A committee of the Oregon House of Representatives approved legislation Feb. 24 that would allow local governments to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.
The provision that allows local bans was added back to the bill after it passed the state Senate unanimously. The Senate Judiciary Committee had stripped the provision, but the House Judiciary Committee amended the legislation to put it back in.
The House committee also approved language, shot down in the Senate, that would prevent dispensaries from marketing or packaging cannabis-infused products in a way that’s appealing to minors.
The full House must now vote on the matter. If it passes as is, the two houses of the legislature would then have to work out a reconciliation bill containing terms acceptable to both state representatives and senators.
The version that made it past the House Judiciary Committee was a setback to marijuana advocates, who had argued against the provision allowing local bans.
Anthony Johnson, whose group, New Approach Oregon, hopes to put legalization on the ballot in November, said the vote was disappointing. Regulation, he said, works better than prohibition in dealing with public safety issues and other community concerns. And MMJ proponents share those concerns, Johnson said.
“We want rules and regulations that fit our neighborhoods,” he told the House committee. “We want to keep marijuana out of the hands of children and we want safe highways and roads and we want safe neighborhoods.”
The Association of Oregon Counties has argued vocally that municipalities should have the right to shut dispensaries out. The Senate vote earlier in February was a loss for the group.
“It will drive all these cities and counties into court,” Rob Bovett, attorney for the association, said at the time.
Oregon voters approved medical weed at the ballot box in 1998. But for the first 15 years of the state’s MMJ program, a patient could obtain the drug only by growing it or signing up with a caregiver who grows for a small group of patients.
The same scenario that has played out in other states, from California to Massachusetts, is now happening in Oregon: Insular communities whose leaders are opposed to marijuana are using zoning restrictions and other ordinances to shut MMJ shops out.
In California, the state Supreme Court ruled local governments have the power to lock out dispensaries. This has led to a chaotic mess where patients are sometimes forced to drive hundreds of miles or grow weed covertly to get their medicine. In Colorado, dozens of communities have barred pot shops. In Massachusetts, though, the state Attorney General ruled municipalities don’t have that right.
The same debate is occurring in other states as well, including Washington, where recreational weed stores will open in the spring.
Earlier, an agency in Oregon that provides non-binding legal advice to the legislature concluded the state’s MMJ law put regulatory powers in the state’s hands, not the hands of local governments.
“We conclude that while a municipality may not be required to violate federal law to comply with a conflicting state law, a municipality may not act contrary to state law merely because the municipality believes that the action will better carry out the purposes and objectives of federal law,” wrote Charles Taylor, senior deputy legislative counsel at the Office of Legislative Counsel.