Written for The Argus Observer, printed May 29, 2015.
A haze of confusion surrounds the topic of recreational marijuana dispensaries, which are going to be legal by state law in Ontario on July 1, but city officials are taking steps to establish restrictions anyway.
“The Oregon legislature needs to address recreational marijuana and they haven’t done that yet,” said city attorney Larry Sullivan. “There are more questions with recreational marijuana than there are with medical.”
The conversation was sparked by Senate Bill 964, which passed in the Oregon Senate on Wednesday. The legislation, if passed, would allow cities and counties to pass laws banning pot retail shops and medical marijuana dispensaries within their boundaries. It also establishes requirements for labeling and packaging marijuana, and sets limits for the amount of plants at grow sites.
“It passed in the Senate and I do foresee it passing in the House as well,” Laura Gibbs one of the owners of The Happy Hippy Smoke Shop in Ontario, asked the Council.
Gibbs acknowledged the hard work of the Council on marijuana-related issues up to this point and thanked the Council, but she shared her concerns about what’s happening next.
“After everything we’ve been through, where is the City Council going to stand on this,” she asked.
Though recreational marijuana use and possession will be legal, within certain parameters, on July 1, the state won’t be issuing licenses for the recreational businesses until the fall of 2016.
“Once retail stores become legal, can we mirror what we did with the medical marijuana ordinance and licensing,” asked Councilor Norm Crume. “We should be getting ahead of the ball game instead of sitting behind the eight ball.”
Ontario Mayor, Ron Verini, also voiced concern about the timeline and said he wanted to be as proactive as possible on the issue.
“Can we mimic [what we did with] the medical marijuana dispensaries,” Verni asked. “We need to put at least some kind of restrictions [on recreational shops].”
Sullivan explained that ordinances dealing with medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational marijuana dispensaries have to be kept separate.
“Our attorney said we cannot mimic medical marijuana ordinances so, poof, this is a new discussion,” Verini said. “We’re taking a new look at recreational marijuana and coming up with restrictions only and not mimicking anything that we did with medical marijuana.”
The City Council decided to continue their conversation on recreational marijuana retail stores in their Monday night meeting, which is scheduled for June 1 at 7 p.m. at the Ontario City Hall.