Councilors want to see how other cities cope with permits

When it comes to allowing medical marijuana dispensaries around Beaverton, the City Council is of at least two minds.

While some feel more strongly than others that the medicinal benefits and business-generating opportunities — made possible through recently passed Oregon House Bill 3460 — are worth flouting the federal prohibition of pot to allow state-sanctioned dispensaries, the council agreed on Tuesday night that some regulation is in order.

“Whatever we choose to do ought to be in the realm of regulation,” said Councilor Marc San Soucie. “It’s very possible in the next six years Oregon law may change, or the federal law may change. I think we’ll be in a better spot if we have regulations for whether that happens or not.”

The council informally agreed in a work session to seek an ordinance to prohibit dispensaries for a six-month trial period. That would allow time to examine how other municipalities fare when dispensaries likely become more commonplace. What happens in Washington, which recently followed Colorado in legalizing the regulated sale and purchase of marijuana, will also be scrutinized, noted councilors and City Attorney Bill Kirby.

With provisions of House Bill 3460 kicking in, the Oregon Health Authority on March 3 will begin processing applications from those seeking to register and establish medical marijuana distribution centers in areas zoned for commercial, industrial or mixed use.

Kirby presented three options for regulating dispensaries within the city. They included taking no action, which would let state guidelines rule; requiring specialized business licenses for marijuana dispensaries; or prohibiting the businesses altogether based on longstanding federal law that lumps marijuana in with heroin, cocaine and other recreational drugs as illegal, Schedule I narcotics under the Controlled Substances Act.

With councilors uniformly rejecting the no-regulation option, discussion ensued about the best approach to handling what Kirby said could be six to 12 marijuana dispensaries around town, based on current zoning and state regulations.

“The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act is law, and the Controlled Substance Act is federal law,” he said, noting federal law recognizes no medicinal value in marijuana. “The two acts conflict in parts.”

Portland resident Sam Chapman, a marijuana law reform activist and former state coordinator for Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, urged the council and Mayor Denny Doyle to keep their minds open to medically based marijuana distributors interested in setting up shop in Beaverton.

“I encourage the council to explore all the options,” he said. “As dispensaries continue to apply for licenses until March 3, (I hope you) look to work with them and not shut them out.”

Councilor Cate Arnold, sharing an anecdote about how a capsulized form of THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana plants — helped her cope with pain and discomfort as she battled breast cancer several years ago, advocated for continued access for those who could benefit from the medication.

“Marinol,” she said of the prescription drug, “seems to be a pretty common thing.”

She also expressed concern about crime related to dispensaries, many of which have difficulty, because of the Controlled Substances Act, working with federally sanctioned banks.

“I’m very concerned about the money aspect,” Arnold said, noting the 74 Portland dispensaries found in a Google search should provide a reasonable “track record” of crime related to the businesses.

Beaverton Police Chief Geoff Spalding countered that Portland police have largely taken a “hands-off” approach regarding dispensaries. He added that dispensary owners and employees “might not be calling police” when criminals target their stores.

“We found several instances in which a disproportionate number of crimes were reported,” Spalding said of burglaries and robberies in Washington, Montana and Colorado as well as “two homicides” in California related to dispensaries.

Council President Mark Fagin asked Spalding to ensure that any future studies compare dispensary-related crimes to those where any new business, such as a liquor store or gas station, is established.

“We need to know what we’re comparing it to,” he said.

Citing council’s obligation to public safety, Councilor Betty Bode urged extreme caution in allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

“I just don’t think that we’re laying out our values real clear here,” Bode said. “If you are sick and you need it, there are ways to go and get it.”

Immediately after the meeting, Doyle said he was pleased with the path the council appears to be taking.

“At heart, the council wants to do what the citizens want to do, and I believe that will match what the region wants to do,” he said. “We don’t want to put the city at risk with the federal government. This is a good way to take it right now.”

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