Split council snuffs pot moratorium

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home will not impose a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

The council, in a tight 4-3 vote, turned down a motion to enact a one-year moratorium on the facilities during its regular meeting on April 22, following the third reading of the proposed ordinance.

Oregon’s 242 cities and 36 counties have until May 1 to enact a moratorium. The Statesman-Journal newspaper reported two weeks ago that, based on its own research and data from the League of Oregon Cities, nearly 100 cities and counties had passed moratoriums, including Lebanon, Brownsville and Scio, as has Linn County, whose moratorium put a dispensary on Lebanon’s east border, at 2999 S. Santiam Highway, out of business. Albany’s City Council did not enact a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, deciding instead to consider two separate ordinances that would restrict where dispensaries could be located, the Democrat-Herald reported.

Sweet Home’s councilors’ final decision on the moratorium drew several responses from the audience.

“Medical marijuana is a natural flower,” said Michael O’Malley of Sweet Home. “It’s a cure-all. The only thing wrong with it is it’s against the law for a political reason.

“The patients are everywhere. I am one of them. I am not a criminal.”

Cannabis is hard to grow, said C.J. Stephenson, a volunteer at Going Green, a club in Lebanon that operated the dispensary shut down by the county’s moratorium. He said he uses it for pain relief and to calm muscle spasms. He is partially paralyzed on his right side. Medical marijuana facilities provide a way for those with medical marijuana cards to get their medical marijuana, which now must be tested for its medicinal quality.

Mary Boyd provides safe access to a product that takes three months to grow.

“I just want people to be open and not think we’re criminals,” she said.

“You’d have a lot less people walking around with backpacks selling it,” said David Melbye of Sweet Home.

“This is my home, and it would be nice to let everybody else be the guinea pigs,” said Zach Lincoln in support of the moratorium.

Councilor Greg Mahler said he has heard from both sides. Some say marijuana is a cure, while others say it destroys developing brains up to age 30.

He did not have enough information to make a quick decision, he said. About 104 cities have approved moratoriums, and he thought Sweet Home should join them, waiting to see what happens in the next year.

“I am not in any measure against you having your medication,” Councilor Dave Trask said to supporters. If it helps people, “I’m all for it. Why can’t you go to Safeway and get it?”

At least two opponents of the moratorium in the audience agreed, saying, “Why can’t we? Yeah, why can’t we?”

Voting to enact the moratorium were councilors Mahler, Trask and Mayor Jim Gourley. Marybeth Angulo, Craig Fentiman, Scott McKee Jr. and Bruce Hobbs voted against it.

Gourley said he wants the Planning Commission to look at establishing a buffer between residential zones and properties where the dispensaries are allowed. They are already restricted to commercial zones at least 1,000 feet from schools.

The council voted 6-1 to consider an appropriate buffer zone. Voting in support were Angulo, Fentiman, Gourley, McKee, Trask and Hobbs. Mahler voted no.

“I thought it was fair,” Melbye said of the decision. He also thought a buffer between residential zones and a facility is probably a good idea.