City has option of extending six-month ban to one year

License applications from those seeking to establish medical marijuana dispensaries in Beaverton are trickling in to the city, but it remains up to the City Council whether the applicants will have to wait about five months or closer to a year to legally set up shop.

Since a new state law allowing medical marijuana dispensaries took effect on March 1, the city has heard from at least five potential business owners. After the council approved an ordinance on Feb. 25 to place a six-month delay on issuing licenses to such facilities, however, it’s unclear when the applications and fees will be processed. The council decision was based on buying time to see how dispensaries work in other cities and establish guidelines about how best to license, locate and regulate them.

“We are not sure how soon we will be ready to begin taking the (license) applications and fees, but they will be put in a pending file in the order we receive them until the moratorium is lifted,” said Bill LaMarche, spokesman for the city of Beaverton. “All this could change, however, on account of the new state law that just passed the Legislature.”

LaMarche refers to Senate Bill 1531, which passed late in the 2014 legislative session in early March. The bill gives cities leeway to set regulations on dispensaries’ hours, locations and approach to distributing medical marijuana, while allowing them to ban dispensaries for up to one year.

In the wake of the bill, the council will discuss the issue in a work session on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at its chambers in City Hall, 4755 S.W. Griffith Drive.

Bill Scheiderich, Beaverton’s assistant city attorney, said the council is free to keep the status quo and maintain the remaining five months of the temporary ban it enacted or extend the moratorium to May 15, 2015.

“It’s now the council’s option to continue on the path they’ve already started, which tables any action required for licenses for a period of time, or with the new bill the city can enact a (longer) moratorium,” he said. “We would need a separate ordinance to do that, which we’ve prepared.”

At the very least, council will consider a new city ordinance to specify the word “moratorium” in reference to any period of time that dispensary licenses are tabled — a legal technicality to comply with the state law’s language.

“We’ll tell them what’s in (the ordinance),” Scheiderich said of the council. “They’re free to discuss any and all of its provisions. Instead of amending the ordinance that’s already passed, we thought it was a better idea to issue a separate ordinance in enacting a moratorium.”

Based on the outcome of Tuesday’s work session, the council is expected to consider any updated ordinance at its Tuesday, April 8, meeting. The Senate bill gives cities until May 1 to enact a moratorium lasting until May 15, 2015.

Scheiderich said the bill clarifies a number of issues the initial House bill left vague or open-ended about municipalities’ rights and role in regulating dispensaries.

“It was left unclear whether cities could opt out on these things or set up reasonable limitations,” he said, noting the League of Oregon Cities lobbied for greater input from city and county governments. “That resulted in what we have now, where you can enact a moratorium for up to a year.”

In discussing the city’s existing ordinance, all councilors with the exception of Betty Bode — a retired public health nurse — supported the idea of regulated medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

“We’ll see what turns up next week,” Scheiderich said.

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