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St. Helens delays business licenses for pot dispensaries

By a 3-2 vote, city officials put pot shop hopefuls on hold for up to one year


SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - City council president Doug Morten speaks with other members of the council on Wednesday night. The city had been discussing amending business license law to allow marijuana dispensaries in the city, but voted to table the legal change for up to a year. Marijuana dispensary business licenses will not be issued in the city of St. Helens for up to one year.

After several months of talk, the St. Helens City Council voted Wednesday, Sept. 3, to postpone discussion about revising a city ordinance that would have allowed the city to issue business licenses to marijuana dispensaries. The vote was 3 to 2, with Councilors Susan Conn and Ginny Carlson dissenting.

The city had issued land use permits for marijuana dispensaries to two locations, while one was still in discussions with the city’s planning commission. Currently, by code the city cannot issue a business license to a business that violates federal law. While use of recreational marijuana is legal in the state, it is illegal at the national level.

By voting to postpone amendments to the business license ordinance, the next steps for marijuana dispensary business license applicants remain unclear.

Larry Vandolah and his girlfriend, Jennifer Plahn, had applied to open two dispensary locations in St. Helens. Vandolah, who was not at the meeting Wednesday, said he was disheartened to learn the vote’s outcome. He said an earlier conversation with Councilor Doug Morten left him feeling optimistic.

“I just spoke with Mr. Morten last week, who said they we’re going forward,” Vandolah said. “I’m quite taken aback.”

The council must bring the ordinance back up for a vote within one year, but could do so at any point. A clear timeline as to when that would happen was not established.

Morten, the council president, said the council will take a wait-and-see approach. When the state establishes legal regulations for dispensaries, the issue will be revisited.

At a City Council work session earlier Wednesday, Sept. 3, Brianna Mayres, who works with Columbia Community Mental Health, addressed the City Council over her concerns about the regulation of chemicals in recreational marijuana. According to Mayres, growers are breeding out certain chemical components, which makes it dangerous.

Mayor Randy Petersen said the lack of control over what could be sold at the businesses concerns him. Council members noted that while state law legalized recreational use of marijuana, it did not necessarily legalize dispensaries. He and other members of the council wanted to wait for state guidelines to be put into place before issuing business licenses.

“I think a year from now things will be clearer on how this works,” Petersen said.

Conn, who voted against the postponement, said the City Council was acting inconsistently by not moving forward with the process.

“The citizens here approved it by 58.6 percent of the vote,” Conn said. “We need to go with what the citizens are at least asking for.”

While Conn did not comment on whether or not she would have supported issuing the licenses to the dispensaries, she said some action needs to be taken.

Oscar Nelson, part owner of Sweet Relief medical marijuana dispensary in Scappoose, was helping advise Vandolah and Plahn during the land use and business application process in St. Helens.

“The town is making something big of out something that is really becoming part of a lifestyle,” Nelson said. “It’s something thats more of a personal choice.”

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