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Medford pot ban may not last

A yearlong moratorium on marijuana sales in Medford may be on its last legs.

Medford City Council on Thursday urged city planners to come up with some rules that could open the door for sales of medical and recreational marijuana.

“The more we drag our heels, the more disservice we do to people who want to engage in this business,” Councilor Clay Bearnson said.

In light of various state laws supporting sales of marijuana, the council held a joint meeting with the Medford Planning Commission to discuss where pot stores could be located in the city.

“How fast can we get this to the council?” Councilor Kevin Stine asked Jim Huber, planning director.

“I don’t know,” Huber responded.

But Huber said he would try to quickly put together zoning requirements for marijuana producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers. The Planning Commission would take a look at it, make some comments and forward the suggestions to the council.

Deputy City Attorney Kevin McConnell said the city will be looking at time, place and manner restrictions on pot stores.

“You need to decide whether you want to lift the moratorium,” he said.

Under House Bill 3400, retail sales of recreational marijuana are scheduled to begin Oct. 1 through existing medical marijuana dispensaries. Because of Medford’s ban on sales, no marijuana is supposed to be sold in stores within city limits. However, seven dispensaries are in operation between Ashland and Phoenix.

Two different dispensary owners attempted to operate in Medford but were shut down after the city took them to court.

By next year, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will begin licensing various marijuana-related businesses.

Bearnson said the longer the city takes to create an ordinance to allow regulated sales of marijuana, the more it will encourage the black market locally.

Planning Commissioner Bill Mansfield (name corrected from an earlier version) said a majority of citizens of Oregon voted in favor of marijuana, but a minority of citizens oppose the idea.

“Not all of us are of one mind,” he said.

Councilors threw out some suggestions about where pot stores could be located, such as in industrial or commercial zones.

Other cities have allowed pot dispensaries in the same locations as drug stores.

“I think we need to sit down and say where we think it’s the most compatible,” Councilor Daniel Bunn said.

On a related matter, the City Council is scheduled to hold a second reading next week on an ordinance that would allow growing up to four marijuana plants per household and provide a way for residents to seek removal of foul-smelling plants.

However, planning Commissioner Joe Foley said other communities have noticed an increase in energy consumption because of indoor grows.

Other commissioners and councilors wondered whether indoor smoking clubs should be allowed. Still others wondered whether the city should regulate pot-testing labs but discovered they will be overseen by the OLCC.

“We’re breaking new ground with all of this,” planning Commissioner Mark McKechnie said.

Mayor Gary Wheeler said he would not be comfortable with commercial outdoor marijuana grows and said the issue of marijuana legalization has been a difficult one for the city.

“What do we want our city to be?” Wheeler said. “It’s a changing landscape for our community.”

At the same time, he said he would like to see a solution come forward fairly quickly.

“We don’t want to do a disservice to people who want to get in this line of business,” he said.

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