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Marijuana faces hazy future in Grant County

By Tim Trainor

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on June 30, 2015 4:16PM

Last changed on July 2, 2015 8:11AM

After months of debate, the Oregon House Wednesday passed a bill to implement the state’s new legal marijuana system.

Pamplin Media Group

After months of debate, the Oregon House Wednesday passed a bill to implement the state’s new legal marijuana system.

As legal marijuana arrives on the scene in Oregon, its future remains hazy in Grant County.

The County Court has not banned medical or recreational dispensaries, and the state Legislature continues to finalize a plan that gives counties that voted against Measure 91 back in November, the ability to ban all dispensaries.

In a brief conversation during the June 24 Court meeting, Commissioner Boyd Britton said he would be in favor of banning both medical and recreational dispensaries from the county while Commissioner Chris Labhart said he would not want to override decisions made by other municipalities. Britton said he would have no problem overriding those decisions.

In John Day, the city council carved out a small space on the far east end of town as the sole place a dispensary could locate within city limits. The council made no distinction as to whether that could be a medical or recreational dispensary, but the state has said business licenses will not be ready for recreational dispensaries until at least 2016.

After much debate, Prairie City’s council decided to take no steps to ban or put restrictions on dispensaries.

Instead, the city is in the process of instituting a first-ever business license, which all businesses located within the city will have to pay upon opening and annually thereafter. The current plan calls for a $25 annual license fee, and the funds raised would be spent on city beautification, said Mayor Jim Hamsher.

Hamsher said the council went back and forth on plans for dispensary regulations, but eventually decided to hold off on any ordinance until the state and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission release their regulations.

Hamsher said he did not think a dispensary of any kind would fit in Prairie City.

In Mount Vernon, city councilors wanted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries outright, but were told their city insurance would not cover the legal fees to defend the ordinance if they were sued.

Instead, councilors instituted restrictions that nearly ban it altogether, requiring any dispensaries to be located more than 1,000 feet from a city park or residential area.

The city council in Canyon City has taken no action on marijuana dispensaries.

As zoning rules and bans are enacted, some marijuana-related businesses have moved forward.

Devin Freeman opened Juicy Tree, at 135 E. Main in John Day, in early June. The store sells glass bongs, lighters, rolling papers and other smoking accessories.

Freeman has lived in Prairie City for two years, has a medical marijuana card and is a grower for other clients with medical cards.

He said he didn’t have the desire – or the money – to open a dispensary. He did, however, have fears that he would be run out of town when he tried to open his small paraphernalia store.

“Surprisingly, we really haven’t gotten much of that,” said Freeman.

The process for getting a business license was simple. There were no people blocking the doors or harassing customers on his first day. Nearby business owners have been polite.

A John Day police officer did fine a person leaving the store, he said, after the officer found marijuana residue on the customer’s pocketknife.

“That sort of stuff is over though,” said Freeman. “With everything else that’s being fought over (in the marijuana debate), I don’t think a store like this is the most important,” he said.

Freeman is hoping for an increase in sales starting July 1, when the weed becomes legal.

He said business has been “better than I thought it was going to be” already.

When prohibition lifts, no one is quite sure what will change, only that many things will.

— Tim Trainor is interim editor of The Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at ttrainor@eastoregonian.com.


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