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Area cities continue talks about marijuana business licensing

As laws regarding the sale of medical and recreational marijuana continue to be defined at the state level, three local cities are taking vastly different approaches to dealing with the fledgling industry.

The City of Aurora approved the creation of a $5,000 licensing fee for someone wanting to open a medical marijuana dispensary within the city limits.

Aurora Mayor Bill Graupp said the move does not represent an all-out invitation for medical marijuana dispensary owners to set up shop in town, but rather it comes in anticipation of possible legal action taken against cities that may try to outlaw the sale of medical or recreational marijuana.

“I’m not saying this should be the guiding principal for all towns in Oregon, not at all,” Graupp said. “The City of Aurora cannot afford to get caught in a lawsuit that goes all the way to the Supreme Court, either. At the same time we are cognizant of what other people are doing. We have a situation where we wanted to be able to control the place where a dispensary could be located.”

Current Aurora zoning laws prevent a dispensary from opening in the historic district or any tax lot that is adjacent to a residential property. That leaves only a small sliver of land on the west end of town where a dispensary could open its doors.

Additionally, most businesses in Aurora close between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., and city councilors and business owners alike didn’t want a medical marijuana dispensary to remain open until 10 p.m. or so, Graupp said.

“There is a concern among businesses owners here, especially the antique store owners, that a dispensary is not a business that matches well with antique sales and people shopping for old memories,” the mayor said. “Aurora always had a law stating that the city will not issue a business license if that business violates state or federal law.

“I think that within the next five years the federal government’s approach is going to change, and we didn’t want to have to come back and revisit this.”

If anyone does apply for a license and pays the $5,000 fee, the money would go into the city’s general fund and be allocated to police, Graupp said.

Canby still weighing options

In Canby, city councilors continue to discuss if the council should lift a citywide moratorium on marijuana dispensaries whether they intend to be a medical or recreational facility. Currently, Canby will not issue a license to open a dispensary as long as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Canby Resident Dean Searle presented a written proposal to the city council outlining his plan to open a medical marijuana dispensary within the city limits that “would be as affordable as possible as a medical alternative, not for someone who is wanting to alter their mind.” He addressed the council on August 19 stating that Canby officials should not look at this issue as being only about gaining tax revenue from local sales.

“I’m hearing a lot more concern about revenue and nothing about the benefit to people taking medical marijuana for cancer treatment (or other ailments),” said Searle, whose wife is a two-time cancer survivor. “We need a dispensary with people in mind much more than revenue.”

Searle told the council he was seeking its approval to “get this together … the OLCC licensing, the book work and everything it will take to do this.”

Canby Mayor Brian Hodson said the city council has planned an October 7 work session, which is open to the public, where city officials will receive an update on Oregon law as it relates to marijuana sales, how it’s being implemented and what possible next steps it might take.

City Councilor Greg Parker said allowing a medical marijuana dispensary to open in town is a topic with which the entire Canby community needs to engage the council.

“This is not something where good governments eager for a new revenue stream should allow that to influence their policy making,” Parker said.

The Canby City Council work session on marijuana laws is scheduled to take place at city hall on Wednesday, October 7 at 6:45 p.m.

Molalla considering downtown marijuana corridor

The Molalla City Council continued its deliberations about the city’s current zoning laws regarding possible locations for medical marijuana dispensaries and whether or not it should create an ordinance that outright prohibits the establishment of marijuana businesses within the city limits.

Currently, Molalla’s zoning laws dictate that a medical marijuana dispensary cannot locate within 1,000 feet of school property, be adjacent to residential property or open within 500 feet of an assisted-living facility.

Molalla Mayor Debbie Rogge, who in the past was staunchly opposed to allowing marijuana dispensaries to open inside the city limits, appears to have warmed to the idea in recent weeks after it became clear that the city could generate new revenue through a 3 percent tax on the sale of weed, as well as receive funding via profit sharing from the state. Rogge said the new revenue stream would go a long way toward helping Molalla offset the cost of street maintenance, and provide additional funding for the police department.

The council discussed the possibility of establishing an industry corridor – a cluster of facilities that operate adjacent to one another – somewhere downtown, but not next to any of the bars and taverns that already operate in the heart of Molalla.

“I’m not opposed to the product, but I am concerned about what goes on around it,” Rogge said. “I’m concerned about our youth. I’ve never (emphatically) said no. I want to do it as safely and intelligently as we can. I would be cautiously open to the idea of a downtown corridor.”

City Manager Dan Huff was instructed to look into the idea further and come back with a possible action plan at a city council meeting in the near future. Huff added that the current zoning ordinance is very restrictive and that the council needs to consider provisions for all possible marijuana business types.

City Councilor Russ Riggs reminded his colleagues that the citizens of Molalla voted down the sale and purchase of legal marijuana by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, and that in his opinion that vote tally is a moot point because the sale of recreational and medical marijuana is legal at the state level.

Portland Attorney Marc Gerba, who represents the interests of a family with roots in Molalla that is looking to open what was described as a “high-end dispensary,” said the law establishing the legal sale of marijuana already passed and whether certain individuals like it or not the industry will come to the city, it’s just a matter of time.

“With your present ordinance you’re going to have difficulty if attacked legally,” Gerba said. “We are not here to do that. This is going to be a highly-regulated business, not one where anyone can consume the product on site. This (dispensary) would be a place where products get purchased. It’s going to, pardon the pun, ‘weed out’ those people who applied for a license but did not complete their due diligence (from the outset of the law being passed).”

Rogge said she is not interested in delaying the process of allowing people to apply for a business license to operate a dispensary in Molalla, but that she does not want to see the city “bulldozed” into doing something it is not ready to do. Councilor Jason Griswold responded to Rogge’s remarks, saying the council made a “clear and concise decision” through the passage of its zoning ordinance and that it should not have to rehash the issue all over again.

“Our job is to get something out to voters to let them decide what to do,” Rogge said.