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Phoenix to tackle rules for pot sales this month

PHOENIX — After a year of debate over medical marijuana and the closure of one dispensary, city officials are preparing guidelines for eventual permitting of both medical and recreational marijuana sales.

The City Council on Aug. 18 will discuss an ordinance that would establish guidelines for dispensaries, as well as a charter modification that would go before voters in November.

The charter modification, City Manager Steve Dahl said, would reword the oath of office taken by council members to eliminate conflict between federal and state law on the topic of medical cannabis.

Dahl said both moves are in preparation for an eventual vote to legalize recreational marijuana at the state level and to iron out details — from potential licensing fees or a sales tax to zoning rules and security requirements — for marijuana facilities.

The city had one dispensary, The Greenery, which was ordered closed, at the request of city officials, by a Jackson County judge.

City officials spent much of the past year discussing medical cannabis and negotiating with operators of The Greenery, though Dahl said city officials are unlikely to lift a yearlong moratorium before it expires in May.

Dahl said the charter change would help alleviate concerns voiced by council members about medical marijuana facilities being prohibited under federal law, which they are sworn to uphold.

"Basically, the plan is to remove five words in the oath that say 'laws of the United States,' and that would allow everyone to feel comfortable with having medical marijuana facilities inside the city," Dahl said.

"This way the council would not feel like it goes against the oath they take."

Council member Terry Helfrich said he felt the city was taking a step in the right direction with the proposed ordinance and charter change.

Helfrich, who supported The Greenery and hoped to see the facility comply with state law before being shuttered, said the facility would not have been permitted to open under the new guidelines.

Proximity to a park and possibly one school, Helfrich said, would prevent The Greenery from operating at its former location.

Helfrich said he hoped to see "some tweaking" of the proposed ordinance, which would define dispensaries as adult-oriented businesses, similar to bars.

"We're already talking about not allowing them within certain distance of schools, churches and parks, so The Greenery wouldn't be allowed where it is now, near a park," Helfrich said.

"And I agree with having some restrictions, but I just don't want to see us be too restrictive to the point we discourage new business from coming into Phoenix."

Helfrich said he hoped to see the council come up with solutions that "both the city and potential future businesses can live with."

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