Newport City Councilors decided Tuesday that it’s better to postpone a decision on whether to allow or ban medical marijuana shops within the city limits, since the state legislature hasn’t yet made up its mind on the subject. Or if there will be any new laws at all. Senate Bill 1531, the one that would lay out additional regulations on medical marijuana stores in Oregon, has passed the Senate, but it now has to make its way through the House.
Police Chief Mark Miranda, who recently signed on with other top law men and women in the county to oppose such shops, told the council that medical marijuana is coming whether we like it or not and that the councilors should weigh their decision very carefully.
City Manager Spencer Nebel recommended to the council that they take the advice of City Attorney Rob Connell – that the city should try to keep itself out of court by not banning the shops altogether. Connell wants to wait and see what regulations the state legislature gives cities to regulate such marijuana operations. Those regulations may include where the shops can be situated – whether kids can accompany an adult inside them – whether only card-carrying medical marijuana patients can buy the weed – annual fees to operate the store, etc. On the flip side, the law may or may not address a city’s legal right to refuse a business license to any med-marijuana operation on the grounds that the federal government declares all marijuana is illegal. At the moment SB 1531, headed for the Oregon House of Representatives, specifies that no city or county can ban med-marijuana shops. It says that they can only “regulate” their operations – hours of operation, location, assess fees, if a med-marijuana patient can ingest marijuana on site and under what conditions, among others.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that the federal government would not move against medical marijuana operations as long as they are not engaged in criminal activity, like selling marijuana out the back door to those without a med-marijuana card, selling to illegal drug cartels or growing marijuana for sale to the public using med-marijuana stores as a front. None the less, cities like Medford, Grants Pass, Hillsboro, Tigard and Sherwood have already passed laws that prohibit any med-marijuana stores inside their city limits, pointing to the official federal ban on all marijuana possession or use.
City Manager Spencer Nebel said he concurred with City Attorney Rob Connell and that the city should take the safe road and not consider, at this time, banning med-marijuana outlets until SB 1531 is approved and studied – or is not approved and be forced to re-assess the entire situation.
City Councilor Ralph Busby wondered aloud whether the city might be able to levy a city tax on marijuana sales. He didn’t get any takers – his fellow councilors leaving the issue for another day.
Any new state law pertaining to medical marijuana sales won’t take effect until March 1st. The city council’s next scheduled meeting is set for March 3rd – two days later. From there the council will have to decide whether to abide by state law or join other Oregon cities that contend that federal law supersedes the authority of the state when it comes to marijuana.