In a triple location News Conference/Town Hall setting, Senator Arnie Roblan and Representative David Gomberg talked with citizens and the local news media about the latest legislative news from Salem dealing with possible new medical marijuana regulations, state funds for local economic development, herbicide spraying in timber areas, and attempts to watchdog fishing rights off the Oregon Coast.
Congressman David Gomberg led off the discussion informing those gathered at OCCC Lincoln City and OCCC Newport, that the legislature had not yet come to an agreement whether there should be any local control over where medical marijuana dispensaries should be located or how they’re run. A new law taking effect March 1st that was passed by the last legislature rules out any city or county control – leaving it all in state hands.
However, a new attempt erupted during the current off-year legislative session to modify the law by allowing cities and counties to determine not only where and how the dispensaries are run but also whether they would be allowed at all. A version of the new bill left the state senate bound for the House that allowed for local control but with no local power to ban dispensaries. And that’s where things stood as of Wednesday evening.
Rep. Gomberg reported that the Senate-House standoff on the bill was taking on an ominous new legal dimension – one that sparked an immediate erosion of support for local control. Sen. Roblan explained that the issue is all about whether local governments should be allowed to preempt the state on issues the state wants to have firm control over. Roblan said such state preemption was preserved during the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) battle over whether counties should control what gets planted in their area or whether the state reserves that power for itself. Last year a number of counties wanted that right but the legislature disagreed. The state did not want a hodge-podge of Yes-No counties confusing the situation while GMO seeds are carried by winds into areas where they are banned. In the end, the legislature came down on side of state control. However, the legislature also allowed Jackson County (Medford area) to hold a public vote on the matter.
So, state preemption was preserved.
But along comes medical marijuana dispensaries and everybody’s back in the same predicament with another “agricultural issue” because the medical marijuana law going into effect March 1st also covers where and how marijuana can be grown. And again the legislature is faced with whether to declare the state in control or whether part or all of that control should go to the cities and counties.
In the cases of Medford and Grants Pass, they don’t want anything to do with marijuana dispensaries. And they have laid down the gauntlet to Salem that they won’t tolerate marijuana sales inside their communities. And what’s more, they are prepared to sue the state to try and make that stick. Medford and Grants Pass say as long as the federal government lists marijuana as illegal, it remains illegal in their communities. However, that argument has been discounted by those who point to federal officials saying they will not intervene with medical marijuana sales as long as the plants are grown properly and don’t fall into the hands of any criminal element.
Then something else happened, something that caught everyone off guard. Womens’ Rights groups came out of nowhere with a bombshell. They argued if cities and counties can preempt state jurisdiction on medical marijuana (medical, get it?) then what’s to stop any county from banning any governmental role in providing or supporting abortion (medical) services? When that buzz began flying around the legislature, support for local control over medical marijuana began to slip – so much so that Rep. Gomberg believes the angst over state preemption will ensure no local control provision will survive this legislative session. It will simply die, leaving the state medical marijuana dispensary act to take effect March 1st with state regulations firmly in charge – governing where dispensaries can be located, hours of operation, how they sell medical marijuana and how it’s grown, etc.
Both Gomberg and Roblan say if that happens, they wouldn’t be surprised if a lawsuit or two is filed against the state to challenge the enforcement of the new law – or to see the launching of a voter initiative to repeal the law that legalized medical marijuana in the first place. And with all that going on there are expected to be more than one voter initiative on the November ballot seeking to legalize RECREATIONAL marijuana across Oregon. Washington and Colorado recently did just that igniting interest in additional voter initiatives in several other states.
On other matters, a resident asked Gomberg and Roblan whether timberland herbicide spraying could be outlawed across the state in view of recent herbicide spraying accidents that affected residents up near Alsea and other spots. Roblan replied that he’s not sure that’s a good idea since herbicides give young trees a chance grow and thrive with less competing brush to block their access to growth-inducing sunlight. Roblan said one alternative the state is exploring is to have herbicide workers no longer primarily in the air but rather on the ground even before trees are harvested and the new ones are planted. He said under such conditions the chances for over-spraying are near zero which you can’t always guarantee with helicopters of fast moving crop-duster type aircraft.
Another topic covered briefly was a change in strategy to get more state economic development funding to the local level rather than having the Capitol bureaucracy evaluate and channel such funds far away, often far from where they’re really needed. Roblan said a top down, Salem-centered programming model is probably not as good as assigning resources to specific projects on the ground where they’re needed most. And who better to direct them than local city and county officials. Roblan predicted those changes are coming.
And Rep. Gomberg commented on a question about whether federal officials promoting the testing of offshore wind energy farms are proceeding in a way that preserves proper commercial fishing industry access to prime fishing grounds. Gomberg said he had heard that a recent whirlwind fact finding trip by top federal energy and NOAA officials did an inadequate job of inviting the public and the fishing industry to the table to be part of the planning discussions for testing offshore wind farms beyond the state’s three mile limit. Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson, a long time commercial fisherman, has been talking-up what he described as a deeply flawed federal fact finding tour that seemed to ignore significant information about commercial fishing and the critical role it plays in the coastal economy. Thompson said federal officials didn’t seem interested in listening except to very select kinds of testimony – nothing that reflected the magnitude of the negative impacts far offshore wind farms could have on commercial fishing grounds.
Gomberg said he will inform the Oregon Coastal Legislative Caucus which wields a fair amount of political clout in Salem. He said that Oregon should not be railroaded by any level of government when it comes to the economic health of the coast, which has been especially hard hit by the five and a half year recession.
The closed circuit televised town hall was made possible by a generous grant from the Siletz Tribes and the Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City.