SALEM — While a state committee works to establish guidelines to regulate newly legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, some Central Oregon cities are saying no matter what stance the state takes, pot shops are illegal.
Madras city officials were recently approached by a couple interested in opening a dispensary. For Madras Mayor Melanie Widmer, the answer was easy: no.
“Our business license says businesses have to abide by local, state and federal law,” she said. And under federal law, marijuana is illegal.
In Metolius, a town of about 700 southwest of Madras, Mayor Bill Reynolds said he was approached by the same individuals, who have yet to officially apply. But he’s not a fan of the idea.
“I (am trying) to set aside my personal views ... and look at it objectively. Would this benefit the city and do we really want to have it there?” he said.
State lawmakers approved a measure during this year’s legislative session legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries. Prior to the Legislature’s approval, the dispensaries operated in a “legal gray zone.”
The state panel has until Dec. 1 to solidify plans on how to regulate the dispensaries. The state will likely run a website where would-be operators can apply.
Dispensaries that are currently operating will not be grandfathered and will need to apply.
Federal officials have made clear they don’t plan to spend resources prosecuting those who run and operate the dispensaries or pressure Washington and Colorado, where marijuana was recently legalized.
But Gov. John Kitzhaber noted when signing House Bill 3460 that “nothing in this law protects the dispensaries, growers, caregivers, or patients from federal prosecution.”
The Oregon Health Authority does not believe it has the authority to pre-empt local decisions.
The state panel, made up of both advocates and law enforcement officials, is working to figure out how to regulate the dispensaries and test the cannabis, to ensure it’s mildew- and mold-free.
Rick Eslinger, a volunteer with Bend’s Best Buds, a medical marijuana dispensary, believes most people involved with dispensaries are looking forward to state regulations. People need a place where they can get good, “clean medicinal herbs,” he said.
Bend’s Best Buds has been testing its cannabis for the past two years. Having a clean product is one element that separates what is sold on the streets from what’s offered in dispensaries, he said.
Bend Mayor Jim Clinton has a different stance from his counterparts to the north. So far, he said, nobody has complained about the dispensaries, some of which have been operating in the city for a couple of years.
“I think there is potential if they expand a lot, it could cause friction and people will ask us to do something about it,” Clinton said.
That hasn’t happened yet.
“As long as it’s legal and not causing any more trouble than any other kind of retail, wherever they are located, then it’s hard for the city to single them out,” he said.