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Charter change shot down

City officials say voters gave a clear directive when they shot down a change in the Phoenix City Charter that would have freed council members from upholding federal law. 

The change would've removed language in councilors' oath of office requiring they uphold federal law. More than two-thirds of those who cast ballots on the measure voted no Tuesday. 

Mayor Jeff Bellah said the charter change would have allowed council members to vote in favor of medical marijuana dispensaries and not be in violation of their oath of office.

"I really feel the citizens were saying, 'We don't want dispensaries,' " Bellah said.

"This vote was one way to get a broader perspective from the people of Phoenix. One could argue that people are just saying we don't want to go against federal law, but I sense that a lot of people realized what the conflict was."

Lee Berger, attorney for The Greenery, a medical marijuana facility that was closed by the city this year, said the vote would not prevent dispensaries' right to open if state law deems that cities cannot implement permanent bans or regulate dispensaries in other ways.

Berger called the city's utilization of the ballot measure as a vote for or against dispensaries "morally wrong."

"I think if you are committed to continuing an inhumane policy of denying people their medicine and trying to ignore something that state law does, in fact, allow, then that's exactly the way you frame the question. I think the way they framed the question dictated what the result would be, so of course people were confused by it," Berger said.

"Sadly that's the kind of politics they play in the city of Phoenix. They deny people a chance to vote on the real issue and rely on the fact that the way they phrase it will get the results that they're hoping for. It's an incredibly cruel game that they play."

City officials and The Greenery are headed back to court in early December to determine whether an injunction ordered this fall will be upheld. Bellah said the injunction would remain in place until a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries lifts on May 1, 2015. City Council members would then decide whether any dispensaries will be permitted in town, he said.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.