Councilors ponder marijuana options

Sean C. Morgan

The City Council is considering whether to place a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.

The council held the first reading of an ordinance to implement a moratorium during its regular meeting on April 9, but the councilors did not reach a consensus to hold a second reading.

If the council chooses to pass the ordinance, it will need to read it two more times and pass the ordinance before the end of the month.

The council scheduled a meeting for Tuesday to take public comment about the ordinance and read the ordinance a second time. The ordinance may be read a third time during its regular meeting on April 22, and the council may vote on the ordinance.

“The issue of medical marijuana facilities within city limits has been raised and discussed statewide for several months,” said City Manager Craig Martin. “Some cities have business licensing regulations that restrict businesses that may be in violation of state or federal law and believe that this allows them to deny such an establishment.”

Sweet Home does not have such business regulations, Martin said. A medical marijuana facility would be regulated by the city’s zoning ordinance and the restriction against of such a business within 1,000 feet of schools.

If enacted, the moratorium would temporarily prohibit the establishment of these businesses until May 1, 2015 or earlier if repealed by the council, Martin said.

The city received two inquiries in late 2013 regarding establishment of medical marijuana facilities, but it hasn’t had any since then, Martin said. Some cities have enacted short-term moratoriums so they can draft zoning regulations to address the dispensaries.

With a deadline looming to pass an ordinance, Martin wanted to check with the council in time for councilors to pass the ordinance if they choose to.

Councilor Scott McKee Jr. told the council that he has been a participant in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program for 11 years and that he supports allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Councilor Dave Trask said Sweet Home ought to wait the year and see what the consequences are.

“There’s a lot of unknowns associated with the opening of these dispensaries,” said Police Chief Jeff Lynn. Sweet Home can look to Colorado and Washington for an idea of what can happen, but there isn’t much information yet.

Brandi Hawkins, who owns Periwinkle Provisions, said she has been asked by at least 10 people whether she would begin selling medical marijuana. Describing herself as a “conservative Christian, she said she has no plans to sell it, but she told the council that medical marijuana helps some people.

Cannabis has the potential to be taken off the street through dispensaries, she said, although she recognizes the social issues.

“I would just encourage you to keep an open mind and not take a knee-jerk reaction,” Hawkins said.

McKee said he favors a public comment period or taking no action at this point, but he said state-regulated dispensaries would take out the “shady” side of the existing medical marijuana distribution system.

“This medication has increased the quality of my life, as it has for so many others in our community,” McKee said. He has several “debilitating conditions,” and chose marijuana after years of traditional medication and their side effects. He grew his own marijuana for nearly eight years, but that was difficult to do while being a father of two and an active volunteer. For the last few years, he has been getting his medication from dispensaries in Salem and Eugene.

“Producing this medication is a very complicated and demanding process,” McKee said. “Dispensary operations are often run like pharmacies and have strict rules and guidelines for receiving and providing medicine to the patients they serve.”

He doesn’t believe it will impact accessibility for youth and would instead provide a safe, consistent place for those with a legal right to use it to purchase marijuana, McKee said. It would give those who produce a surplus a place to get rid of it without selling it on the street.

He pointed out that a crop of marijuana grew to maturity within 25 yards of Main Street in plain view and accessible to anyone passing by. Contacting police, he learned that the person was legally growing the marijuana, and there wasn’t anything that could be done about it.

“I feel the city would be better off to not act at this time, to not jump on the popular bandwagon of moratoriums, comply with the current state law and let the state and federal governments duel about the lega lities,” McKee said.

Trask said he prefers a moratorium.

“I’m not comfortable this is the way to go. I just don’t think it’s a very good idea.”

Other councilors did not comment, although when Mayor Jim Gourley asked for consensus, Councilor Bruce Hobbs said he did not support a second reading that night.

Present at the meeting were councilors Marybeth Angulo, Craig Fentiman, Gourley, Hobbs, Greg Mahler, McKee and Trask.

In other business, the council:

n Recommended to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission approval of an off-premise liquor license for Foster Lake Market, formerly Lakeside Market, and owner Surinder Kaur, who also owns Hilltop Market.