SUTHERLIN — The Sutherlin City Council on Monday discussed the possibility of lifting the city’s ban on medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries.

Although voters statewide legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, the City of Sutherlin banned all marijuana businesses in 2016 after residents voted to prohibit it within city limits.

The marijuana industry has boomed across the state in recent years, with many rural communities receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue from recreational businesses.

At its regular meeting Monday, the City Council directed city staff to research the viability of marijuana businesses if the city lifted the ban. It also directed city staff to gather information about how revenue could be used on public safety initiatives.

Fifty-three percent of Sutherlin voters elected to ban the businesses in 2016. The City Council could vote to repeal the ban without going to the voters, according to Oregon law. But councilors said Monday they wanted to be respectful of residents’ previous decision to prohibit marijuana.

The City Council said it was inclined to put an advisory measure on the ballot to see how voters feel about the issue more than two years after the original vote. The measure wouldn’t change any city code, it would give city officials information about residents’ positions.

“I would entertain that advisory ballot and put it out to the folks again,” said Mayor Todd McKnight. “My concern was they already voted for this.”

City Councilor Seth Vincent said people’s opinions on the issue may have changed since they voted to prohibit it.

“I would agree with taking a look at it,” Vincent said. “It was put before the citizens to start with and the citizens, as a whole, said, ‘Hey, no, we don’t want that right now.’ Time has gone by.”

Vincent said he has talked about the issue with residents recently. Many people who used to be strongly against marijuana businesses opening in town are now more open to it, he said. He added it would be worth collecting information about the benefits and risks of lifting the ban.

City Councilor Michelle Sumner said she wanted an estimate of how much tax revenue the city could receive if it lifted the ban. She also wanted to know if the revenue would offset any additional costs like a rise in calls for service.

Ten percent of the revenue the state collects from marijuana businesses is distributed to cities. Seventy-five percent of that is based on the city’s population, and 25% is based on the number of marijuana licenses within the city compared to the total number statewide. The city could also enact a 3% local tax on marijuana sales.

“If we were to change the vote, I think it would be fair to our citizens to have some kind of educational campaign to say why we were looking at changing it,” Sumner said. “And that would be because of the benefits of getting the funding and what we would do with it. Primarily, it would be good to have the funding to do something positive. For instance, something like our K-9 program.”

City Councilor Tom Boggs said while he has never been a proponent of marijuana, tax revenue from marijuana business could stave off additional taxes in the future.

“It is here, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Boggs said. “We might as well try to establish a couple of business here, get the revenue off of it. I think we can tell the people that’s one way to prevent us from digging deeper into (their) pockets for needs that we have coming down the road.”

City Councilor Forrest Stone said continuing to prohibit marijuana in Sutherlin disadvantages the city compared to nearby areas. Most other cities and the county want to raise revenue with marijuana, he said.

“The commissioners right now in our county are trying to raise revenue any way they possibly can,” Stone said. “All they’re going to do is just say, ‘Well we’re going to allow these in our county.’ And they can build it right on the side of our city limits, and get the county the tax revenue off it, and we get nothing.”

Max Egener can be reached at megener@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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