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Pendleton hazy on pot ballot measure

PENDLETON — It has been six months since the Pendleton City Council agreed to refer marijuana sales to the ballot, but exactly what voters will decide is still up in the air.

The members of the council met this week to discuss how to write the ballot measure for November, but could not reach a consensus.

While the council previously discussed asking voters three questions — whether to legalize recreational marijuana, whether to legalize medical marijuana and whether to assess a 3 percent tax on the revenue — City Attorney Nancy Kerns advised against this approach.

"My logic is that statute says that if you have any kind of ban, you can't have a tax," she said.

Kerns said state law prohibits cities from imposing a local tax or collecting its share of the state's 17 percent tax on marijuana if they ban any aspect of medical or recreational marijuana sales.

She suggested writing two questions for the ballot, a question that covered sales for both medical and recreational marijuana and another that addressed the tax.

This news caused consternation among some of the councilors.

Councilor Tom Young said some council members had proposed three ballot questions because they thought medical marijuana would have a better chance of passing than recreational.

Councilor Paul Chalmers suggested forgoing the tax altogether, which would allow the city to pose separate questions on medical and recreational marijuana.

"I think that the tax piece is a minor piece when compared to giving our constituents a voice," he said.

Agreeing with Chalmers, Young said marijuana voters wouldn't vote to tax themselves.

"Let's just be practical," Young said. "If you ask the two questions, 'Do you want to smoke dope? Do you want to pay tax on it?' Duh. I can answer that right now. . So the tax is somewhat of a moot point. They're going to vote no."

Despite weighing in on the issue, Young reiterated that he would vote against putting any sort of question on the ballot because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Councilor Chuck Wood said the local tax was important because it would bolster the city's "dinky" share of the state tax.

Several councilors agreed that they should speak with an official from the League of Oregon Cities before they proceed so they can go over their options.

The council can't spend too much more time debating the ballot questions. Kerns said the council needs to pass a resolution next month.