Pending marijuana legislation complicates ability to draft rules

Note: This story was amended to reflect that the Washington County Sheriff's Office has taken a stance against establishing medical marijuana dispensaries in the county. The county government has not taken a position on the issue.

A retired public health nurse, Betty Bode is perplexed that she appears alone among Beaverton City Council members in believing medical marijuana dispensaries have no place in the city.

“I cannot support, in any way, shape or form, putting medical marijuana facilities in Beaverton,” she said on Monday. “I would’ve thought that protecting the community from being a relaxed avenue for getting drugs would be something the council would be very strong on. I’m very surprised.”

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Bode proved true to her word. She provided the sole abstention in a vote on a first reading of a work-in-progress ordinance to regulate dispensaries, including a six-month moratorium on issuing licenses beginning in March.

The remaining four councilors voted in favor of the first reading of the ordinance, which will get a second reading and final vote at the Tuesday, Feb. 25, council meeting.

The issue of medical marijuana dispensaries has dominated the past two council meetings, as cities and residents wrestle with the pros and cons of a drug the state claims has medicinal qualities but the U.S. government considers a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

The cities of Gresham and Medford led the charge to block dispensaries from opening doors within their borders. That surge caught on in Washington County, where several cities and the sheriff's office have taken stands to at least temporarily ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

On Tuesday, the state Senate voted to hinder county and city governments’ ability to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, which will become legal in Oregon on March 1.

Initial drafts of Senate Bill 1531, introduced earlier this month, allowed city and county governments to ban medical marijuana dispensaries outright. But a fifth amendment to the bill, adopted Feb. 13, did away with any language of prohibition. Instead, the bill now allows cities and counties to impose only “reasonable regulations” on registered medical marijuana facility operations. The bill, which is on its way to the House after passing unanimously in the Senate, does not give them the ability to deny such facilities outright.

Beaverton City Attorney Bill Kirby — noting the ongoing conflict between state and federal laws — said he believes cities currently have the ability to ban the facilities. If council chooses not to go in that direction, he stressed the issues at stake that would make tight regulation desirable.

“I think there are a number of reasons and rational grounds for cities to justify regulating facilities,” he said. “(This involves) large amounts of cash. There is real risk here.”

The federal prohibition of marijuana makes many banks leery of associating with medical marijuana businesses, rendering many of them cash-only operations.

As written, the Beaverton ordinance requires entrepreneurs to apply, prove registration with the Oregon Health Authority and pay a $100 license fee. The city has 180 days after receiving an application to verify that it meets requirements and issue the license. Licenses would require annual renewal for a $75 fee.

Bode’s abstention aside, councilors appeared comfortable with Kirby’s emphasis on the ordinance being a “stop-gap” work in progress. The

ordinance could be tweaked during the six-month moratorium or thereafter and subject to changes in state as well as federal laws.

“I’m comfortable with what we’ve got before us tonight,” said Council President Mark Fagin, noting the need for additional public input. “The landscape is changing quickly. The (ordinance) is going to change. Let’s go out and talk to people and find out the best way (to implement it). We need to do this right.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Bode, Councilor Cate Arnold — who earlier said she benefitted from medical marijuana capsules in her successful battle with breast cancer — advocated for safe, legal availability for the medicine in Beaverton.

“There is very, very strong evidence there are medical uses for marijuana,” she said. “We need to work (licensing and permitting) out so it doesn’t bring an unfair burden on people.”

Times reporter Saundra Sorenson contributed to this story.

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