City Council Discusses Marijuana Dispensaries

At their April 6, 2015 City Council meeting, the City Council held a lengthy and comprehensive discussion about how they might regulate already legal medical marijuana dispensaries as well as recreational retail establishments that will become legal in the next calendar year.

One  year ago the Vernonia City Council placed a one year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries as a precautionary move since the state was getting ready to vote on Measure 91 which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Oregon. Numerous other cities around the state took similar action to protect themselves against the unknown ramifications a yes vote might have for the state and local governments. The City also voted to tax recreational marijuana if it did become legal.

The city moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries is set to expire on May 1st and Council felt the need to discuss how they might  move forward. Their conversation lasted about an hour and included Ruben Cleaveland, their legal advisor, on the phone to give them advice.

Oregon citizens approved Measure 91 and recreational use of marijuana becomes legal July 1st, 2015 which means a citizen can legally possess marijuana, smoke it in private settings, and even grow a few plants for personal use. The OLCC will not begin taking applications for retail sales establishments until January of 2016 and is still discussing the details of how they intend to regulate grow operations as well as retail establishments.

Councilor Kim Tierney said she sees the benefits of medical marijuana and since the people voted to approve legalizing  recreational use, she didn’t see why the City should oppose that. Councilor Jill Hult said she agreed with Tierney.  Councilor Mike Seager said he was absolutely opposed to the sale of marijuana in the city of Vernonia in any way. Mayor Randy Parrow said that although he didn’t like the idea of marijuana being sold legally in Vernonia, the people voted to legalize it and he represents the people. 

There were several key components to the City Council discussion.  City Administrator Gian Paolo Mammone and attorney Cleaveland provided Council with a report that explained the issues and provided a listing of what other cities in Oregon are doing about the issue.  The City Council’s general position following the discussion was that they wanted to wait for the state and OLCC to finalize all guidelines and rules before the City spent  time and money on the issue.

HB 3460 which regulates medical marijuana in Oregon says dispensaries must be 1000 feet from schools and can’t be in residential zones. Measure 91 does allow time, place and manner restrictions on recreational retail–some cities are considering not allowing them near parks, libraries, and churches.

The City cannot outright ban recreational retail sales, it would have to be done by a Citizen Initiative and voted on. The City can limit where businesses can be placed through Land Use/Development Code Restrictions.  Any change to zoning would have to go through a public hearing process.

The Council decided to do nothing on the medical moratorium they have in place and Cleaveland told them he believes they are protected from allowing medical marijuana dispensaries under Federal laws that classify marijuana as a controlled substance. The City already has a rule which prohibits activities in violation of federal law written into their business license ordinance.

Citizen Mike Buffum was recognized by the mayor and told Council that if they try to ban medical marijuana it will be challenged in court. According to City staff there are already medical grow operations in the area providing product to customers

The Council asked staff to begin creating maps that would show where in the commercial zone a recreational retail business could be located if they were to put in place various types of restrictions.