Ashland City Council is considering a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries as the town faces six dispensary applications so far and mounting neighborhood opposition.
The council will discuss a temporary moratorium at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 1, in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.
Ashland has one of the most lenient stances on dispensaries among Southern Oregon cities and counties.
The Oregon Health Authority Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program has received six dispensary applications for Ashland so far, City Administrator Dave Kanner said this week.
People hoping to launch dispensaries in Oregon began submitting applications to the state on March 3 as part of a new medical marijuana regulatory system.
The state keeps dispensary applicant information confidential, but data is available about two applicants because they applied for and received Ashland business licenses.
Siskiyou Medical Supply is already dispensing marijuana inside Puff's Smoke Shop, a long-established business at 1908 Ashland St., between an Allstate insurance office and an H&R Block.
A proposed dispensary called Top Shelf Meds at 400 Williamson Way has yet to open, but neighbors are raising objections.
The dispensary is in a business zone that abuts a neighborhood.
"There's no buffer between our neighborhood and this medical marijuana dispensary," said Carol Kim, who lives with her family on a side street off Williamson Way.
The dispensary is separated from her home by a sparse hedge, and one of her daughter's bedrooms looks out on the dispensary.
Kim said it's ironic that state rules bar dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools and each other, but her daughters will come home from school and have to live near a dispensary.
In addition, Kim said groups of out-of-town school kids are often in the neighborhood because they stay at the Ashland Commons lodging business while visiting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Located at 437 Williamson Way, the business serves groups, families and individuals who need affordable accommodations.
North Mountain Park, which hosts environmental education and youth and adult sports events, is below Williamson Way on North Mountain Avenue.
Kim said Ashland needs to consider additional regulations governing dispensaries, including lighting, hours of operations, screening from neighboring properties and whether they can site near neighborhoods even if they are technically in business zones.
State law does not allow dispensaries in residential zones, but they are allowed in mixed use, commercial, industrial and agricultural zones.
"I want to see guidelines for Ashland," Kim said. "It's not just about our neighborhood. This will be an issue elsewhere."
She said some people do need medical marijuana to treat their health conditions, but dispensaries should be located in business zones.
Other neighbors have sent emails to councilors and Mayor John Stromberg registering their concerns.
Councilors had previously asked the Ashland Planning Commission to consider additional regulations for dispensaries, but several said that process is moving too slowly.
Councilors unanimously voted on Tuesday to ask the Planning Commission to fast-track review of regulations that would ban dispensaries in the downtown business district, require a more lengthy conditional use permit application process with the city for dispensaries in employment zones, and allow relatively streamlined approval in commercial and industrial zones.
The proposed dispensary on Williamson Way is located in an employment zone.
Under the Ashland Municipal Code, employment zones are meant to provide for a variety of uses that have a minimal impact on surrounding uses, such as office, retail and manufacturing. The zone is supposed to maintain an "aesthetic environment."
Conditional use permit fees range from $998 to $2,002, according to an Ashland Community Development Department fee schedule.
Dispensary applicants already pay $4,000 to the state for state review and consideration of applications. An applicant who is rejected will receive $3,500 back, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
The Planning Commission is considering other regulations, including limits on operating hours and whether dispensaries should be located a minimum distance from residential areas and various public places, such as parks and the Ashland library.
If councilors adopt a moratorium on April 1, it would be temporary and allow time for the Planning Commission and council to review and approve any added regulations, councilors said.
Mayor John Stromberg said because dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from each other under state rules, applicants have an incentive to get applications in early in order to secure a spot.
Those quick applications may not provide Ashland enough time to work out regulations to protect neighborhoods, he said.
"That's why we may need a moratorium," Stromberg said.
In a session earlier this year, the Oregon Legislature gave local jurisdictions the authority to implement dispensary moratoriums until May 2015 while they work out local rules for dispensaries.
City Attorney Dave Lohman said Ashland could adopt a moratorium retroactive to the beginning of March.
Dispensaries that continue operating in the face of moratoriums can be subject to state prosecution, he said.
A moratorium would effectively shut down dispensaries that are already in operation, Kanner said.
The operators of Siskiyou Medical Supply in Puff's Smoke Shop on Ashland Street and Top Shelf Meds on Williamson Way did not return phone calls for comment.
In a previous interview, Puff's Smoke Shop owner Mike Welch said legal dispensaries provide needed medicine to patients in a professional environment and will attract visitors to Ashland.
He said dispensaries will generate tax revenue and help turn marijuana into a legitimate industry, rather than a black-market activity.
The Planning Commission will hold a study session to discuss various proposed regulations on dispensaries at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St. The meeting is open to the public, but city panels rarely take public testimony during study session.
The city of Ashland will hold an informational meeting about dispensaries at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the Otte Peterson Room at The Grove building, 1195 E. Main St.
The purpose is to have an open conversation about neighborhood concerns regarding the dispensary on Williamson Way and what the city's options are for addressing concerns, Kanner said.
The meeting is open to the public.