesday's hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee also took a look at proposed amendments to SB 1531 that would extend that to preschools. The amendments would also require medical marijuana products to be in child-resistant packaging and would prohibit products made or packaged in a way that would be attractive to children.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.