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Conflicts on local bans threaten progress on state pot system

SALEM — The question of whether to allow cities and counties to ban marijuana businesses once again threatened to stall progress in Salem this week on legislation to set up Oregon’s new legal pot system.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said in an email late Tuesday night to other lawmakers that he would not support the bill under consideration unless it allows city councils and county commissions to prohibit medical and recreational retailers. A committee scheduled to work on the issue Wednesday canceled its meeting, but by the end of the day a group that represents city governments around the state was circulating a compromise proposal that Ferrioli and another lawmaker working on the issue described as promising.

The question of how best to allow cities and counties to ban medical cannabis businesses caused deep disagreement on the House-Senate legislative committee working on the issue last month, and that led the Senate to pass its own bill to regulate Oregon’s medical marijuana industry.

It remained unclear whether the Senate bill had enough support to pass in the House, but earlier this week it appeared the House-Senate committee was once again working on compromise legislation on medical marijuana regulation. It was the lack of an option in that bill for cities and counties to ban pot businesses that caught Ferrioli’s attention.

Ferrioli wrote in the email that he worked hard on legislation to implement Measure 91, including with his proposal to allow medical dispensaries to sell pot to adults age 21 and older starting July 1 because the state will not launch its recreational pot system until 2016.

“In return, I have asked that you respect the 22 counties and 140 plus cities which opposed or voted (for) a moratorium on implementation of (Measure 91) by allowing them to opt-out through a simple vote of local elected officials as we did in SB 964A,” Ferrioli wrote in the email to Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, and Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, the co-chairs of the legislative committee.

If the committee does not allow cities and counties to pass bans, Ferrioli wrote that “I will vote ‘no’ on this bill and oppose its passage on the Senate floor on the grounds that it will force cities and counties to approve actions constituting a willful violation of federal law, or, in consequence, to become respondents to costly civil litigation.”

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Ferrioli said he wants to allow time for people in areas of the state that opposed legalization of marijuana to adjust to the “sea change” taking place, similar to the end of prohibition on alcohol.

“Counties and cities voted to become either wet or dry,” Ferrioli said.

Ferrioli and Burdick said late Wednesday afternoon they see promise in a proposal by the League of Oregon Cities, which would allow elected officials in cities and counties that voted against Measure 91 — the November initiative to legalize marijuana for adults — to pass bans on medical and recreational pot businesses. Elected officials in cities and counties where voters approved Measure 91 could also vote to pass bans, but those would be referred to the voters.

“I think it has potential because it recognizes that some areas just did not vote for (Measure) 91,” Burdick said.

Burdick said that regardless of whether there are enough votes to pass legislation without Ferrioli’s support, the goal is to attain broad support for any legislation they pass.

“We’ve been bipartisan all the way through,” Burdick said. “We want to continue in a bipartisan way.”

Scott Winkels, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, worked on the opt-out proposal.

“We’ve just been sort of looking for a creative way to address the disparity, the geographic disparity in the vote,” Winkels said. “I think we found something that has some promise.”

The legislative committee is expected to meet again next week.

Hillary Borrud is a reporter with the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau in Salem.