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Marijuana business hopefuls protest in St. Helens

Organizers collect signatures to petition City Council regarding code change stall, hand out free pot samples

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Mandy Sill, left, speaks with Sidney Ogris, right, about the purpose of the petition. Protest organizer Larry VanDolah said he collected over 1,000 signatures on the first day.An organized protest started outside of St. Helens City Hall Tuesday, Sept. 8, after the City Council voted last week to table discussions over issuing business licenses to marijuana dispensaries.

Larry VanDolah helped organize a petition aimed at changing city law to allow business licenses to be issued to marijuana dispensaries.

VanDolah has been working in a consulting role with Jennifer Plahn and Bing Theobald, who are seeking to open a medical marijuana dispensary in St. Helens. Plahn and Theobald are listed as registered agents on a number of businesses connected to Green Clouds LLC, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s website.

At the petition, 1 gram samples of marijuana were freely given to anyone over 21 years old and 2 gram samples were given to anyone with a medical marijuana card. VanDolah said he has friends who have also donated edible marijuana products, which he also plans to hand out for free. Signing the petition was not a requirement to receive the free samples, but many who received a sample did sign the petition.

VanDolah said many people have specifically asked about the petition, and not necessarily in pursuit of the free marijuana samples. The petition organizers had publicized the free marijuana samples in an announcement about the protest.

“Not once, so far, have I heard anyone say, ‘I’m here for my pot,’” he said.

VanDolah also distributed flyers advertising to pay campaign contributions to anyone willing to run for a position on the St. Helens City Council to replace current council members. The flyer advertised a contribution of up to $10,000 per candidate. The advertising campaign was backed by AKL General Contractors, a company Plahn owns. It is unclear who would fund any resulting election campaign.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Larry VanDolah, the protest organizer, hands a woman a free sample of marijuana during Tuesday's protest. VanDolah said giving out the samples is in compliance with Oregon state law and was willing to give samples to any legal Oregon resident over 21. On the first day of the petition, VanDolah and Mandy Sill, who works with Green Clouds, collected almost 1,000 signatures. VanDolah is trying to get 2,000 signatures before presenting it to the City Council.

Sidney Ogris, a St. Helens resident, signed the petition because she is a “big activist” for recreational use of marijuana, she said.

Another St. Helens man, who gave only a first name of “Louis,” said he was a Vietnam War veteran and had signed the petition because the dispensaries are something that “have been needed for decades.” Louis added that, while the voters approved the legal use, he thinks the “city and state will give them hell” and the only way to make the public opinion heard is through the petition.

At a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2, the City Council voted 3 to 2 to table discussion on amending the city code in a way that would permit the city to issue business licenses to marijuana dispensaries without conflicting with federal law. After several postponements of the ordinance’s first reading, the council voted to postpone further discussion for up to one year.

Mayor Randy Petersen said the protestors are within their rights to organize a petition.

“Whether they’re going about it the right way, I don’t know,” he said.

Petersen said he understands the protestors’ concerns.

“They want to move forward with their businesses, and I understand that,” Petersen said. “The vote we took the other night certainly didn’t help them achieve that.”

Petersen said council members would be glad to sit down and discuss their concerns.

According to council President Doug Morten and Petersen, the council will wait until statewide regulation for marijuana is established before bringing the issue up to a council vote again.

Editor's note: Mandy Sill's name was corrected for a previous misspelling