JACKSONVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday directed the city attorney to draft a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in town following a discussion about a new Oregon law that will allow the outlets beginning March 3. The council will consider adoption of a measure at its Feb. 18 meeting.
City Attorney Kurt Knudsen advised the council that he and others believe HB 3450 allows cities latitude on whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
"Unfortunately (the law) didn't answer many questions," Knudsen said. "(The) Oregon League of Cities doesn't believe this trumps local law."
The Medford City Council in October voted to ban dispensaries, noting they are not legal under federal law, although the U.S. Justice Department has said it will not interfere with businesses that comply with state law.
The Ashland City Council seems to be in favor of allowing dispensaries that comply with state law, while Phoenix continues to debate the issue.
During the meeting, the Jacksonville council adopted an ordinance amending municipal codes to include a provision saying all businesses must operate lawfully under city, county, state and federal law.
No council member advocated allowing the dispensaries in town during the discussion.
"I think that it's important that we let them know it is not a place to go buy medical marijuana," Councilman Paul Hayes said.
Only one person spoke during public testimony.
"I think I speak for many people in this town who find this to be very offensive and not correct," said Clara Wendt, a former mayor, referring to dispensaries.
Knudsen said two arguments are generally put forward in favor of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. One is that cannabis provides medicinal benefits in lieu of other drugs. The other is that the dispensaries could be a potential source of tax revenue.
Knudsen advised the council to act before the law becomes effective if it wants to pursue a ban.
"Describing your historic character gives another argument the use is not consistent with existing standards," Knudsen said.
Leland Berger, a Portland lawyer, said he disagrees with Knudsen's interpretation. Berger represents The Greenery in Phoenix and Mary Jane's Attic and Basement in Medford, marijuana dispensaries that are at odds with city officials over issuance of business licenses.
"The city is pre-empted by state law ... because the state occupies the field on medical marijuana," said Berger. "All these municipalities are faced with a choice. They can create safe access or they are likely going to have to expend resources to litigate."
The city's options include imposing a moratorium on dispensaries, banning them or allowing them with regulation, Mayor Paul Becker said.
"We have an historical image in this city, and I'd hate to see it damaged," Becker said.
Councilman Owen Jurling asked whether banning dispensaries might make Jacksonville a target for litigation because of its smaller size.
"I think we would just be one of a number of cities," Knudsen responded.
Jacksonville has not received any business-license applications from prospective dispensary owners, City Administrator Jeff Alvis said Wednesday. The city has received calls asking how it might treat them, but no marijuana dispensaries operate in the town, which also hasn't had a pharmacy for several years.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.