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Newport and the County Commission taking a slower go at Marijuana – want to “get it right”

Marijuana retail outlet near Denver.

Marijuana retail outlet near Denver.


When Oregon voters passed Measure 91 last year, legalizing recreational marijuana, there was a kind of euphoria that spread across the state. But side-by-side with that euphoria was an a similar wave of “Not in my community, you won’t!”

So while Measure 91 made possession and ingestion of marijuana legal, it didn’t specify where it would be grown, how it would be processed (with all the health and safety issues associated with it), who would sell it, and how it would be consumed.

Welllll…the state legislature stepped in to fill that void. And in filling it lawmakers gave cities and counties a choice over six aspects of providing marijuana – from growing it to selling it. For those cities and counties that don’t want anything to do with marijuana farming, processing or selling, the legislature gave those cities and counties the power to become “dry” communities of Oregon, much like alcohol was treated in The South in the 1930s and 40s. In some counties of The South, you couldn’t buy alcohol. You had to drive over the county line where it was legal – buy it – then bring it home. In fact there are still “dry” counties in The South today. The same is apparently in the offing in Oregon with Marijuana. Again, it’s still legal to possess marijuana and consume it – you just can’t grow it, process it or buy it locally. By the way, the above would also apply to medical marijuana.

Here’s where it starts to get complicated. Because the legislature has been slow to set up regulations necessary to implement Measure 91, lawmakers inadvertently created a regulatory vacuum dealing with the marijuana issue. Without those regulations lawmakers decided that cities and counties should be given the opportunity to outlaw any business that grows, processes or sells recreational marijuana until the legislature adopts regulations that meets their own local criteria. In short, Oregon would become made up of counties welcoming marijuana production and sales versus those opposed. Again, we’re talking both the medical and recreational sides of the issue.

Now, if certain cities and counties decide to ban the growing, processing and sales of any marijuana within their city limits or county lines, they will be forced to hold another election (November 16th) to determine if that ban should become permanent.

In the meantime, cities and counties that do slap a ban on any aspect of marijuana production – from growing to processing or sales, that local city or county won’t get any sales taxes associated with the plant’s sale like other cities and counties that does allow marijuana sales. The legislature has obviously made a bet that even though a community doesn’t like marijuana, does it dislike it so much that it’ll turn down tax money – and lots of it.

Newport City Manager Spencer Nebel told the city council this week that in the interest of crossing all the T’s and dotting the I’s, he recommends that the city bar the early sale of recreational marijuana by medical marijuana dispensaries and that the ban should last until the November election in 2016 when the voters can reverse if they want to. But by then we could see recreation sales only businesses. Nebel says the council and the public will have time to review the new laws and then figure out if they want to move ahead with them.

And to that end the Newport City Council this week set August 17th at 6pm at city hall for a public hearing over whether the temporary moratorium should be enacted. The council must act before the first of October – the legislature’s deadline.

At the county, Lincoln County Commissioners ruled that they too are concerned about the legislature’s slowness to get the regulatory framework in place. This week they referred the whole matter to their own county Planning Commission. Commissioners say they prefer the normal review procedures for land use issues. After that, the county commission will decide whether to adopt prohibitions in and among the six criteria of growing to sales. Their decision pertains only to those lands outside of incorporated city limits. Any bans are likely to mean that those cities or counties “opting out” of participating in the distribution of marijuana sales taxes, won’t get any part of those sales taxes – which are likely to be quite substantial. So there’s a lot of money on the table to entice local cities and counties to gain financially from the legalization of marijuana.

Ancient Chinese Curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

 

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