Split city council vote makes recreational marijuana sales illegal, pending change of law at federal level

More than a year after city councilors began debating whether or not to allow recreational marijuana businesses in Prineville, a decision was reached Tuesday evening.

The council voted 4-3 in favor of Ordinance 1222, a law that prohibits recreational marijuana sales in Prineville unless the drug is removed from the DEA's schedule list. Mayor Betty Roppe and Councilors Jason Beebe and Teresa Rodriguez voted against the ordinance.

The delay in reaching a conclusion emerged after the city council considered a land-use code for recreational marijuana businesses in Prineville. The councilors wrestled with how to apply the new code because marijuana use and sales remained illegal at the federal level.

They ultimately decided on an ordinance that they thought would enable them to accept the code while keeping recreational marijuana sales contingent upon whether it was legal at the federal level. However, the language in the ordinance didn't end up making that distinction.

"The city passed Ordinance 1215 in June 2015 to amend the city's comprehensive plan and development code to allow certain recreational marijuana activities in certain areas of the city only when federal government reduces the classification of marijuana to less than a Schedule I drug," explained City Attorney Carl Dutli. "Concerns were raised that the intent of the council was really to decriminalize marijuana completely, so Ordinance 1222 was drafted to amend Ordinance 1215 so that recreational marijuana opportunities in Prineville would only be allowable if marijuana was no longer on any of the schedules I-V."

The City Council subsequently passed Ordinance 1222 for the first time in June 2016. It passed 4-1, with two councilors absent. However, that wasn't the end of it.

"Because there was some concern that we may be dealing with a land use issue with Ordinance 1222, Phil (Stenbeck, City Planning Director) sent notices out to the Department of Land Conservation and Development, public hearings were held before the (Prineville) Planning Commission and when it came back to the city, there was a public hearing at the Aug. 23, 2016, council meeting."

During that meeting, three councilors voted in favor of the ordinance, and three voted against. One councilor was not present.

"My understanding of Roberts Rules of Order is essentially by having a tie, we didn't dispose of that ordinance. It's just floating around out there," Dutli said.

The plan was to wait until the next council meeting where all seven members were present, include another reading of the ordinance on the agenda, and pass it. However, there was only one other meeting during the remainder of 2016 when all seven councilors were in attendance, and the ordinance was not addressed at that time.

The meeting this past Tuesday marked the first time the new city council with new member Rodriguez had considered Ordinance 1222. Like other times before, the law provoked plenty of debate amongst councilors.

Councilor Steve Uffelman, who has remained an opponent of legalized sales of marijuana in Prineville, pushed for passage of the law, stating that the health of the community and its young people were at stake.

"Seventy percent of the community voted in opposition to recreational marijuana, and we represent the community," he added. "I think we need to take that to heart."

Uffelman went on to point out his concerns about making removal from Schedule I listing the threshold for legalizing local sales. A retired pharmacist, he noted that a Schedule II drug, such as Oxycodone, is still heavily regulated and only available by prescription.

"Those are prescription drugs that require an individually wet signature of a physician hand-delivered to a pharmacy to be filled one time only," he said.

Therefore, Uffelman was not comfortable with the idea of making marijuana available over the counter in Prineville if it became a Schedule II drug.

Councilor Jeff Papke agreed with Uffelman and added that the city council could still choose to amend the laws governing recreational marijuana sales at some point in the future if it was moved to a less concerning part of the DEA schedule list.

"It allows us some flexibility," he said.

Rodriguez, who joined the council in January, spoke against prohibiting recreational marijuana sales in Prineville. She noted that she has spoken with citizens on both sides of the issue, but concluded that offering a legal place to buy it is better than encouraging people to obtain it by illegal means.

"By not allowing it in the city of Prineville, you either have people buying it off the black market where the way it is manufactured is not regulated … or they are buying it legally where they do know what it is and know exactly how it's manufactured because it's regulated by the OLCC."

Beebe likewise spoke in support of legal sales, stressing that his primary concern is making the drug available to veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Why should we let them go buy it out of the back of a car or someone's house illegally?" he said.

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