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Ashland lifts moratorium on marijuana dispensaries

A moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in Ashland was lifted by the city council Tuesday night and regulations on their operation, location and taxation were approved.Councilors enacted the moratorium in April to allow time to work out the regulations.The ordinances regarding operation of dispensaries and taxes will take effect Sept. 4, while the lifting of the moratorium takes effect immediately."A dispensary could open up in the city between now and when the other ordinances take effect," city Administrator Dave Kanner said. "However, the ordinances are retroactive, so they would need to be in compliance with the ordinances by Sept. 4."Two dispensaries in Ashland, one on Williamson Way and another on Clear Creek Drive, have been issued provisional licenses by the state to open. The operator of the Williamson Way dispensary declined on Wednesday to comment on the lifting of the moratorium. Attempts to reach the operator of a proposed dispensary on Clear Creek Drive for comment were unsuccessful.The ordinance outlines the process of obtaining a dispensary permit from the city, which is required in addition to a city business license. Permits must be renewed annually. Fees will be determined at a later date by a council resolution.Dispensaries cannot manufacture or produce any extracts, oils, resins or other marijuana derivatives on-site and open flame cannot be used in preparation of any products. Marijuana and tobacco products also cannot be smoked or consumed on the premises of the dispensary.Dispensary operating hours are restricted. They may not open earlier than 9 a.m. and remain open no later than 7 p.m."Those are the operating hours of the pharmacy at Bi-Mart," Councilor Pam Marsh said. "I think, at least hours wise, we should treat dispensaries like a pharmacy."Councilor Carol Voisin proposed an amendment that requires background checks by the city for operators, financers and employees of dispensaries as a permit condition, in addition to the background checks the state conducts on operators.Councilor Dennis Slattery had some opposition to the inclusion of employees in the amendment."We're a country that forgives," Slattery said. "I don't want to exclude someone from work that they may be qualified for."Councilor Greg Lemhouse said he believes this would provide more transparency in regards to dispensary practices."We want to put the community members at the highest level of comfort that these facilities are clean, safe and legitimate," he said.The amendment was adopted.Alex Rogers chief executive officer of Ashland Alternative Health, 180 Clear Creek Drive, says he applauds the council on its decision. Ashland Alternative Health is a clinic that helps qualifying patients acquire their medical marijuana card from the state."Before this, patients had to rely solely on growers and the black market," Rogers says. "Now they have safe access to their medicine."A medical marijuana dispensary operated from late last year through April at Puff's Smoke Shop on Ashland Street. It was closed by state order because it was, barely, within 1,000 feet of a school.Councilors also passed Tuesday an ordinance that will impose a tax on the sale of marijuana for medical and, should Oregon voters legalize recreational use in November, for recreational purposes.While the original ordinance proposed a tax rate of no more than 5 percent for medical sales and 10 percent for recreational sales, Councilor Rich Rosenthal proposed an amendment, which was approved by the council, to remove those limits from the ordinance and allow the tax rate to be set by council resolution at a later date.A motion by Lemhouse to eliminate the tax from medical sales failed, 4-2."If it's medicine, let's treat it like medicine," he said. "I don't want to tax someone's medicine."Slattery agreed, saying that, while future councils could change the tax rates, eliminating the medical marijuana tax would make a value statement to future councils that medical marijuana should not be taxed locally.The rate decision is now up to future council deliberation.Kanner intends to have a tax resolution ready for the council by its next meeting on Aug. 19. He believes the fees resolution will be ready for the council by their Sept. 2 meeting.Reach reporter Ian Hand at 541-776-4464. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IanHand_DT.