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St. Helens OKs marijuana zoning rules

Business license ordinance still requires compliance with federal law

The St. Helens City Council approved amendments to its community development code that could pave the way for marijuana retailers and medical marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in commercial areas of the city Wednesday, June 17.

Under the code amendments, which were adopted under a declared “state of emergency” allowing them to take effect immediately, marijuana businesses will not be allowed to locate within 2,000 feet of one another, or within 1,000 feet of a school, preschool or licensed daycare.

Recommendations from the St. Helens Planning Commission that the council also limit the distance from parks and residential areas at which marijuana businesses can be established, as well as restrict such businesses to industrial areas, were rejected by councilors last month.

The city still requires licensed businesses to comply with federal law, as well as local and state law. That could impede marijuana entrepreneurs from obtaining a St. Helens business license, as City Administrator John Walsh noted.

“I think we’re gonna have to somehow address it,” St. Helens Mayor Randy Peterson said of the business license ordinance, after Wednesday’s meeting.

Walsh said city staff have been discussing potential workarounds that the council could adopt. Options include a specific exemption for marijuana businesses in the business license ordinance, or simply stripping the “federal” language out of the ordinance altogether, he said.

FILE - The old Muckle Building in St. Helens, owned by Carl Coffman, is being eyed as the prospective site for the city's first medical marijuana dispensary.A property-owner in the Riverfront District has already expressed interest in bringing a medical marijuana dispensary to the city.

Carl Coffman, who owns the old Muckle Building at the corner of Cowlitz and Strand streets, told the City Council last month that he is working with a dispensary manager in Portland to plan a possible dispensary on the ground floor of the building, just a block away from St. Helens City Hall.

Marijuana was legalized for recreational use by popular vote last November, when voters approved Ballot Measure 91. The measure will take effect Wednesday, July 1.

However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice has indicated it will not make enforcement of that ban a priority in states that have voted for some form of legal marijuana. It is unclear whether that policy will continue after Obama leaves office in 2017.