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Pot dispensaries headed for White City?

White City could become a popular place to open medical marijuana dispensaries if Jackson County commissioners follow through on a recommendation by planning staff.

During a study session Tuesday, commissioners looked at maps of unincorporated areas that are zoned commercial in order to identify possible locations for dispensaries as allowed under House Bill 3460, passed by the Legislature in 2013.

“That’s miles of opportunities for retail sales,” Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said. He estimated that about a dozen dispensaries could be located in areas clustered next to Highway 62 and along Highway 99.

White City had the most commercial areas, but other options included unincorporated land between cities along Highway 99 and just outside Medford along West Main Street.

Kelly Madding, director of county Development Services, recommended the county allow dispensaries only in commercial zones and not on farmland or industrial locations, though dispensaries in those areas are permissible under House Bill 3460.

She said she didn't recommend allowing dispensaries on properties zoned interchange commercial, based on security issues raised by Sheriff Corey Falls.

Falls also recommended keeping dispensaries away from the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City, a transition center on Highway 99 and other drug, alcohol and mental health centers in the county.

Other small commercial areas in outlying regions such as Ruch and Butte Falls would be off-limits to dispensaries, based on Madding’s recommendations.

Jackson County enacted a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries until May 1 so commissioners could create local rules that determine time, place and manner of operation. Some local cities already have enacted laws that allow dispensaries, while others such as Medford have imposed a permanent moratorium.

Jackson County has the second-highest number of Oregon Medical Marijuana Program patients in the state with 8,247, or about 1 in 25 people.

On Nov. 5, 2014, commissioners approved a special election on March 10 for a measure that seeks to tax both medical and recreational marijuana. Voters will decide whether the tax on sellers and producers is appropriate. 

The commissioners focused on medical marijuana Tuesday and avoided much discussion about the legalization of recreational marijuana, which takes effect July 1. Retail stores that sell recreational marijuana will be allowed in 2016 thanks to Measure 91, passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2014.

Commissioners generally appeared to support Madding’s recommendations for locating medical marijuana dispensaries, including keeping them away from schools and demanding a strenuous land-use review of each application related to traffic, smell and other factors, such as proximity to licensed day care facilities.

In coming up with possible rules for dispensaries, Madding said she referred to the county’s ordinance regarding drug stores, which typically stay open from 9 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. Pharmacies are generally open Monday through Saturday, closing on Sunday. Pharmacies located in large retail stores stay open for longer hours and are often open Sundays.

The commissioners also discussed creating a 1,000-foot zone around SORCC. A similar, 1,000-foot rule applies to schools under House Bill 3460, and dispensaries are required to be 1,000 feet apart.

“That presents a pretty prudent plan to operate with vulnerable populations,” Commissioner Rick Dyer said.

County Administrator Danny Jordan told commissioners they should be mindful to avoid creating policies that are so restrictive that it would be impossible to locate a dispensary in unincorporated areas of the county.

He told them that the Legislature is considering a number of bills that could affect the legalization of marijuana.

The county will be developing its policy regarding medical marijuana over several months, but potential state legislation could change the dynamics. Also, court cases are pending that may affect local laws regarding dispensaries.

Until new laws or rules are enacted, Jordan said, commissioners should work with the existing laws.

“We need to proceed with what we know,” Jordan said. “It’s changing rapidly.”

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