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Pot, GMOs unite south county

Ashland, Talent and Phoenix voters continued to show strong solidarity in their voting habits in the Nov. 4 election, wholeheartedly embracing GMO labeling and legalization of marijuana.

According to the Jackson County Elections Center precinct breakdowns, the three cities also voted overwhelming for Sen. Alan Bates, a Medford Democrat, over his opponent Dave Dotterrer, an Ashland Republican.

Three Ashland precincts approved Bates by more than an 80 percent margin. Dotterrer didn’t win any of the five Ashland precincts.

Every precinct in Ashland, Phoenix and Talent supported both the labeling of food products to show genetically modified organisms (Ballot Measure 92) and to legalize marijuana (Ballot Measure 91).

The cities of Ashland and Talent have approved medical marijuana dispensaries. But the Phoenix City Council shut down a dispensary, citing federal law. And though 55 percent of Phoenix voters approved legalizing pot, they rejected a charter amendment on the same ballot that would have freed councilors from upholding federal law to allow them to approve marijuana dispensaries.

Phoenix Mayor Jeff Bellah speculated that voters might be uncomfortable with the idea of supporting a charter amendment that gives the council the authority to violate federal law.

At the same time, the overwhelming support for marijuana legalization will mean the issue of dispensaries is far from over, Bellah said.

“We’ll have to look at that,” he said, calling the results "surprising."

Medford, which has also banned dispensaries, split almost evenly on Measure 91, with 13,708 voters supporting marijuana legalization and 13,749 against — a difference of just 41 votes. Countywide, the measure passed 53 percent to 47 percent.

Six of Medford’s 14 precincts voted for legalization, seven against, and one was nearly evenly split.

“The point is it’s close,” Medford Councilor Daniel Bunn said. “It reinforces how divisive of an issue this is.”

Bunn said that at some point the council will have to wrestle with establishing ordinances regulating time, place and manner of dispensaries or retail shops that sell pot, which is allowed under Ballot Measure 91.

If the council doesn’t allow retail outlets, then it will essentially encourage more backyard marijuana grows, which will create neighborhood tensions, Bunn said. Under the ballot measure, residents of Oregon can grow up to four plants.

Four of five precincts in west Medford voted to legalize marijuana, as did two precincts on either side of Jackson Street in east Medford.

In many cases, the precincts in Medford that voted for cannabis also voted for GMO labeling. The only exceptions were a precinct in southeast Medford in the North Phoenix and Coal Mine Road areas and a large precinct north of East McAndrews Road along Biddle Road that voted for GMOs but against cannabis.

Rural areas of the county, particularly the north county, tended to vote down GMO labeling and pot legalization, including the communities of Rogue River, Eagle Point and Central Point. Gold Hill voters supported both measures.

Jacksonville, which voted for Bates by a slim margin, approved legalizing marijuana and GMO labeling.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.