Joseph became the first city in Wallowa County to approve a recreational marijuana dispensary. The problem: No one expected Measure 32-42 to pass, leaving the city council in a thorough state of unpreparedness on how to proceed with the measure’s implementation.

Newly elected mayor Teresa Sajonia slated an open meeting on Dec. 11 to discuss the city’s response to the issue. All the council members appeared at the meeting as did city attorney Wyatt Baum.

The first order of discussion entailed the location of such a dispensary. The council had previously attempted to “zone-out” dispensaries. By state law, a distance of 1,000 feet must be maintained from schools. Also, the city stipulated that dispensaries be located only in a commercial zone. Only the northeast section of Joseph qualifies — maybe.

City ordinance 15-01 regarding dispensary location includes a clause that disallows a storefront within 1,000 feet of where children gather. The state allows the city to make that determination on their own. The council determined that the Little League ball fields on the west side of Highway 82 qualify as such a place. That creates a problem for dispensary location as the fields reside on both city and county property and the distance from the ball fields to a possible dispensary location cut the 1,000 feet prohibition very close indeed. Furthermore, dispensaries may only be located in commercial zones.

Sajonia suggested the city hire professionals to determine the distance. Baum agreed and said that it may be time for the city to revisit the dispensary ordinance to see if additional revisions had been made by the council that may alter dispensary location.

According to Baum, the measure becomes law 30 days after the final election count, in this case, on Dec. 20. However, he said the city could tell those who wanted to submit dispensary applications it was creating a process to accept the applications. He also suggested that the city make that process a priority.

“We’re not trying to impede business,” Sajonia said. “We’re trying to do it correctly.”

Baum also noted that under ordinance 15-01, the city requires that a dispensary obtain a conditional use permit from the city, but the city’s articles regarding CUPs don’t list marijuana dispensaries as a conditional use. However, the city could look into article 6 conditional use permits for industrial/commercial zones and use those as a sort of baseline to establish a dispensary.

Council member Marty Hamilton, who chairs the city’s dispensary committee, established through Baum that the city could host more than one dispensary, and that the state had no law defining allowable distances between dispensaries.

A discussion ensued regarding the reason for dispensary distances and Hamilton replied that as dispensaries are a revenue source for the city through state disbursements, the more dispensaries the city hosted the more revenue the city would obtain.

It was also established that because the city had not attempted to float a ballot measure that would allow voters to decide if the city could charge an additional three percent tax on cannabis product sales, it would have to wait until the 2020 election cycle to put such a measure on the ballot. The city is still eligible to receive a percentage of the revenue the state collects from dispensary sales.

Sajonia also discussed the time frame in which the city could set up a framework to put dispensaries into place. For example, Joseph does not require a business license fee, so it cannot require the dispensary to have one without requiring other businesses to do the same. The mayor indicated that issuing a conditional use permit offered the path of least resistance.

Baum agreed and added that the time frame would depend on the city’s ambition to finalize the process. He added that once the city settles on a specific time to accepts CUP applications, it should provide public notice.

After further discussion on the subject the council unanimously voted to start accepting CUPs for dispensaries on Feb. 2. The office opens at 10 a.m.

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