Cities follow new state law in banning dispensaries

Two cities in south Columbia County are saying “no” to medical marijuana, at least for the time being.

The city councils of Columbia City and St. Helens recently passed ordinances taking advantage of a new Oregon law that allows local jurisdictions to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, which are otherwise allowed with conditions under state law, until May 1, 2015.

After her City Council voted unanimously March 20 for a moratorium, Columbia City Mayor Cheryl Young framed the move as an effort to shield the small city from harm or liability.

“The laws are ambiguous right now,” Young said. “We don’t want anybody coming into Columbia City and opening up an establishment that sells or dispenses marijuana. It’s as simple as that.”

Young added, “I don’t think that our city is ready for something of that degree.”

The St. Helens City Council was also united Wednesday, April 2, in passing a moratorium.

St. Helens Mayor Randy Peterson said his council acted on the advice of its legal counsel.

“We just felt it was a good thing to put in place,” said Peterson the morning after the vote, adding, “This just gives us time to kind of study the situation.”

Marijuana is illegal under federal law, which classifies it as a Schedule I drug with no medical applications and significant potential for abuse. Other Schedule I drugs include ecstasy, heroin and LSD.

Many doctors and researchers, however, say marijuana can be used to treat certain ailments, including chronic pain conditions, and a number of states — including Oregon — allow the sale, possession and use of the substance for medical purposes.

Oregon state law does prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school or inside a residential zone.

“We don’t really have a location that would be suitable for such a dispensary,” Young said. “So this is just a protection.”

“I don’t know that I have any real concerns other than where they would be,” Peterson said, when asked what concerns he has about potential dispensaries in St. Helens. “I think the biggest issue for the city would be the zoning and whereabout they can locate. ... There aren’t very many places within the city that aren’t within a short distance from a school or a park.”

The League of Oregon Cities has recommended cities take advantage of the new state law allowing a moratorium on dispensaries.

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