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Newberg City Council split on pot ban

Early recreational sales will begin Oct. 1 unless councilors choose to ban them by resolution at its Sept. 21 meeting

While medical marijuana dispensaries around the state are scheduled to begin selling limited amounts of recreational marijuana in about two weeks, the city of Newberg still has the opportunity to block such transactions, and a split City Council vote points to what could be lively deliberations at its Sept. 21 meeting.

A variety of potential regulations were brought up to councilors during the Sept. 8 council work session, but the only one with a pressing timeline was the halting of medical dispensaries selling recreational pot next month.FILE PHOTOGRAPH - Pending sales – Recreational marijuana will be available for purchase statewide at medical dispensaries beginning in October, but Newberg still has a chance to block the transactions within the city.

The issue arose over the summer with the passage of Senate Bill 460, which received Gov. Kate Brown’s signature July 27. The bill allows certain marijuana products — up to one quarter ounce of dried marijuana leaves and flowers and four immature non-flowering plants — to be sold to non-medical marijuana patients, for a time window beginning Oct. 1 with a sunset date of Dec. 31, 2016.

The bill’s intent was to ensure that recreational marijuana, which became legal to possess and smoke in one’s residence July 1, is obtainable without resorting to black market sellers.

“What we’re attempting to do is to make sure they will be able to access small amounts of usable marijuana as defined…,” State Sen. Floyd Prozanski said at a June 23 public hearing on the issue.

The bill passed and is in effect, but the third section of SB460 allows for local municipalities to prohibit recreational sales from medical dispensaries, effectively negating the bill.

“Essentially a ban would enact a moratorium on recreational sales through whenever (the Oregon Liquor Control Commission) gets their program up and running, likely July 2016,” Newberg Community Development Director Doug Rux said at the council session.

As soon as the OLCC recreational program is established recreational sales would be allowed in the city, so the ban on SB460 would only cover a limited period of time. During that time, though, the two medical dispensaries that are in the process of becoming licensed in Newberg could sell recreational marijuana.

There were questions about tax proceeds and whether the city would still be able to receive state proceeds later if Newberg banned early sales. City Attorney Truman Stone responded that the answer from the League of Oregon Cities is, “probably.”

Those and other questions about pot legislation are likely to be settled when they inevitably get taken to court and are answered by a judge, Stone said, adding “It may be the right answer and it may be the wrong answer, but at least you get an answer.”

To study the range of regulations both immediate and further in the future the council could consider, and to eventually make a recommendation, Mayor Bob Andrews formed a subcommittee consisting of councilors Tony Rourke, Stephen McKinney and Denise Bacon. But Stone indicated there was not enough time for a subcommittee to look into the city’s options with SB460, as staff needed time to research and prepare an ordinance that could be adopted in advance of the Oct. 1 recreational sales beginning.

The bill does not explicitly state Oct. 1 as a deadline for local governments to pass a ban, meaning theoretically the council could choose to ban the early sales even after they become allowed — but Stone posited that once the medical dispensaries in town get licensed and begin early sales of recreational marijuana, they would become grandfathered and the ban would become much murkier.

The deadline was thus established.

“I don’t think it can wait for a subcommittee meeting,” Stone said.

Logistically that meant the resolution would have to come before the council on Sept. 21 and, should a ban be adopted, it would need to have an emergency clause to take effect immediately.

“That being said, if the council has a strong feeling tonight that that’s not even something you’re interested in, then don’t take staff time to do all that work just to bring it back to be voted down,” Stone said. “We have plenty of other things to work on right now.”

During a poll of the council, though, it became evident opinions were divided on whether to pursue the route of banning early recreational sales.

Bacon began the discussion, indicating she was not in favor of pursuing a ban on early sales.

“I don’t know that you’re representing the community, and that’s the part that’s bothering me,” Andrews replied.

Bacon responded that she was representing some of the community, but Andrews countered that it was not “the community that’s been chewing on my ear.”

“But how do you know that that other community is not chewing on my ear? Because they are,” Bacon said. “My opinion all along has been, the voters passed it, that’s it, we’re going to do it.”

Councilor Mike Corey stated he was in favor of a ban as it would give the state more time to give cities some sort of guidance on recreational regulations.

“It’s very disappointing that the state hasn’t come up with better guidelines and something we can actually put our claws into, so I think we do need to ban the recreational sales until this gets cleared up,” he said.

Andrews concurred and reiterated that the early sales ban would only be a temporary measure to stall recreational sales, reminding the council that Rux had used the term “moratorium” to describe the ban’s effect.

McKinney explained that a ban would be in keeping with the City Council’s history of trying to pre-empt problems. He likened the early sales ban to the city’s adoption of a year-long moratorium on medical dispensaries that ended in May. It had been enacted, he said, because there were too many ambiguities in the regulations.

Preventing early sales would give the city and state time to “settle the ambiguity.”

In a final vote the council split, with Bacon, Rourke and Essin voting not to direct staff to draft a ban ordinance, and McKinney, Corey, Woodruff and Andrews voting in favor.

City staff will prepare an ordinance that could be adopted Sept. 21 that would prevent medical dispensaries from selling recreational pot beginning Oct. 1.

Dundee council votes to allow early sales

Last month the Dundee City Council elected not to prohibit early sales.

“For us to pass an ordinance on this, it kind of seems like an arbitrary ordinance to cover a temporary situation. It’s not the type of thing I’m into,” Dundee Mayor David Russ said at the Aug. 4 council meeting.