With a show of hands, the Roseburg City Council indicated support Thursday for a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, setting off yells of protests.
The 5-3 decision sets the stage for the council to formally adopt the moratorium when it meets March 24.
Unhappy with the council’s decision, some of the 35 people in the audience hollered at the council. After the meeting adjourned, some went up to councilors to continue pressing their case.
The council already had spent nearly two hours discussing and hearing comments from more than a dozen medical marijuana patients and others asking the council to not impose a ban.
“Patients need safe access to their medicine,” said Edward Allen of Roseburg.
City staff members rushed to schedule Thursday’s special meeting because cities and counties must have one-year moratoriums in place by May 1.
Mayor Larry Rich and councilors who approved moving forward with the moratorium said they want regulations, such as where dispensaries can be located, firmed up before the businesses open.
“I think we need to take what is coming at us quickly and make sure we do it right, and we have that one-year opportunity to do it right,” Rich said.
The state of Oregon legalized medical marijuana in 1998. Up until last year, people with medical marijuana cards had to grow their own marijuana or find someone to grow it for them.
The state began taking applications for dispensaries on March 3. According to the Oregon Health Authority, five applications have been filed from Douglas County.
Cities and counties asked state lawmakers this year to clarify what authority local governments have to regulate dispensaries. It wasn’t until last week, and after OHA started accepting applications, that the Legislature passed a compromise bill that gives cities and counties power to impose moratoriums on dispensaries until May 1, 2015. The bill still has to be signed by the governor.
Councilor Mike Hilton questioned what a year delay would do.
“I get the impression we would be better off with a much shorter moratorium than one year,” Hilton said.
Many on the council said they would not oppose lifting the ban sooner if the city develops regulations.
Still, rules need to be in place before dispensaries open, said Councilors Victoria Hawks, Steve Kaser, Bob Cotterell, Tom Ryan and Lew Marks. They also want to see what the state does.
“We don’t know which way it’s going. We would be foolish to waste the time and waste the money and have it reversed,” Marks said.
Several councilors criticized the Legislature for putting cities in the position to determine rules when the state hasn’t done so.
“The state should be making the decision for the moratorium,” Councilman Bob Cotterell said.
Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, co-sponsored the bill and told the council that lawmakers ran out of time this session.
He said one-year moratoriums will give local governments an opportunity to wait and see what the state does.
“We settled on this version because we wanted to give local governments some tools in the tool box because currently you have none,” Kruse said. “If you don’t pass something, you will have no ability to control anything.”
Residents who testified said there are regulations already in place. Jim Hoyt, a cancer survivor who said he used medical marijuana during treatment to stop nausea, said he’s jumped through hoops trying to open a dispensary on Northeast Stephens Street.
“It was the only thing I had for pain, and I want other people like me to be able to have it,” an emotional Hoyt said.
Others said a moratorium wouldn’t end marijuana use.
“A ban is prohibition. Prohibition doesn’t work,” said John Sajo of Roseburg. “When you ban something, you don’t gain control, you lose control.”
Councilman Marty Katz said an individual without access to a dispensary could turn toward the black market.
“By forcing an individual to seek illegal drugs, the city is sanctioning criminal behavior and forcing innocent people into illegal acts,” Katz said.
Council member Ken Fazio said the board needed to recognize marijuana is being distributed with or without regulations and that the drug will eventually become legal.
“I cannot support further prohibition of this. I don’t want to see a ban on dispensaries, and I am going to have to deal with the regulations as they come,” Fazio said.
Before the meeting ended, Kaser urged those still in their seats to comment about regulations before the next meeting.
The council will revisit the issue at its meeting at 7 p.m. March 24 at City Hall, 900 S.E. Douglas Ave.
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.