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Newberg councilors split on pot regulations

Mayor Bob Andrews breaks the 3-3 vote, passing additional restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries


Medical marijuana dispensaries planning to locate in Newberg now have an idea of what to expect come May 1 when the facilities will be allowed in the city, as the City Council on April 6 adopted its final zoning regulations detailing when, where and how the businesses will be allowed to operate.

The final regulations add slightly more restrictions than the state has prescribed. Newberg will restrict the facilities to the city’s large commercial zones that fall in the downtown district and along Portland Road, will restrict the allowed hours of operation to between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. and will prohibit a medical dispensary from locating within 1,000 feet of a park in addition to the state-mandated 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools.

Council also added a few definitions and clarifications into the city’s development code. Schools were clarified to include “career schools” such as the Chehalem Valley Dance Academy on First Street, while the specifics of the buffer zones were laid out to eliminate confusion about where to begin measuring the 1,000-foot line from.

The resolution’s approval came after some passionate discussion amongst councilors, which began with Councilor Scott Essin questioning whether the city would be legally culpable in passing an ordinance regulating marijuana dispensaries as the plant is still federally illegal. While City Attorney Truman Stone expressed his belief that there would not be any exposure to liability for the city, Councilor Stephen McKinney said councilors still carry a responsibility to uphold the oaths they took when entering office.

“You have the chief of police and the district attorney of Yamhill County advising us both not to support these types of ordinances,” he said. “As well-intentioned as the staff report is and the planning commission, they are asking me and you to violate our oath to the constitution of the United States …,” McKinney said.

“This is something that’s so new to everybody in government,” Councilor Leslie Woodruff said. “Looking at it from a legal standpoint, (we have to) start somewhere, kind of see what happens and take it from there.”

Councilor Mike Corey agreed, conveying the opinion that the state allowing medical marijuana use is already a done deal and that the code amendment process is actually an opportunity to put more restrictions on something that is going to happen no matter how the council feels about it.

“It only happens if people acquiesce to a process that first of all asks you to violate your oath to the constitution of the United States,” McKinney replied. “We have an administration that does that, they don’t play by the rules. We have other state governments that have violated their oaths to the Constitution, they don’t play by the rules. If everybody just goes along with not playing by the rules or ‘seeing what happens’ or whatever, I don’t think that justifies this ordinance asking you to violate your oath to federal law, to the constitution, which you swore an oath to and we witnessed.

“From the president of the United States on down they think it’s OK to violate the constitution of the United States,” he continued. “And I would hope that somewhere, somehow, some way, some people would say, ‘Not me. I took an oath.’”

Mayor Bob Andrews responded that he appreciated McKinney’s concerns and shared some of them, though perhaps not quite as passionately, and again reiterated that the group was not tasked with permitting or not permitting dispensaries, but rather laying groundwork for what has already been approved by state law.

“I’m not adopting a yes or no on marijuana, I’m adopting some zoning regulations on how best to administer it in this community,” he said.

In the end the vote was split down the middle with Andrews as the tie-breaker passing the measure and solidifying the city’s additional regulations around dispensaries.

Essin voted no for two reasons, stating that he did not like the concept of allowing dispensaries in the first place, but also that since the state has outlined regulations the city should stick with those instead of adding additional restrictions.

Councilor Denise Bacon also voted no, explaining that the city should not add more restrictions to those at the state level.

McKinney stated that his no vote was purely based on not violating his conscience.

The year-long moratorium on medical facilities expires May 1 and, because the council declared the dispensary ordinance as an emergency, the regulations went into effect immediately upon passage and will therefore be in effect when the ban is lifted.

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