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Newberg government — Despite some adamant objections from several members, the City Council directs staff to draft an ordinance to ban medical marijuana dispensaries

(Editor's note: An error occurred in an earlier version of this story that inaccurately identified quotes from Councilor Stephen McKinney as being from Mayor Bob Andrews. Those quotes are now accurately identified).

After heated debate last week, the Newberg City Council instructed the city attorney to prepare a moratorium banning medical marijuana dispensaries in Newberg.

The decision was made after more than an hour of discussion following a presentation by Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry and Newberg Police Chief Brian Casey. The discussion was added to the March 17 agenda after Casey asked the council to revisit the issue. This re-address comes after Senate Bill 1531 passed in the Legislature with an amendment allowing local governments to ban dispensaries for a year, if done so before May 1.

Berry and Casey presented their viewpoints to the council, both negative toward medical marijuana and dispensaries.

“I believe medical marijuana is one of the greatest hoaxes played in America,” Casey said. “I’m telling you, you would have an increase in criminal activity if we increase the amount of medical marijuana available. You can’t avoid it. It’s the law of averages, it’s going to happen.”

Berry cited an increase of marijuana use in youth when it’s more readily available. He also highlighted marijuana’s role in traffic accidents.

“As most of you probably know I’ve been an outspoken critic of the Oregon medical marijuana system,” he said. “Marijuana is the most common drug involved in automobile fatalities — 14 percent combined with alcohol and other drugs.”

This is where the debate began amid members of the council, and the presenters.

After Councilor Ryan Howard asked Berry if he was citing marijuana as the leading factor in these fatalities, others interjected their personal views and the conversation veered away from a purely factual discussion.

“I understand your negativity, but I’ve also seen medical marijuana really save people and comfort them, so I’m on the humane side of it,” said Councilor Denise Bacon. “As far as the addiction side goes, the information that Brian (Casey) sent was interesting, but I was able to find Harvard studies that proved it wrong within two minutes.”

Berry brought up federal law making marijuana use illegal as an issue in regard to dispensaries.

“I’m hesitant to point out, but each of you in taking your oath (agreed to support federal law),” he said. “What other business would you authorize to open up and blatantly violate federal law? Which business in our community would you believe would want a medical marijuana dispensary next door to them? Which wine shop? Which restaurant?”

It was then that Howard stepped in.

“I’m going to answer the question and say none, because of the perception you’re putting forth of these businesses,” Howard said.

Berry concurred, although he stated he didn’t believe it was a perception, and again pointed to waiting and seeing what happens in other states before the council renders a decision.

The discussion continued with the introduction of “undesirables” hanging near these shops and the lack of licensing and regulations for dispensaries. Then Howard attempted to speak again, but was interrupted by an emotional Councilor Stephen McKinney.

“People know where you stand on this, they need to know where I stand on this,” McKinney said. “You’re 100 percent wrong if you’re promoting the use of marijuana in this particular community in whatever way.”

Howard retorted that by continuing to delay allowing dispensaries, they would only be encouraging the black market.

“I understand the fear you have from the police and legal side, absolutely, but my job is the bigger picture. Am I the business police? I don’t believe I am,” Bacon said. “Am I the person who has the right to tell someone they can’t get something they need? I don’t think I have that right either.”

Shortly thereafter, talks began on drafting an ordinance to ban dispensaries, at least for a year. But not before Councilor Bart Rierson jumped in with the final word.

“I would like to see the council action, but when I looked at the material it was bordering on `Reefer Madness,’” Rierson said in reference to the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film. “(I know there were some legitimate facts, but) we’re bordering on fear mongering and we’re all intelligent adults. I think this was a little heavy handed on an anti-marijuana side. Just the way the material was presented, I took a little bit of offense because I feel like an adult and can make my own decision.”

The plan moving forward will be to consider a draft ordinance at one of the April City Council meetings and vote on the issue then.

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