Medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon have been an interesting area of public policy for me for many years now. Oregon's medical marijuana law has always allowed a grower to be reimbursed for the costs of growing medical marijuana. Some people interpreted that to mean that dispensaries have always been legal in Oregon, while others have argued that it's a grey area at best - illegal at worst.
Regardless of what the law really meant, many medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Oregon and have been operating in Oregon for years. In 2013 the Oregon Legislature officially legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, which cleared up a lot of the grey areas and allowed the rule making process to commence to try to clear up the remaining questions. This year a Senate bill was introduced that would allow municipalities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.
The ban was stripped in the Senate version of the bill, but today the House Judiciary Committee voted to add the ban to their version of the bill. The Senate version allows for regulation of time, place, etc, but not an outright ban. The House version is coming up for a floor vote, and if it's passed, the Senate will either agree with the House version, or a committee will be formed to work out a compromise.
If a ban does ultimately pass, something very ironic to me will happen. Dispensaries had very little enforcement when they were illegal. However, it will only be after they become officially legal that they might be shut down. I think certain counties will be OK, such as Multnomah County. But counties like Jackson County, Clatsop County, Marion County, and some others might not be so lucky. I guess only time will tell.
I had an interesting conversation with a dispensary owner today about these developments. He started off trying to convince me that if a county chose to ban dispensaries, that dispensaries within city limits would be OK. Sadly, that will not be the case. If a county bans dispensaries, it's the whole county. Also, if a county votes to ban dispensaries, chances are the cities within those counties will also ban them.
The next phase of the conversation moved to the legal challenge that will no doubt happen. Whether or not dispensaries will win in court is probably something that a licensed attorney should answer. But in my opinion, it's far from an easy case. Zoning and bans are new to medical marijuana in Oregon, but not the State of Oregon as a whole. Even if a ban doesn't ultimately get approved, zoning can be just as bad. You can't have a dispensary within 'x' feet of a school, or residential area, or any number of things. Rules like that will limit the areas that a dispensary can even exist in, and if they are in areas that the landlords won't rent to people, ultimately a ban is what results, even though bans aren't legal. Follow me?
Alcohol sales were banned in Monmouth, Oregon for a very long time. Loitering is prohibited in certain zones in Salem, Oregon during certain hours. Neither of those examples involve medical marijuana of course, but for the most part bans are bans, and zoning is zoning, regardless of the topic.
If you are a dispensary owner in Oregon, or a patient that frequents them, don't be complacent. Don't act like this is not a big deal. Contact your House Rep NOW. Also contact your Senator. Let them know that this is not a good idea. Tell them your story. Point out that dispensaries have been operating for a long time with no problems. Get active!