Longtime city volunteer calls for strict regulations after six-month moratorium

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - More people spoke in favor than in opposition of allowing and licensing dispensaries of medical marijuana, buds of which are shown above, in Beaverton during a public hearing on the matter at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.Despite going to college amidst the countercultural upheavals of the 1960s, Jim McCreight failed to pursue a Ph.D in pot smoking.

"I never tried marijuana," the active Beaverton-area volunteer admitted during a public hearing at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

As the City Council further discussed a city ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, McCreight provided a lone citizen voice opposed to allowing the businesses to operate in the city.

Turned off by what he sees as marketing pot for recreational use at existing Portland dispensaries, McCreight urged the council to uphold its Goal No. 5 — featured on a placard above the dais — that assures a "safe and healthy community."

"I realize the tide of public opinion is shifting," McCreight said of evolving marijuana laws. "I hope if you have to allow (dispensaries), you'll have very strict conditions."

Judging by public comments on the fledgling ordinance, McCreight was in the minority as far as allowing licensed dispensaries to operate in Beaverton. Five others, including those who use medical marijuana for various medical reasons, testified to the public health benefits of regulated medical dispensaries nearby.

With a state-sanctioned legal registry of dispensaries going into effect on March 3, City Attorney Bill Kirby drafted an ordinance based on the council's direction. The ordinance would bar dispensaries from setting up in the city for six months and establish clear guidelines to their licensing and operations thereafter.

State law requires dispensaries to be located in commercial, industrial or mixed-use areas only, at least 1,000 feet away from schools or another dispensary.

The council seeks to strike a balance between a state law permitting dispensaries and current federal law considering marijuana illegal for use or sale. The city would retain authority to suspend or revoke business licenses for violations of state and local laws, while reserving an ability to tweak the ordinance as dispensaries open in Beaverton.

Based on current zoning and state regulations, Kirby said the city could accommodate between six and 12 dispensaries.

Calling the ordinance as written a "stop-gap" measure, he noted the six-month interim period will allow the city to be "thoughtful about how we're going to be regulating this."

"I can come back to you within that six-month period with additions, changes and amendments," Kirby told the council members.

If the council approves the ordinance at an upcoming meeting, it would go into effect by the end of February.

Portland resident Sam Chapman, a marijuana law reform activist, stressed to the council that dispensaries are medical, not recreational-based businesses and should be allowed to operate under state guidelines.

"I'm not aware of one instance where a local municipality ever imposed regulations on pharmacies," he said. "This is (considered) medicine in Oregon. If we're going to treat it as such, you need to open up, step back and look at these things in a different light."

Noting the care and time that went into crafting Oregon House Bill 3460, including input from law enforcement and other authorities, Chapman is concerned that overreaching by the city could lead to legal challenges.

"What we don't want to see happen is the City Council making a decision in haste that ends up in court," he said.

Chris Matthews, a medical marijuana patient, seeks to establish the Cascadian Care Group dispensary in Beaverton. He argued those with legal prescriptions shouldn't be inconvenienced by conflicting local and state guidelines.

"We currently use dispensaries to acquire medicine," he said, contradicting claims that marijuana prescriptions could be obtained at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. "It's difficult to travel into Portland or Salem for some people.

“We’re looking to be an active part of our community,” he added. “We want to be a good neighbor. We live here. I don’t feel I should have to look in another city to open my business.”

Councilor Mark San Soucie made it clear the ordinance he seeks would not allow local clinics to promote recreational pot use, but provide safe, reliable outlets for those with documented medical needs.

"We don't need 'Sky High' in Beaverton," he said, referring to a strain of medical marijuana McCreight saw advertised through a Portland dispensary. "We want to give the police all they need (to enforce laws) and give medicine to the people who need it."

Council President Mark Fagin said he remains comfortable with a six-month moratorium on dispensaries while further investigating the pros and cons of their community presence.

"Oregon (law) gives us the ability to take time to do this," he said. "We need to make sure we don't have loopholes and (make sure) we're not having stores that sell (marijuana) candy."

He suggested a public forum outside of a council meeting hearing to gauge citizens' concerns.

"I'm still sticking with six months," Fagin said. "I think we need to investigate."

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