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West Linn will put marijuana businesses to vote

Council looks to pass ordinance to ban pot businesses until Nov. 2016 vote

As Oregon law continues to adjust to the new realities of legal marijuana, so too are cities like West Linn that want no part of the marijuana business.

West Linn City Council voted unanimously in April 2014 to support a one-year moratorium on state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries being placed within city limits. With that moratorium set to expire this past May, the council voted in April to continue to impose a business license ban on both medical and recreational marijuana facilities moving forward.

The passing of House Bill 3400 at last Legislative session provided yet another way forward, and the Council discussed its options at a work session Dec. 7.

As Assistant City Attorney Megan Thornton noted, “There is an ‘opt out’ provision for the cities in (HB 3400) — a means of opting out or prohibiting marijuana businesses.”

Passing such an ordinance would in turn require the City to put the matter before voters in the November 2016 election. According to state law, any citywide ban must be referred to a vote because Measure 91 passed by more than 55 percent of voters in Clackamas County.

Ultimately, the Council was unanimous in its support of letting voters have the last word. In the meantime, the previously approved business license ban will continue as an alternative means to prohibit marijuana stores.

“I don’t know where the citizens are, so it would be worth knowing,” Mayor Russ Axelrod said. “It’s their city, and it’s not for us to decide. We haven’t heard from them yet.”

According to Thornton, the earliest date for the council to pass an ordinance would be in early 2016.

In the meantime, the council also directed staff to inform the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) of its continued ban on marijuana businesses.

“January 4, 2016, is when the OLCC and OHA (Oregon Health Authority) start taking applications for (marijuana) businesses,” Thornton said. “Even if you haven’t adopted an ordinance yet, if we sent a letter telling OLCC of the City’s intent, they would consider it.”

Thornton also noted that there is litigation ongoing regarding the legality of business license bans, which rely on the fact that marijuana is still prohibited by federal law. Should that litigation come out in favor of business license bans, the City could pull its ordinance and simply continue its current practice of denying business licenses for anything that violates federal law.

However, even if marijuana businesses are approved by voters in November 2016, research has shown a limited number of viable sites for stores in West Linn due to proximity to schools and residential areas.

“As I recall, you (Thornton) had a map that showed there were really very limited properties where one could even site (a marijuana business) in West Linn anyway,” Axelrod said.

Thornton said that is indeed the case, and West Linn could adopt further measures that would make it even tougher for those businesses to find a proper site.

“We can put in limitations as well if the voters approve it,” City Councilor Jenni Tan said.