Medical Marijuana

Tom McKirgan spoke regarding medical marijuana during the public comment portion of the Coos Bay city council . The council discussed how to handle medical marijuana businesses at the Tuesday evening meeting.

COOS BAY — Coos Bay's discussion of how to handle marijuana-related businesses will reconvene next month after its City Council elected to continue its talks in January.

As promised during its last council meeting, the group of pro-marijuana supporters who have made their rounds to both municipal and county government meetings turned out at Tuesday's council meeting to give public comment and will have the opportunity to do so again when the council tackles the subject next month.

In the 30 minutes allotted, eight people offered testimony, some of which had an impact on councilors.

“I find the public testimony pretty compelling, and it's not just a bunch of stoners up here wacky talking,” councilor Mike Vaughan said. “There's some testimony that actually affects people's lives and comfort levels, and there's probably hundreds or thousands of other people who feel the same way.”

Leading the discussion, city attorney Nathan McClintock said the city had enacted Ordinance 461 in 2014, forbidding the licensing of businesses not in compliance with local, state or federal law. At the time, that covered marijuana-related businesses.

Since the passage of Oregon's Measure 91, a number of people wishing to operate marijuana-related businesses within city limits had approached the city for licenses, believing that Ordinance 461 had become invalid.

Having reviewed the necessary laws, McClintock said there were five options the city could take, but ultimately Tuesday's discussion was to start the dialogue of how to proceed.

“The idea here is to start a discussion of where you might go, options available to the council for medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, and the primary focus is on dispensaries,” McClintock said. “Coos Bay does not prohibit or does any law or ordinance the use of marijuana, possession of marijuana, the transportation of marijuana, because there is no state law that would be violated.”

The options McClintock identified were:

  • Make no changes;
  • Enact an ordinance banning the retail sale of marijuana until Jan. 1, 2017, when the Oregon Liquor Control Commission would conceivably have had enough time to enact regulations;
  • Enact an ordinance prohibiting one or more marijuana-related business activities;
  • Seek voter approval to tax marijuana sales; or
  • Amend the business license ordinance and development to allow commercial grows.

McClintock said Cave Junction's business ordinance prohibiting licenses has twice been upheld in court, but both cases are currently under appeal.

Based on HB 3400, McClintock said it was his legal opinion that should the city wish to enact a tax on recreational marijuana, it would have to be put out to the voters to decide.

McClintock said the change in Oregon's laws creates a conflict for city officials who have taken an oath of office to uphold local, state and federal laws when state and federal laws currently offer opposing views.

“No matter what you do, you're going to be inconsistent with upholding the laws of the state of Oregon, but in doing so, you'd be violating the federal laws,” McClintock said.

With much to ponder, the council will consider its options again at its Jan. 19 meeting, where the public will also have another chance to offer testimony.

“I want to thank all the people who came to speak today because I think it always helps us. The more people we hear from, the better,” Councilor Jennifer Groth said. “But also from what I heard today, I didn't hear a lot about dispensaries. Most of what I heard was about people who individually use marijuana and want to continue to do so, and that's not what we're talking about here.”

City Manager Rodger Craddock said the public can continue to submit comments via writing, email or fax to be part of the record up until Jan. 14.

Reporter Devan Patel can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 249, or by email at devan.patel@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DevanJPatel.

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