Oregon Court Rules That Local Governments May Ban Medical Marijuana

It has been a wild ride for medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon.
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Medical marijuana dispensaries have been around for a long, long time in Oregon. However, until late 2013 they were illegal, and it wasn’t until this year that licenses were issued to make some of them completely legal. Ironically, even though the dispensaries were illegal for so long, it was only after they became legal that local governments started to crack down on some of them. Some local governments issued moratoriums prohibiting them from opening until rules could be figured out that would regulate time and place. According to at least one court in Oregon, local governments can ban them altogether, a ruling that will no doubt be challenged. Per Oregon Live:

Local governments can restrict or ban medical marijuana facilities, a Josephine County Circuit Court judge concluded in a ruling issued late Thursday.

The ruling centered on the southern Oregon community of Cave Junction, where the city council sued the state over medical marijuana dispensaries, arguing that cities shouldn’t be required to license businesses that violate federal law. Marijuana is prohibited under federal law.

The case raised two key legal issues: Does state law prohibit local governments from banning dispensaries and, if so, does the federal prohibition on marijuana override that state law?

Judge Pat Wolke concluded that nothing in Oregon’s new dispensary law, passed in 2013, and a law enacted earlier this year allowing local governments to impose yearlong dispensary moratoriums prevents local governments from banning the establishments.

As I stated earlier in this article, this ruling will be challenged very quickly. What the Oregon Court of Appeals has to say will be telling, but even then it won’t be the end of the legal battle, as whichever side loses at that level will no doubt challenge the next ruling all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court and beyond. Some of the same cities that are trying to ban dispensaries are passing laws to put taxes in place so that if/when Oregon legalizes recreational marijuana, the taxes will be in place waiting for the stores to open. Ironically, Oregon Measure 91 gives full taxing authority to the State, so the recently passed tax laws are going to be irrelevant, and highlight just how little some local governments have researched the issue.