Like the Hood River City Council the week before, the Hood River County Board of Commissioners made a unanimous vote during its Monday night meeting on an emergency ordinance that would place a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.
However, unlike the city council, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the moratorium, 4-0, that, effective immediately, places a six-month ban on any medical marijuana dispensaries that are looking to set up shop in the unincorporated areas of Hood River County.
Commissioners heard arguments both for and against the moratorium from a handful of speakers during a public hearing on the issue that was held during the commission’s regular meeting. Ultimately, commissioners decided to take a cautious stance and approve the moratorium, citing concerns over marijuana’s complex legal status in the United States, increased access to the drug, as well as a desire to establish local controls on dispensaries in addition to state law.
“It is a bit of a quagmire,” Commissioner Maui Meyer said during deliberations, “and we’ve always been cautious about something like this.”
Medical marijuana has been legal in the state of Oregon since 1998, but it took another 15 years before dispensaries were legalized. Licensing of dispensaries began early last month, which corresponded with the passage of a law by the Oregon State Legislature that allows local governments to enact year-long moratoriums that are designed to give governing bodies time to enact “reasonable restrictions” on the “time, place, and manner” in which dispensaries operate.
Hood River County Sheriff Matt English advocated vigorously for the moratorium during the public hearing, calling Oregon’s current medical marijuana regulation “probably the most flawed law we have to deal with.” English said medical marijuana has caused plenty of headaches for his deputies, noting that the sheriff’s office transforms into the “Medical Marijuana Complaint Department” every September and October which brings, along with the marijuana harvest, an increase in crime.
“Locally, we have had robberies associated with medical marijuana grows, we’ve had thefts, we’ve had trespassing,” he told the commission. “It’s a product that people want and it’s really hard to regulate, because it’s a sought-after drug for more than medicinal purposes.”
English added that not placing a moratorium “kind of exacerbates an already flawed law and one that we really don’t have any control over.”
As she has in past meetings regarding medical marijuana, Hood River County Commission on Children and Families Prevention Specialist Maija Yasui spoke in favor of the moratoriums and voiced her concern that the dispensary and grower system makes it easier for children to get their hands on marijuana. She said according to surveys HRCCCF conducts at local schools, it’s already a problem.
“We asked kids on our surveys, ‘Where did you get access to the marijuana you were using?’” Yasui said. “And as Matt [English] said, some of them, a percentage, got it from a medical marijuana cardholder.”
Those speaking against the moratorium primarily focused on marijuana’s medical benefits and the importance of patient access in their arguments. Wayne Haythorne, who identified himself as a resident who lived “just on the other side of the microwave tower” east of Hood River, said marijuana provides a safer, more holistic method than other more dangerous drugs.
“Opiates are good for pain, but that’s all they do,” he said. “Cannabis is good for pain, it’s good for osteoporosis, it’s good for arthritis, it’s good for seizures, it’s good for epilepsy.”
Pamela Tyler-Kroon, who works with medical marijuana patients at Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse — a medical marijuana clinic in The Dalles — also touted the drug’s medicinal benefits and believed the dispensaries would not increase the risk of marijuana falling into underage hands.
“These are professional business people with professional businesses who want to keep their licenses and they want to do good work,” she explained. “If kids want to get pot to get high, they’re going to do the same thing our generation did: they’re gonna go to school, get it from their friends, go to the skate park — they’re not gonna go to a legal dispensary and get it. It just doesn’t work like that.”
Commissioner Karen Joplin said she “completely” understood the medical benefits of marijuana, but was concerned from a regulatory standpoint.
“I think that we’ve been provided with the opportunity to be able to track policy locally that makes sense for our communities and also the more time exercises the ability to take some time for the state to kind of work out a couple of things I think that will arise once [dispensaries] start opening up,” she said.
Meyer said the commission typically took a “cautious stance” on such issues, and owed it to the people at HRCCCF as well as HRCSO to continue to exercise caution by enacting a moratorium. He added that with the moratorium expiring at the end of October, and with an initiative for the legalization of recreational marijuana likely primed for the November election, the moratorium might be rendered moot.
“I personally support the legalization of marijuana and I think at some point, that day will come for the state of Oregon, but I think a moratorium is in order, both out of respect for the people we work with on a daily basis and have an abundance of caution as we move forward to the inevitable, at this point.”
Commissioner Bob Benton agreed and said the commission had the good fortune of seeing how things will unfold in the city of Hood River, where the council voted to not enact a moratorium.
“I’d like to thank the city for giving us a case study, probably, really near to us,” he said, acknowledging Hood River City Council Member Ed Weathers and Mayor Arthur Babitz, who sat in the audience at the meeting, but said nothing. “So we’ll be paying attention to what they do.”
The moratorium does not place any time, place, or manner restrictions on dispensaries in the county’s unincorporated areas. County Administrator Dave Meriwether said it was his “logical assumption” that the task would fall to county planning, should the county decide to put the restrictions in place.