City moves ahead with plan to prohibit pot dispensaries

The fight to keep medical marijuana dispensaries out of Tualatin continues.

When the City Council revisited the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries Monday, there was a new concern on the table: the specter of recreational marijuana.

On Jan. 1, sales of marijuana for recreational use became legal in Colorado, the result of a voter-approved amendment to the state’s Constitution. A similar law will go into effect in Washington later this year.

Councilor Joelle Davis raised the issue, saying she knew of three initiatives in circulation attempting to introduce such an amendment to Oregon ballots later this year. She urged the council to consider preemptive action to keep recreational dispensaries out of Tualatin.

“Some of the cities in Colorado didn’t seem terribly prepared for that to happen there,” Davis said. “Colorado Springs is trying to go back and prohibit after the law is passed, which I think is problematic.”

She added, “We have an opportunity to manage marijuana through the land-use process as I’ve said before, but also to actually prohibit retail establishments in the city at the same time.”

She pushed for a permanent prohibition on recreational marijuana retail establishments, which would become a grandfather clause in the event Oregon voters were in favor of recreational marijuana sales. The council agreed there was enough interest to ask city staff to draft a proposal for such an ordinance.

The council kept this separate from the ongoing debate of how to block medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits in anticipation of a new law, which allows the Oregon Health Authority to regulate such establishments. The OHA will start accepting dispensary applications March 3.

Initially, there was council support for Tualatin to go the way of Medford and Gresham by refusing to issue business licenses to individuals seen to be in violation of federal law — in this case, the Controlled Substances Act. But councilors Frank Bubenik, Ed Truax and Wade Brooksby were opposed to the idea, arguing it put the city at risk of litigation, as such an ordinance would itself be at odds with state law. Davis rescinded her support for the move, citing the unintended consequences it might have on business owners.

The councilors also disputed the legality. On Monday, city staff presented the example of Riverside, Calif., which adopted a municipal code defining medical marijuana dispensaries and banning them. The move was upheld by the California Supreme Court. The Tualatin City Council agreed that such an approach was their best bet for the time being. The process will take about three months, as it involves a public hearing, two council readings and, if approved, a 30-day waiting period.

To avoid the establishment of dispensaries in the interim, the city agreed to activate a temporary prohibition on all medical marijuana retail centers. The ban will expire Dec. 31.

“The horse has been out of the barn in (terms of) medical marijuana for a long time, which makes it difficult to prohibit here, despite wanting to do it,” Davis said.

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