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City Council passes ban on dispensaries

City government — Newberg follows suit with other cities and counties in Oregon in placing a one-year ban on opening marijuana shops


Newberg City Councilor Mike Corey’s absence from Monday’s meeting created an even number on the council vote instituting a one-year moratorium banning medical marijuana dispensaries.

And if Councilor Bart Rierson hadn’t reversed direction before the meeting, that vote likely would have been a tie. But after six public testimonies — four in support of the moratorium and two against — the council voted 4-2 in support of the ban.

Public testimony in support of the ordinance came in quick bits from the Newberg Downtown Coalition, Newberg-Dundee Police Citizens Advisory Committee and the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce. Others were more elaborate.

“As many of you know Newberg had some form of prohibition on alcohol to 1966. This was 33 years after it was repealed at the federal level. I don’t wish to compare the marijuana and alcohol in any fashion other than their status was a substance that was prohibited by law at one time,” said Rick Fieldhouse. “It took Newberg a long time to get comfortable with the sale of alcohol. I urge the council to consider that it took Newberg a long time to catch up to the state attitude on alcohol and we’re really no worse off. Some folks, myself included, just need a little bit more time to get comfortable with this idea.”

Those against the ordinance cited medical benefits and the future legal status of marijuana.

“This county has a special brand of discrimination,” said Doug Heuer. “I’m here to ask to not go for a moratorium because one year is way too long. Legalization will happen before the moratorium expires. Really what this council should be focusing on is the legality part instead of the moratorium part.”

Kathy Giebenhein cited her clients as a massage therapist as a cause to allow dispensaries.

“I wasn’t necessarily planning on speaking tonight, I just wanted to show my support and it seems like perhaps the decision had already been made,” Giebenhein said. “I think we’re maybe not thinking about the people who can benefit and how important it is, especially for things like pain relief. There are elderly people and people with physical conditions who are law abiding citizens who are frightened … of being labeled.

After public testimony was closed, each councilor stated his or her reasoning in support or against the impending vote. Those in favor cited a common theme: allowing more time to think about the issue and plan for the future.

“I don’t see the moratorium as another year for us to ignore the issue,” said Councilor Lesley Woodruff. “I consider this as time to … actively craft some regulations and ways to make sure … to create a safe, reputable and dignified place for people to come.”

Rierson provided some insight into his decision to switch his vote.

“While I initially opposed the moratorium, I think the letter from the chamber said it best: it’s just more time to evaluate and let others do the ground breaking and figure out what the issues are,” he said. “I believe there is a system that has a lot of abuse right now. I like the idea of getting away from the black market but … I think it’s not just a year to push it down the road but the opportunity to actually give it some thought and some planning.”

Councilor Ryan Howard addressed many concerns by the opposition before making his summary argument.

“Why now? Why should we refuse to impose this moratorium now instead of just waiting and seeing how it pans out?” Howard said. “What will happen next year when the moratorium is up. I guarantee, there will be people making the same argument that we need more time, we need to wait longer, because we can’t do it now because there are other perceived harms. That’s what been argued for decades.”

Councilor Denise Bacon was the only other member to join Howard opposing the ordinance, saying the need outweighed the potential risks.

“We just fear what we don’t know,” she said.

Before the final vote, Howard asked to amend the moratorium to six months. The amendment failed 4-2. The moratorium went into effect immediately and will expire May 1, 2015.

What’s the background on dispensary bans in Oregon?

With the potential ban on opening medical marijuana dispensaries in Newberg, the legislative history of the issue comes into play. Although only recently in the spotlight, medical marijuana was legalized in Oregon in 1998 with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.

The voter-approved program provided legal protections for qualified patients, meaning those with a physician statement of a qualifying medical condition. In the first year — May 1999 to May 2000, 600 patients became registered, according to the Oregon Health Authority. By July 2010, that number had increased to more than 45,000 patients.

But the act did not protect patients and registered growers from prosecution under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. This lead to House Bill 3460 in 2013. Signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber in August 2013, the bill allowed OHA to establish a medical marijuana facility registration program. In doing so, dispensaries could be established creating a constant resource for patients requiring the drug.

In the most recent short session of the Legislature, Senate Bill 1531 was proposed, which provided guidelines for the impending dispensaries, and after many heated debates, included an amendment allowing city and county governments to establish temporary moratoriums on dispensaries. The bill was signed by the governor in March.

Prior to signing, the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners banned the facilities in the unincorporated areas of the county for one year. This sparked a discussion within city governments. While Newberg is considering a ban, Dundee Mayor Ted Crawford said he and the Dundee City Council have no intention of seeking a moratorium. In fact, Human Collective IV is slated to open a dispensary in Dundee in the near future.

Under SB 1531, all bans must be in place by May 1, meaning any potential ordinances must be passed by the end of the month.




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