Ore. marijuana dispensary bans may go up in smoke

Ore. marijuana dispensary bans may go up in smoke
(AP Photo/Jeff Barnard, File)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon communities and counties would not be permitted to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries under a bill unanimously passed Tuesday by the state Senate, even though nearly a dozen communities already have done so or are considering it.

Moves to keep communities from banning the pot shops are getting an angry response from local leaders.

"I'm really disappointed that apparently there are legislators who would thumb their noses at local control," Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby said.

Oregon voters approved medical marijuana in 1998. The Legislature last year approved legislation allowing medical pot stores, but a number of communities don't want them and want the right to keep them from opening.

Cities and counties had asked legislators to confirm their authority to regulate and prohibit the marijuana retailers with the bill, SB 1531. The Senate Judiciary Committee last week rewrote it to let local governments regulate certain aspects of the facilities but not prohibit them completely.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said the bill is necessary to clarify state law and allow communities to enact "reasonable" restrictions on when, where and how medical pot facilities operate. A 2013 bill prohibiting local regulation of seeds and seed products seemed to take away local control of the pot facilities, too, which was an "unintended consequence," he said.

Prozanski has said he wanted local governments to have some say in how the pot businesses operate, but he and other lawmakers also have said outright bans could limit access to medical marijuana for those who need it. He spoke against local prohibitions, saying the Legislature had never before allowed local bans on the dispensing of a medicine that is legal under state law.

Despite the unanimous vote, not all lawmakers were happy with the Senate's version of the bill.

Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, one of the original bill's chief sponsors, said he was disappointed some additional provisions were not in the version that passed the Senate. He said he planned to "continue the discussion" as the measure moves to the House.

The bill is a "step in the right direction," Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, told the Senate, adding local governments often understand the needs of their communities better than state legislators. But Monroe said he would join Hansell in continuing to work on the issue.

The measure next goes to the House Judiciary Committee, where Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Eugene, said he is open to hearing both sides of the discussion.

Dallas Republican Rep. Jim Thompson, another sponsor of the original bill, said he didn't know if his fellow House members would support local bans. But he said he would prefer communities have the option to bar marijuana sales in their area.

"There are communities that feel very strongly against it, and I tend to support their wishes," he said. "If they want to opt out, they should be allowed to do it, and they can opt back in later when they find out this is a harmless proposition, if in fact it is."

The League of Oregon Cities, which sought legislation allowing local bans, will join the discussions when the House considers the bill, Executive Director Mike McCauley said.

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Reach reporter Chad Garland on Twitter at http://twitter.com/chadgarland

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