The cities of Joseph and Enterprise will have the opportunity to rethink their stand on allowing the sale of medical and recreational marijuana in May.
A coalition of individuals whose lives have been significantly improved with the use of medical marijuana have joined forces with Sean Flanagan, co-owner of The Peace Pipe in Joseph that sells smoking accessories and art, to put the issue to a vote.
To that end, notifications of the bid to repeal the existing ordinance that bans marijuana and replace it with one that allows marijuana have been published in this issue of the Chieftain. A week from now the group will present a ballot title at the Wallowa County Courthouse for ultimate approval by the Secretary of State.
After that, signature-gathering begins. Fifty percent of the registered voters in each city must be certified by March 15.
Supporters of the initiative are feeling confident about the process.
“We have people knocking on our doors, wanting to sign,” said Marty Thompson of Enterprise, a supporter of the initiative.
Once the initiative is on the ballot, there must be a voter turnout of 51 percent of residents, with the majority voting to rescind the ban, for the repeal to take affect.
Enterprise City Council discussed the issue at its regular Jan. 8 meeting and called city lawyer Wyatt Baum on the phone for advice on the matter.
Baum first addressed the concern over federal intervention, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent reversal of policy regarding legalizing marijuana cultivation, sale and use.
“I’m not necessarily concerned about that,” Baum said.
He pointed out that there were a lot of bigger cities for the feds to target, and despite the saber rattling, prosecution has not been the case historically.
The Oregon State Legislature has already taken action to protect the identities of citizens purchasing marijuana legally within the state and to allow a recreational marijuana store to quickly change its license to medical to avoid federal obstacles.
Nevertheless, if the cities wish to create obstacles to counter a “yes” vote, there are a number of ways to accomplish that. Those include land use code restrictions; denying business licenses; or making changes in the development code that would exclude any business that violates state or federal law.
City Administrator Michele Young reminded the council members that the city had spent time examining options when the issue first arose in 2014.
“I guess we’ll just revisit that,” she said.
To that end, they accepted the suggestion of the marijuana coalition to read Oregon’s 48-pages of rules and regulations for marijuana cultivation and sale.
At the time the city chose to “opt out,” it gave as a primary reason the fact that the state had not come up with a plan to manage marijuana.
The situation is different now, Thompson said.
“This is not going to be a half-way endeavor,” said Thompson. “We welcome police (oversight). Just like when I operated a bar, I wanted them walking through. I want their presence to be known.”
Marijuana sales supporters have barraged County Commissioners and cities with evidence and personal stories of how the use of marijuana has benefited their health, and now that the first numbers are tallied, Thompson was able to emphasize the financial benefits to cities.
In October 2016, the Oregon Department of Revenue sent out $85 million in pot taxes for schools, public health, police and local governments. The 10 percent (of state total taxes) tax available to local government is distributed proportionally based on the number of licenses issued for premises located in each city and is earmarked for use by local law enforcement to assist them in regulation recreational marijuana.
Local governments may also tax sales within their cities for another three percent to be used as they see fit.
Thompson also emphasized the collateral benefits to the cities and gave a personal report of job growth and commercial revitalization she and others had observed taking place in cities that allowed the sale of recreational and medical marijuana.