In a split vote, The Dalles City Council opted Monday not to ask voters whether pot sales should be allowed in town and, instead, regulate “time, place and manner” of production, processing, wholesale and retail operations.
Councilors Linda Miller, Russ Brown and Tim McGlothlin prevailed in their majority vote.
“Prohibiting retail sales will do about the same thing as closing the liquor store and assuming that will stop people from drinking alcohol,” said Brown. “If people want to use marijuana, they are doing to do it.”
Miller said concerns expressed at a January town hall about more juveniles deeming it okay to use pot because it was legally available to adults needed to be addressed by parents and educators.
“If the concern is there for our young folks, that’s where it needs to happen,” she said.
“I have lost sleep over this issue, it’s very divisive,” said McGlothlin, who wanted to ensure that edibles were kept out of the hands of children by having sales regulated.
He said Measure 91, which legalized pot in Oregon, was defeated in The Dalles by only 98 votes, so he felt the community was almost evenly split on the issue.
Miller concurred and said the results of a recent poll on the Chronicle website showed a vote of 282 in favor and 150 opposed to pot sales.
If The Dalles chose not to allow recreational pot stores, or more medical marijuana dispensaries, McGlothlin said people would just buy the drug in nearby communities and local officials would still have to deal with any issues that arose.
Mayor Steve Lawrence, who can only vote to break a tie, said if voters choose to have no pot sales, then the city would lose out on revenue to cover law enforcement costs.
Local governments that ban pot sales are not eligible for a split in state revenue, which is expected to be available after OLCC has recouped its administrative costs to develop industry rules.
The current rate of taxation on recreational sales is 25 percent but is expected to fall to 17 percent this fall. Medical marijuana is not taxed.
Ten percent of the net proceeds of taxes collected by the state will be distributed to cities and another 10 percent to counties.
Brown said he was more concerned about “quality of life” issues than revenue, and legal sales would stop black market purchases of unregulated products. “I don’t think we can escape it, I think it’s here, it’s going to be here no matter what we choose,” he said.
Councilors Taner Elliott and Dan Spatz felt that, because of the close vote in The Dalles over M91, the electorate needed to weigh in on the issue.
“We’re a body of five people; we’re not big enough to make a decision like this — the decision should go to the voters,” said Elliott.
The motion made by Spatz and seconded by Elliott toward that end was defeated.
Spatz said he remained concerned about marijuana still being illegal to possess and use by federal law.
“It continues to be my view that Congress needs to tackle this,” he said. “Right now, the feds are kind of turning a blind eye to this thing but there’s an election coming up and you don’t know…”
Brown said he thought the state would step in to defend its voters if federal officials tried to take punitive measures in the future.
Lawrence, who said he was taking the role of devil’s advocate, questioned how the federal government could come back on all the states that have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana use.“It seems very improbable,” he said.
In fact, Lawrence said there was discussion at the national level of legalizing pot within the next three years.
He said residents had been able to speak out at the city’s town hall and two others held by the county, in addition to the Chronicle poll.
“They were pretty indicative,” he said.
Gene Parker, city attorney, told the council that any sales tax proposal regarding pot had to be sent to voters.
“We can’t implement a tax, only the voters can,” said Lawrence.
That led Brown to make a motion that a measure be prepared for the November ballot asking the electorate to approve a local tax of 3 percent on recreational pot sales.
Miller seconded the motion, which was approved by all councilors except Spatz.
He then made the final motion to have the planning commission begin amending the land-use plan. They would be tasked with drafting regulations about where stores could be located, as well as processing and packaging facilities.
McGlothlin seconded the motion.
Miller was the sole dissenting vote on the final question of the evening.
She felt that state regulations adequately covered the issues that needed to be addressed and the city should defer to them.
State rules require that recreational pot retailers be spaced at least 1,000 feet apart, the same distance that these establishments have to be from schools.
OLCC officials have not set a cap on the number of recreational marijuana stores that one town can have out of the belief that the issue will be decided by the free market.
The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana –THC – sold in Oregon is much less than allowed in Colorado, which did not initially limit the milligrams of pot and had numerous overdose cases.
At January’s town hall, the council was told by Rob Bovett, attorney for the Association of Oregon Counties, that packaging and labelling of edibles in this state will be much less attractive to children.
to ward off the problems Colorado had.