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Tualatin council extends pot shop moratorium

The Tualatin City Council decided to extend its moratorium on marijuana dispensaries as long as possible — which is to say, through May 2015.

Monday night marked the last work session the council will hold in its current facilities, and in revisiting the issue of newly legalized medical marijuana retailers, the council voted to extend its current moratorium on dispensaries, which has a sunset date of Dec. 31.

A revised version of Senate Bill 1531 redlined municipalities’ ability to prohibit dispensaries outright, but does permit both cities and counties to institute temporary bans through next year.

This allows cities like Tualatin to explore safer approaches to regulation.

After determining last year that denying potential medical marijuana dispensary owners business licenses would likely lay the city bare for litigation, the council decided to instead explore regulation through the zoning process.

But Councilor Monique Beikman made clear she was opposed to dispensaries in Tualatin, regardless of increased regulation.

“Where should they be located? Nowhere, never ever,” she said. “Should they be conditional use? No.”

Beikman said she feared the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries would prove a drain to local law enforcement, as well as emergency response and addiction services, and that such costs would far outweigh what she saw as the marginal chance the city would be the subject of litigation.

“I’m making a stand on this, just like (Councilor Ed Truax) did on chickens,” she said.

It is an issue that has given rise to unprecedented questions for local governments throughout the state. SB 1531 has attempted to address whether city-level municipalities can be forced to adhere to a state law seen to be in violation of federal law — in this case, the Controlled Substances Act.

House Bill 3460, which gave the Oregon Health Authority the power to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, did come with minimal, built-in regulations: Medical marijuana facilities must be located at least 1,000 feet from schools and other dispensaries. Grow sites and dispensaries cannot be located at the same address. Dispensary owners must pass a criminal background check.

On Monday, the Tualatin council voted to both extend the moratorium, and use that period to gage public opinion on dispensaries.

“Let’s assume a majority of the population is fine (with the idea of dispensaries),” Mayor Lou Ogden said. “That would also color my interest, my brazen position of whether or not to want to participate in litigation” to enforce bans.

Truax suggested gathering broad community input with “statistically valid polling,” such as surveys conducted by phone, by mail or door-to-door, rather than simply leaving the discussion up to local citizen involvement organizations.

Councilor Wade Bigsby emphasized such surveys should be structured, rather than open-ended.

Ogden expressed concerns about wildly differing perceptions of what, exactly, medical marijuana dispensaries looked like.

“I’m concerned about how to derive public opinion, when one person sees a medical marijuana dispensary as a clinically pure place where medicine is being moved out, another sees it as a pot shop,” he said. “That somehow colors the response both of the public input and statistical surveys.”

But some councilors cautioned against giving the public a false sense of authority over dispensaries.

“I don’t think any of this should be a discussion of whether dispensaries are legal, and whether we’re going to ban them or not,” Councilor Joelle Davis said. “We are within our right to zone these things as tightly as possible, and that’s what I’d like to see us do.”

Councilor Nancy Grimes agreed.

“I know a lot of people don’t want them here, but if we’re not going to necessarily have the option of an outright ban, ‘Do you like them? Do you not?’ is immaterial,” she said.

Grimes proposed instead that in soliciting public input, the city outline the minimum requirements set out in HB 3460, and then ask for suggestions for further regulation.

“Hours? Appearance? Storefront design? Shaded windows? More specific things like that,” she said.

The council voted to review an updated draft ordinance with a revised moratorium sunset date of May 2015, and to outline a public involvement strategy, during its next two meetings.

“I’m interested in buying more time, but moreso than that, I’m interested to see those cities that aren’t having the moratoria, what their experience is,” Ogden said. “I think the more time we have to observe other dispensaries rolling out across the region, across the state, and find it’s not what you think — it’s not a drain on police, it’s not a drain on kids having more access...the longer we can observe it, the better off we’ll be.”

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