COOS BAY -- Despite receiving a written threat implying that no one from the Oregon Country Fair would ever visit Coos Bay, the City Council still voted 6-1 to effectively prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits. City Councilor Mike Vaughan was the lone dissenting vote.
With a moratorium in place as they studied the issue, the council found the answer to their dilemma already existed within city laws.
According to the background information on Tuesday's agenda, "based on a review of the city attorney, amending the existing Business License ordinance would be sufficient to deny business licenses to any business which was not in compliance with both state and federal laws."
Mayor Crystal Shoji explained Wednesday that the council's decision was to, basically, reaffirm and clarify that section of the ordinance.
They note that other jurisdictions, like Medford, have taken a similar route.
Ordinance 5.05.080, dealing with license applications, has a section that reads that "approval or denial of the application shall be based on consideration of all available evidence as to whether the proposed business will meet the requirements of the City Charter and ordinances."
The next line is the one that the city council amended at Tuesday's meeting. Preceding a list of four hurdles to overcome, the line changed from "the license may not be granted" to "the license shall not be granted."
"We changed one word," Shoji said. "I think it really has the same meaning, it's just a little bit stronger."
She stressed that this was, for her, more about compliance than any stance on medical marijuana. In fact, she says she is opposed to any ordinance that would have strictly singled out medical marijuana dispensaries.
"Our concern is that state and federal law are not consistent and we want to comply with both," she said. "If it is not legal in (both) the state and federal law, then why are we permitting it? (Likewise) if the federal said we could do it, but the state said we couldn't, we wouldn't do it."
Contacted by phone, Vaughan also said his no vote had more to do with information and philosophical outlook. He hoped for more study, particularly after Ashland voted last month to amend its code to allow the dispensaries in certain zones.
"I wanted to look at it in more detail. It was mostly about information," he said. But he added that he was also concerned with the perception that elected officials too often just defer to existing state and federal mandates.
"In the Democratic institution, we are expected to represent the people and not the federal or state interests," he added. "If we defer only to that then nothing will ever change. How will those in federal and state government ever know how the people in the provinces feel if we don't ever rock the boat?"
As for the decision itself, which becomes official next month, the impacts appear to be fairly negligible, particularly since there are existing medical marijuana dispensaries already in the Bay Area and further down the South Coast. That includes one in Bunker Hill, a Coos County district, located just outside of Coos Bay's southern city limit.
You can find a directory of all 133 approved dispensaries in the state by visiting www.oregon.gov/oha/mmj/Pages/directory.aspx. It's a list that includes existing sites in North Bend, Gold Beach and Brookings.