Last week, the Prineville City Council cast a split vote on recreational pot sales that favored caution, and prohibited local retail sales pending legalization of the drug at the federal law.
Given the conflict between state and federal law and the stance the Trump administration has taken regarding marijuana, we think this is the right call.
The decision banning recreational sales did not come easily for the council. More than one councilor has changed their stance on the issue since it first emerged with the passage of Measure 91 in November 2014, and several arguments were raised for and against an ordinance prohibiting legal sales.
Those opposing recreational pot sales pointed out that it is illegal at the federal level, creating conflict with their oath of office to uphold state and federal laws. Also, while state voters approved the bill, Crook County voters resoundingly rejected it — and a survey distributed to city residents seemed to back that view. Concerns about child safety have also been raised and so has the possibility of increased incidents of driving under the influence.
Those supporting legal marijuana sales likewise offered multiple arguments. Some councilors point out that legal sale of the drug is safer for the public since it is highly regulated by the OLCC. Prohibition, they say, would prompt people to obtain the drug by illegal means, where the marijuana is unregulated and potentially laced with unknown items that make it far more dangerous to consume.
Military veteran Jason Beebe said he used to support prohibition, but changed his stance because he has seen the drug help fellow veterans facing post-traumatic stress disorder. He prefers to make access for veterans easier, and not force people to either travel to Madras or Bend to buy cannabis or purchase it on the black market.
Legal sales also raises a financial question for councilors. Measure 91 calls for communities that allow legal sales to receive tax revenue to help with any costs that legalization incur. Consequently, since it appears the laws are slowly shifting toward full legalization of marijuana nationally, it makes more sense to allow recreational sales and collect the taxes that come with that decision.
While we understand the potential to miss out on tax revenue and possibly increase black market sales of marijuana, we feel that the federal government's longtime stance on the drug and the election of a Republican president and congressional majority makes the city's stance the safe one. Perhaps if lawmakers in Congress were close to changing the DEA's classification of the drug from Schedule I to perhaps Schedule 3 or lower, there would be reason to follow Oregon law and assume the federal government would soon change its restrictions on pot. But with the DEA announcing they will not change the schedule listing of marijuana and Trump stating plans to tighten marijuana laws, now is not the time to open the door to recreational sales.
The good news for the city, as Councilor Jeff Papke pointed out, is that they are not bound to their decision. City leaders have the latitude to amend the ordinance at any time, provided recreational marijuana remains legal at the state level.
The decision to prohibit recreational pot sales in Prineville is the correct one — for now.