Hillsboro's one-year ban could be lifted after zoning study

Those hoping to visit a medical marijuana dispensary in the city of Hillsboro will have to wait a little HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Will McEvoy, Jansu Hirst and Mary McDermott sit in the waiting room of Mundo Verde

On April 15, the Hillsboro City Council voted 4-1 to impose a one-year moratorium on allowing medical marijuana facilities within the city limits. The ban is designed to give Hillsboro officials time to finalize zoning and other restrictions on the facilities.

However, members of the council made clear that the moratorium — which is officially in place until May 1, 2015 — is not likely to last the full year.

The Oregon Legislature passed a pair of marijuana bills in 2013 — Senate Bill 863 and House Bill 3460 — which formally allow medical marijuana retail businesses. But the Legislature also gave municipalities the option to impose a one-year hold on the outlets while zoning or other restrictions are researched.

Before voting on the ban proposal, councilwoman Megan Braze said she did not support the idea of extending the existing temporary moratorium for a full HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Will McEvoy and Mary McDermott demonstrate how medical marijuana cards would be checked before entering the dispensary section of Mundo Verde.

“I felt the (original) four-month moratorium was an adequate amount of time to develop proper land use regulations for dispensaries,” said Braze, “and extending it to May 1, 2015, is excessive.”

Braze explained that she believes the moratorium would create hardships for marijuana patients who would need to travel to Portland to visit licensed dispensaries there.

“I’ve also spoken with business owners who have already spent a significant amount of money and time in developing dispensaries and went exactly by the letter of the law,” Braze said. “They did this in Hillsboro because they believed the moratorium would end and we would have land use regulations by May 1, 2014. They stand to lose out on significant investment if the moratorium is continued to 2015, because they can’t afford to float the properties for a year.”

Council member Steve Callaway asked what would happen if the moratorium was not adopted.

City Manager Michael Brown warned that could allow dispensaries to spring up around the city with little regulation or oversight.

“If not approved, the temporary ordinance would stay in effect until May 21 (2014). At that time, a window of opportunity would expire for the council, and there would be an opening for businesses to open up medical marijuana dispensaries within the city of Hillsboro,” Brown said.

Callaway also wanted to know what types of restrictions the city would be able to impose in terms of siting if the one-year moratorium was not approved.

“That’s frankly an open question,” said Hillsboro’s city attorney, Paul Elsner. “We are pretty sure from a legal perspective you would not be able to ban them. You might be able to add additional regulations on them, but that is an unknown. If you want to take advantage of the state statute that allows you to have the ability to impose a moratorium for a year, it has to be tonight.”

Elsner added, however, that the one-year moratorium can be withdrawn whenever the council is ready to do so.

“You can opt out and repeal that at any point,” he said. “The state statute allows time to do a study. It allows you that additional time to analyze all the issues. If the study only takes six weeks, you can get rid of the moratorium at that point. But if you don’t enact this tonight, you lose that option.”

Given that information, Callaway said he would vote in favor of the moratorium, but only with the understanding that it would not remain in place for the full year.

“I’d ask staff to go ahead and work on the zoning issues, and take that to the planning commission and have it go through the process,” Callaway said. “And once it comes back to us, at that point I would hope the new zone would be approved and they (dispensaries) would be able to conduct business in Hillsboro.”

Council president Aron Carleson said she agreed with Callaway.

“I would echo what councilor Callaway asked for,” Carleson said. “Let’s go ahead and get started on that process and move forward.”

When the vote was called, only Braze voted “No.” Council members Carleson, Callaway, Darell Lumaco and Olga Acuna voted in favor of the extended moratorium.

Carleson reiterated that she did not expect the moratorium to last long.

“We’re moving forward to get that going,” Carleson said. “And much sooner than a year from now.”

After the council’s vote, Will McEvoy, one of those waiting to open a medical marijuana dispensary once they are allowed, said he understood the council’s HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Mundo Verde

“I would have liked the vote to go the other way,” he said, “but I thought the tone was very appropriate. We are here to serve the community. I do respect the city’s right and responsibility to protect citizens.”

McEvoy’s new business, located on Southwest Walnut Street in Hillsboro, will be called Mundo Verde. Although he has to wait a little longer to begin operating, McEvoy said he believes Oregon has a sound process for opening and operating a marijuana dispensary.

“Under Oregon law, it requires a serious condition to qualify for that card (that allows a patient to use marijuana),” McEvoy said. “The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program issued a clear set of rules I can follow and be confident I’m not going to have a SWAT team raiding my business.”

McEvoy added that he is excited to be on the cutting edge of a new trend and is eager to open his shop once the city finalizes its zoning rules.

“I’m ready to open and serve the community in a responsible and legal way,” he said.

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