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Pot processing and sales banned

Marijuana processors, wholesalers and dispensaries are banned in Jacksonville until voters can decide in November whether such activities should be legal, the City Council decided Tuesday.

The ban applies to both medical and recreational marijuana, but does not apply to growing pot for either use.

All councilors voted for the immediate ban except Brad Bennington. The referrals to voters were unanimous.

“I understand the arguments in all directions," said Mayor Paul Becker, who voted for the measures as allowed by city charter. "I’m always for anything where we take it to the voters."

Oregon voters approved the legalization of marijuana and the Oregon Legislature put up some side rails, Bennington said Wednesday. He said it wasn't his place to enact a ban administratively, although he’s not opposed to the town’s citizens enacting one.

“It’s just my opinion that it wasn’t appropriate for me to vote in something like that,” said Bennington. “That’s up to the people.”

Voters will decide in separate measures whether medical and recreational marijuana processing and sales should be allowed in city limits. No one spoke in opposition to the measures or the immediate ban at Tuesday's meeting, and former Mayor Clara Wendt urged passage of all three during public testimony.

“I was very surprised we had little audience last night, maybe 10 people,” said Becker.

Municipalities are allowed to refer pot bans to voters under rules approved by the 2015 Oregon Legislature after voters statewide legalized recreational marijuana effective July 1, 2015. Jacksonville voters opposed the legalization measure in the November 2014 election.

If voters approve upholding the ban on recreational pot processing and sales in November, Jacksonville would be ineligible to receive state marijuana tax revenues. Recreational sales are taxed at a 25 percent rate as of Jan. 1. Additionally, the city would forgo the option of a 3 percent tax on the sale of marijuana items in the city. Passage of the medical marijuana ban would result in similar marijuana tax restrictions.

Provisions in state law would allow any medical marijuana dispensaries or processors legally registered with the state at the time of the ban to continue operations. The same criteria apply even if voters approve the medical marijuana ban. Jacksonville, however, has no businesses that meet those criteria.

Police Chief David Towe in June 2015 asked the City Council to consider enacting limitations on the growing of both medical and recreational marijuana plants. But the council opted to rely on a city nuisance ordinance as a way to control grows should they become a problem for neighbors or the city and to consider regulation only if it appeared necessary.

Becker said he hadn't heard any complaints about marijuana gardens.

“It’s as quiet as a basement in a church," he said. "I haven't heard a single thing.”

Towe said there had been no complaints to his department over the past six months, although there had been issues a couple of times earlier.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.