Local councils unified in imposing moratoriums on dispensaries ahead of May 1 deadline

Any proprietors interested in opening medical marijuana dispensaries in northern Marion County may have to put their plans on hold, as most area city councils have taken advantage of the prerogative given them by the Legislature and imposed moratoriums on such facilities until after May 1, 2015.

As previously reported by the Woodburn Independent, the Woodburn City Council led the charge, imposing the moratorium as prescribed by state Senate Bill 1531 at its March 24 meeting, but other, smaller cities in the area were not far behind. (Per SB 1531, any city or town wishing to impose a moratorium must do so before May 1.)

The Gervais City Council unanimously approved a measure similar to Woodburn’s during its April 3 session.

“It gives us that year period,” Gervais Mayor Shanti Platt said. “We’re going to be looking at the differences between state and federal law.”

Even as it stands now, those differences are stark. Under federal law, it is illegal to possess, use, buy, sell or cultivate marijuana, and it remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, whereas state statutes permit its use upon doctor recommendation for the treatment of certain medical conditions.

And the gap could widen further, as rumors swirl that a measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use (as was done in Washington and Colorado in 2012) could appear on Oregon voters’ ballots in the November general election.

“I think we’re all waiting to see what happens with that,” Platt said. “Are we going to be following Washington and Colorado? Is all this preparation for that?”

Platt said the disparity between state and federal law has put local representatives in a difficult position.

“These things frustrate me, because we take an oath to uphold both federal and state law,” she said. “But by passing this, you’re putting me in violation of federal if I follow state law.”

Gervais Police Chief Peter Spirup has been among the strongest local voices against legalizing marijuana.

“From my perspective, adding another legal drug to our culture is not beneficial,” he said. “I think it’s problematic whenever people are impaired.”

Spirup informed the council during its March 6 meeting that he would lend his support to a letter by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office opposing medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I’m not going to sit here and say it has no medical value,” Spirup said. “But I don’t understand why it’s not processed like any other medicine. If it’s legitimate medicine, it should be treated and prescribed like any other legitimate medicine.”

The city of Mount Angel unanimously passed its version of the moratorium at its April 7 session, while the city of Hubbard followed suit at its monthly meeting the very next day.

“This is a very dynamic issue,” said Eileen Stein, Mount Angel city administrator. “And I think the council felt that putting the moratorium in place would allow the city time to understand what’s going on.”

The League of Oregon Cities issued a model moratorium ordinance that many local jurisdictions adapted to their own purposes. Stein said the agency is also hosting a one-day symposium next month on the issue of medical marijuana that she and other local officials plan to attend.

The one possible opening for medical marijuana dispensaries in the area may be in unincorporated Marion County. The Board of Commissioners issued a resolution opposing medical marijuana facilities in February and have banned their operation within county limits.

However, commissioners also established a process last month by which a dispensary could apply for a “ban exemption permit,” if it had previously obtained a permit from the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the licensing and regulatory Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program.

But according to Karynn Fish, spokeswoman for the OHA, there have been no requests to operate a dispensary in unincorporated Marion County as of yet. Since licensing registration for dispensaries opened in March, there have been only 15 applications filed in Marion County, and all of them were located in Salem.

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