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Recreational pot legalized in Newberg

City Council unanimously votes to repeal ban on medical dispensaries selling recreational marijuana


In about a month recreational marijuana can legally be purchased for the first time in Newberg, following a unanimous City Council vote Monday night to allow recreational sales from medical dispensaries.

The council had previously banned early sales in late September, just before they would have become allowed. At that time the majority of the council cited a lack of state direction in how to oversee pot sales.The Newberg City Council voted unanimously Monday to allow medical mariajuana facilities to sell recreational cannabis to the public.

But local medical dispensary owner Sheri Ralston sent an email to the council last month, noting some of the changes from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission since the Newberg ban was enacted. Ralston’s letter spurred the council to reconsider the ban, and Community Development Director Doug Rux concocted an ordinance that would repeal the council action.

“We have more clarity today than what we did back at the beginning of September,” Rux told the council.

In a change from the council sentiment toward recreational sales in September, there was a unanimous vote to repeal the ban, mostly from the updated clarity Rux described. “With those changes it became apparent this is probably the right way to go if we’re going to do any kind of job of managing this on behalf of the citizens,” Mayor Bob Andrews said.

Each member of the council offered some thoughts before the vote, bringing up a range of reasons for supporting the measure. Councilor Stephen McKinney, who has been the strongest council opponent of marijuana in Newberg, explained that his personal views on the subject have not changed.

“I still don’t like anything about the marijuana industry in the town of Newberg, but at this particular point of time I don’t see any way forward but to maybe wrap up this final chapter in how the business is conducted in the city of Newberg,” McKinney said. “So I’m going to vote yes with a great deal of reluctance.”

Councilor Mike Corey shared some of McKinney’s concerns, but also highlighted that allowing legal recreational sales is a safety measure: with a regulated industry product gets taken off the black market and customers get a higher quality of marijuana.

“I’m not pro-recreational sales, but I think it’s the best way to do it, and tax it,” he concluded.

The tax sentiment was shared by Councilor Patrick Johnson, who noted that while he doesn’t drink or smoke and it’s very unlikely he’ll be taking advantage of the new legislation, “I sit through budget meetings and I think about the revenue we could bring in,” particularly when customers are traveling out of Newberg to purchase pot. He added that he does not like to legislate morality.

Councilor Denise Bacon concurred with the idea of bringing local money back to Newberg, noting that “whether you agree with it or not, our citizens who want it are going somewhere else to buy it. So they’re just spending their money somewhere else and it’s still here.”

As it stands the city has a 10 percent tax in place on recreational pot sales, adopted in 2014. That could change, as more recent state legislation has stipulated a maximum 3 percent tax on recreational pot, with an additional requirement that it go to a vote of the public. That means the Newberg tax could be overturned, but for now the city can collect that revenue from pot sales.

Councilor Lesley Woodruff reiterated that the increased guidance from the state – the OLCC has now issued administrative rules for recreational sales, for instance – swayed her toward repealing the ban.

Yet another reason to repeal was aired by Councilor Scott Essin, who noted that in areas of the country with prohibition, intoxicated people will travel farther distances to obtain substances, causing a dangerous situation.

“It’s really a safety issue in a lot of ways for me,” he said.

With the council approval, the ban will be lifted in 30 days and the two medical dispensaries in town, Ralston’s facility and Canna Bros., will be allowed to begin selling marijuana to all adults over the age of 21.