SALEM -- The Oregon House on Wednesday approved a bill allowing local governments to ban medical marijuana retailers until May 2015.
Senate Bill 1531 passed on a 51-6 vote, with four Republicans and two Democrats voting against it. The measure now heads back to the Senate for a vote on the House amendments.
The latest version of the bill stopped short of allowing cities and counties to enact permanent bans on dispensaries, as House Republicans and several House Democrats wanted.
Rep. Brian Clem, a Salem Democrat involved in the compromise deal unveiled Tuesday, said such a policy would not have passed the Senate.
"I liked the other bill; I like a law better," he said.
"This gives my community the tools it needs right now and it can be signed into law" this session, he later added.
Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, said the debate centered on "trying to balance community safety and safe access to medical marijuana for the people who are on the ... program."
"If (dispensaries) operate in a professional manner, the intent is to have these businesses be a positive for communities," he said. "This moratorium will allow some cities... to go forward with dispensaries in a responsible way and allow other cities to hold back and see how that develops."
Conversely, House Minority Leader Mike McLane, a Powell Butte Republican, said he is "disappointed" that legislation that would have given local governments more certainty "was killed by political games."
"Now, Oregonians and their communities must continue in uncertainty because of a 14-month sunset on local control," he said.
Rep. Greg Matthews, a Gresham Democrat, shared McLane's concern, saying the compromise policy amounted "to kicking the can down the road."
"I don't exactly have a great deal of hope that we'll be able to come together as two chambers and find a reasonable" long-term compromise, he said.
State lawmakers will return to Salem for a regular six-month session in early 2015. Their 2014 session is to end this week.
Groups representing Oregon's cities and counties and law enforcement agencies said in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday that, while they aren't opposing SB 1531, they will lobby to extend the moratoriums next year.
The landscape could be significantly different by then, however, should Oregon voters approve potential ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana this November.
Under SB 1531, Oregon cities that already have enacted a moratorium on new dispensaries would be allowed to keep them in place until May 2015. And other local governments could enact moratoriums of their own in the next two months, which also would be in effect until May 2015. Governments that have indicated an interest in doing so include the city of Florence.
The bill still would allow local governments that don't enact a moratorium to approve "reasonable limitations" on dispensary operations.
On Monday, the first day of the new dispensary program, state officials received 289 applications from prospective medical marijuana retailers, including 41 in Lane County.
Under the bill, those individuals could seek a full refund from the state for their $4,000 application fee, should their local government choose to enact a moratorium.
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