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Boards ponder pot rules

Mountain View Naturals, LLC, wants to set up a medical marijuana dispensary in The Dalles but the city council has temporarily banned that type of business.

Dick Gassman, director of the city’s Planning and Community Development Department, said the corporation’s application for a change of use at 300 E. Fourth St. was submitted April 7 by attorney Bradley M. Steinman of Portland.

The application will be given the review to make sure it meets standard conditions, said Gassmen, but it will be noted that no decision can be made until the moratorium enacted April 14 is lifted. Mountain View also has to obtain a state license to dispense cannabis products, which Steinman told the council has become much more difficult with a crop of stringent new regulations developed by the Oregon Health Authority.

Mayor Steve Lawrence said voters could decide in November to legalize pot and state law would then pre-empt local control, thereby forcing an end to the moratorium. He said there could also be a legal challenge against the bans recommended by the League of Oregon Cities from May 1 until the same date next year.

Gene Parker, city attorney, said the opportunity for a moratorium had been granted by the legislature to provide local governments with time to figure out how to regulate legal sales of marijuana, if at all. Some cities have chosen to do nothing to stop the establishment of dispensaries but 71 have imposed a ban. Medford is fighting dispensaries on the basis that marijuana distribution is illegal by federal law, which trumps state approval.

“I felt the moratorium was the most legally defensible position given the state of the law at this time,” said Parker.

Councilor Bill Dick said it was important for the city to hear from as many residents and businesses as possible before imposing a ban. He said reports of children buying marijuana from medical card holders was of concern and needed to be given further scrutiny.

“Let the community study this and it will get sorted out,” he said, gaining agreement from Councilor Tim McGlothlin, who seconded his motion for the moratorium.

“It’s not taking a pro or con stand on marijuana usage, it’s simply taking an unbiased look,” said McGlothlin. He told Steinman, who was present at Monday’s hearing, that if the corporation obtained state approval for a dispensary, city officials could revisit the issue.

“I think we need to get our ducks in a row right now,” said Councilor Linda Miller.

An amendment to the proposed ordinance that allows the council to rescind the ban at any time was inserted by Councilor Dan Spatz and seconded by Miller.

“The intent is that we take the initiative to study the issue and be prepared to rescind the ordinance before May 1, 2015,” said Spatz.

Councilor Carolyn Wood was not present for the hearing that drew a standing room only crowd into city hall.

Steinman said in both written and verbal testimony at the April 14 hearing that the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program in Oregon had processed 213 of the 313 applications – and licensed only 42 — it had received since March 3, when the state opened the system to applicants.

“It seems that less than 25 percent of medical marijuana facility applicants have been granted full license to operate under the rigorous standards and requirements of the application and rules of the health authority,” he said.

Steinman said his clients wanted to provide safe and convenient access to medicine for 384 existing medical marijuana cardholders in Wasco County and others who needed help.

“A licensed and regulated medical cannabis business is a better policy than requiring patients to enter into an unregulated black market,” he said.

He said Mountain View might legally contest the city’s moratorium or lack of movement on its land-use application that might have grandfathered the requested usage.

One resident of The Dalles, a retired educator, testified in favor of the moratorium. She said marijuana was a “gateway drug” that often led teenagers into narcotic addictions that led to destructive behavior.

“It is never beneficial,” she said. “Marijuana is not considered medicine by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Six other people refuted those allegations, including Sandee Burbank, executive director of MAMA (Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse) which is based in Wasco County. She heads three clinics, including one in The Dalles, where registered medical marijuana users can share and exchange pot as long as no money changes hands. The nonprofit organization also helps people get registered as medical marijuana patients.

Burbank, who resides in Mosier and is herself a patient, serves on an advisory committee at the state level for development of cannabis laws. She said more people have died from taking prescription drugs in the U.S. than using marijuana. Her clinics serve more than 6,000 people per year and Burbank said she had personally witnessed improvements to the quality of life that marijuana brings people with debilitating illnesses, such as glaucoma and AIDS.

“This isn’t about kids, it’s up to parents to keep their kids away from drugs,” she said. “The dispensaries are about letting people who are registered with the state get the medicine they need.”

Kathy Searles, who lives in Hood River County, said marijuana helped control her pancreatic disease. She said Walgreens, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, agreed in 2013 to pay $80 million in fines to settle a case resulting from an extensive federal investigation involving the illegal sale of opiates. She asked why the city wasn’t pursuing regulation of that store and others where high volumes of manufactured drugs were sold.

“It makes no sense to put a moratorium on something that God created and put as a natural substance on this earth,” she said.

Pamela Tyler-Kroon of Parkdale said medical marijuana had been allowed in Oregon since 1997 and in 2013 the legislature, elected by the people, had opened the door for dispensaries.

“Please respect the will of the Oregon voters and support patient rights to safe medicine,” she said.

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