SUTHERLIN — The Sutherlin City Council isn’t going to take on the task of legalizing marijuana.
Instead, counselors on Monday suggested those interested in legalization could begin an initiative process.
The discussion came after a staff report on the economic impact of allowing businesses to grow, sell and process marijuana at the regular meeting on Monday night.
The earliest interested parties could get this kind of measure on the ballot would be the statewide general election in the fall of 2020.
Sutherlin residents voted against decriminalizing marijuana within city limits in 2014 and again in 2016.
The council members could repeal the city’s municipal code to start permitting marijuana facilities according to the report. But Mayor Todd McKnight said he didn’t see enough reason to take that route, noting it would cost the city about $9,000 to add it to the ballot in November.
“There’s arguments for both sides, I’ve heard from both sides … and I feel like the citizens voted and if they want to tell us to do something different, I don’t have a strong enough opinion to force anything upon them,” McKnight said. “If they have changed their minds, they’ll tell us.”
Robert Woldt used the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting to share his concerns about increased crime, decreased safety on the streets and negative impacts on the families and businesses in town.
“I doubt families who want to locate here will view the selling, growing and processing of marijuana as a positive image for their children,” Woldt said. “Better to err on the side of safety and not step on a slippery slope just because it’s a revenue source.”
Councilor Becky Wattles also asked about public safety.
Sutherlin Police Chief Troy Mills reported that of the five cities he contacted about marijuana-related crimes, none of them experienced a significant increase in crime in general since legalization. Only Huntington in Baker County specifically reported an increase in service calls related to minor crimes, but 96% of dispensary customers came from outside of the area.
Councilor Seth Vincent said he had been following statistics from states that legalized marijuana before Oregon and said the rates of DUIs and other crimes increased in the reports he read.
“When we first presented this argument to the city, we were going to revisit it in 2018 and kind of get an idea of how things were progressing and what was going on,” Vincent said. “I don’t know that $50,000 will do a whole lot for us but I think we should let our voters revisit the idea.”
The $50,000 estimate in the report comes from revenues from marijuana taxes in other cities around Oregon.
Each dispensary brings approximately $25,000 to a city.
Based on two different zoning plans presented by the Community Development Department, Sutherlin would have no more than two possible locations properly zoned for marijuana dispensaries.
Councilor Travis Tomlinson said during his daily trips to Eugene, he “sees more unsavory people at 7-Eleven than the pot stores.”
“If we’re going to (legalize marijuana) as a city, we should probably look at a way to capitalize on that if they are going to do that anyway,” Tomlinson said.
Councilor Forrest Stone said he spoke with constituents who didn’t want to tell their children where the money funding the schools came from.
“It’s not any different from the liquor tax or lottery or anything like that,” Stone said.