More than a year ago, marijuana sales were within a vote of being permanently banned in Pendleton.
But according to early returns from the Nov. 8 election, a much larger group of Pendleton residents voted to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana sales in Pendleton.
Asked three questions about whether to repeal the prohibition of sales of medical and recreational marijuana and institute a local 3 percent tax in the city, each passed by a significant margin.
If the results hold up, Pendleton will become the first city in Umatilla County to legalize marijuana sales, joining only a handful of Eastern Oregon cities in the process.
Hermiston and Milton-Freewater had a chance to join them, but the electorate in both cities voted to retain their bans.
Pendleton’s decision to overturn the ban completed a complete reversal of fortunes for an issue that began when Measure 91 passed in 2014, legalizing recreational marijuana consumption and sales.
The Oregon Legislature subsequently passed a law that allowed local governments in counties that voted against Measure 91 to ban marijuana sales with a vote from the city council or county commission, which applied to Umatilla County.
At one time, the Pendleton City Council had the five votes needed to pass a permanent ban, but public pressure and a change of heart from councilor Chuck Wood caused a deadlock that eventually caused the council to refer the issue to voters.
City manager Robb Corbett said he would have to talk with city attorney Nancy Kerns to determine how and when the city would begin allowing marijuana businesses in city limits.
Although the council has already passed zoning codes for marijuana businesses, Corbett said he will ask the city council to look at making changes to its business license rules, which currently prohibit businesses from violating federal law.
Despite a significant shift in public opinion over the past two years, Corbett said he wasn’t shocked by the results after a long career as a city manager.
“I’m never surprised by what the voters do,” he said.
Although Pendleton voters strongly endorsed legalizing marijuana sales and taxing them, residents shouldn’t expect new pot shops in town overnight.
Land use regulations for marijuana businesses were approved by the Pendleton City Council Nov. 1, but Kerns said ordinances creating a special marijuana business license and enacting a 3 percent sales tax needs to be passed before potential retailers can open their doors.
Kerns said she wanted to give staff more time to review drafts of the laws before proposing them to the city council, meaning they’re not likely to be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.
Kerns said she is hopeful all city regulations should be in place by Jan. 1.
Mark Pettinger is a spokesman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the public agency that regulates recreational marijuana sales for the state.
Pettinger said Pendleton and all the other cities and counties that repealed bans on marijuana sales will have until Jan. 3 to begin issuing licenses, giving the city a grace period to enact its final spate of ordinances.