Oregon will soon let medical marijuana patients buy the drug at retails stores, and the state could be one of the next in line to legalize weed altogether. But that isn’t stopping communities across the state from trying to prohibit pot shops before the laws begin to change.
At least two municipalities, Medford and Gresham, have enacted ordinances barring dispensaries within their boundaries, according to The Oregonian. The mayor of a third, Grants Pass, told the newspaper he’ll ask his city council for a similar ban by the end of the year.
“Because of our tourism and retirement population, we would rather not have that be on a downtown storefront,” said Mayor Darin Fowler.
The bans come as Oregon prepares for major changes in its pot laws. Starting next year, patients will be able to buy their medicine from retail stores for the first time.
The communities with dispensary bans are few and far between compared to those in states like California and Colorado, where dozens or hundreds of towns, cities and counties have made pot shops illegal.
In those states, the law either explicitly allows municipalities to block dispensaries or has been interpreted that way by the courts. In others, such as Massachusetts, state law prevents localities from interfering in MMJ by prohibiting medicinal weed shops.
The marijuana law in Oregon is less clear, and people on both sides of the issue are fighting to determine who ultimately controls pot regulation: the state or local governments. Medical pot proponents and patients want the state’s medical marijuana law, passed in 1998, to govern, allowing dispensaries to operate throughout Oregon. Opponents want municipalities to have the ultimate say.
“This is one of those areas where I think the courts will end up having some say if there are cities who go down this route,” said political consultant Geoff Sugerman, a driving force behind the law that allows dispensaries.
U.S. Rep. Peter Buckley, a Democrat from Oregon, has proposed a legal interpretation that could resolve the problem and let dispensaries operate in peace. Previous legislation that restricts genetically modified produce should be applied to medical cannabis, Buckley said.
That law prevents local communities from interfering in the regulation of commercial plant seeds and products. It wasn’t intended for marijuana, but Buckley said it could be used to block municipalities from trying to regulate medical pot.
Buckley asked state officials for a legal analysis of the issue, and he said he expects it will conclude the state, not municipal governments, is responsible for regulating medical weed at all stages.
Oregon is one of 20 states that allow medical marijuana. Two of those, Colorado and Washington State, have legalized recreational marijuana as well. Oregon voters rejected that idea in 2012, but the state is considered ripe for another attempt at legalization next year.