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City Council not moving forward with moratorium

Medical marijuana dispensaries will not face ban in Hood River

Medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to operate inside the Hood River city limits after the city council decided Monday night it wasn’t interested in pursuing a medical marijuana moratorium.

Councilors Mark Zanmiller, Carrie Nelson, Ed Weathers, Laurent Picard, Brian McNamara, as well as Mayor Arthur Babitz failed to make a motion directing staff to draft language for an ordinance that would have placed a one-year ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of Hood River. The ban would have ostensibly been put in place to allow the city more time to craft rules that would place “time, place and manner” restrictions on the dispensaries.

A bill passed in the twilight of Oregon’s most recent special legislative session gives local municipalities the right to impose additional “reasonable restrictions” on how dispensaries operate, including the option to place one-year moratoriums.

Babitz, however, along with the council, felt that the parameters put in place by the state were already sufficient and that directing city staff to craft additional rules was an inefficient use of already strained resources.

“It seems like the fundamental things that we have the ability to control, [the legislators] have already addressed,” he said. “...in terms of that being a priority for our planning department, frankly, looking at what we’ve put on their plate in the last year, two or three, I would have trouble asking our planning department to spend time on this issue.”

The city council arrived at the decision after listening to a handful of people who came to provide public testimony on both sides of the issue.

Maija Yasui, prevention specialist for the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families, was pro-moratorium and asked the council to take time to ensure that rules were put in place to keep dispensaries away from daycares and preschools, which she said were not included in the state’s bill that prevents dispensaries from being sited near elementary and secondary schools.

“We’re not arguing about medical marijuana dispensaries being legal; they are legal,” Yasui explained. “We’re looking at taking the time to reduce the harm and look at the ordinances and zoning, so that you can carefully place it and you can live with that, because they’ll be here.”

Brian Wolff, a licensed clinical social worker in Hood River who offers drug counseling services, also advocated for a moratorium, which he said would give the council time to see how things unfolded in Colorado and Washington, where both medical and recreational marijuana are legal, and allow that to inform the council’s rulemaking. He was also concerned about increased marijuana dependence, and argued a dispensary would attract licensed marijuana growers to the city to sell their excess product on the black market.

“We don’t want to be seen as ‘Little Amsterdam,’” he said, referring to the Dutch city’s permissive stance on marijuana use. “We don’t want that in the community.”

Speaking against the moratorium was Pete Reynolds, a Hood River resident who identified himself as one of the 300 OMMP cardholders who live in the county. He agreed with Wolff that the black market was a problem, but argued that without a legal dispensary to provide marijuana, cardholders would have to resort to illegal markets to get their medicine.

“I just believe that, like anything else, the law says we can have this, and I think that we as a city should follow the law of the state of Oregon, with all of the right procedures in place, monitored very closely,” he said of the dispensaries, “but don’t take away this wonderful benefit, for some 300 cardholders, who need this kind of a dispensary.”

Mike Rachford, who has received a provisional license from the OHA to operate a dispensary on Oak Street called The Gorge Green Cross, read to the council his letter to the editor he recently submitted to the News, advocating that no moratorium be put in place. He explained that he was already heavily regulated by the state, and that more restrictions would impede patient access to marijuana.

“In the end, it should about the 300 legally licensed patients in Hood River County who both need and deserve safe and local access, just like we all have, for prescription pharmaceuticals,” Rachford read to the council.

During deliberations, Zanmiller said he understood Yasui’s concerns and shared her goal of keeping marijuana out of underage hands, but felt that “the added scrutiny of a formal dispensary system is way better than the black market, which, with what I can tell, is no visibility right now.”

Nelson said she “totally” agreed with Zanmiller’s sentiments, but didn’t add anything. Weathers concurred with Zanmiller as well and said a “moratorium would give us very little clarity as to how we could refine the system” of dispensary regulation.

Once again, Picard was the most vocal of the councilors about not instituting a moratorium, and condemned the veracity of Yasui’s studies she said she had received from agencies that correlated teen marijuana use with lower IQs later on in life.

“But that’s not either here nor there, in this discussion,” he said. “I don’t think a moratorium will protect kids; it will prevent medical marijuana patients from getting their medicine in a safe and effective manner.”

McNamara, who was the last councilor to speak, agreed.

“I wouldn’t want to get in between a patient and a doctor,” he noted. “We’re not talking about illegal drugs, we’re talking about selling this between two qualified people, to someone who needs something, and I don’t think I should sit here and pass judgment on that.”

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