Councilors are taking advantage of a provision in Senate Bill 1531 that allows temporary moratoriums on medical marijuana facilities

When presented with an opportunity to temporarily ban medical marijuana facilities from the community, Prineville City Councilors did not hesitate to act.

At its regularly scheduled meeting last week, City Manager Steve Forrester presented the council with Senate Bill 1531, newly passed by the Oregon Legislature. He explained that the legislation allows municipalities to declare a moratorium on pot dispensaries for one calendar year starting May 1.

"The reason for that is it gives us time to develop a code, policy, or process on how to manage medical marijuana dispensaries on a go-forward basis," he said.

Following his introduction, City Planning Director Phil Stenbeck addressed the council, stressing the need to move quickly if they wanted to proceed with the ban.

"For us to move forward with this moratorium, land-use law requires a 35-day notice to the Department of Land Conservation and Development," he said.

Forrester added that the city may face other time-sensitive requirements such as giving notice to the state health department or providing 30 days' notice for passage of a local ordinance.

Stenbeck presented the council with three options. One was to take no action and regulate any facilities based on the existing code and current state law. This means no facilities could operate within 1,000 feet of a school or another medical marijuana facility. In addition, all facilities would have to register with the Oregon Health Authority, and would only be allowed in commercial, industrial, mixed-use, or agricultural lands.

The second option would update the Land Use Code with language pertaining to hours of operation and where the facility may be located, as well as the manner in in which the medical marijuana is dispensed.

Under the third option, the city would approve the moratorium. When it sunsets the following year, the city would be required by state law to allow dispensaries and regulate them.

"Cities do not have the option of not regulating," Stenbeck stressed.

The councilors quickly and unanimously voted to impose the moratorium, but not before Mayor Betty Roppe expressed her displeasure with the situation.

"I don't understand how they can mandate that we have to allow it if it is against federal law," she said.

The moratorium comes at a time when no medical marijuana facilities are operating in Prineville. Local resident Ryan Cole opened the community's first and only dispensary in 2012, but is believed to have since gone out of business following two arrests of the proprietor on drug-related charges. Both cases are still pending.

Whether the provisions of SB 1531 go unchanged remains to be seen, but Stenbeck said he anticipates continued discussions on marijuana dispensaries as other municipalities throughout Oregon take advantage of the moratorium option.

"I expect more questions to be raised," he said.

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