Monday opened applications for medical marijuana dispensaries, 298 applied across Oregon.

The Oregon law allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate as a legitimate business has taken effect and shops are set to open within the next few weeks.

Monday marked the first day that applicants hoping to open medical marijuana dispensaries could file for licenses.

The Oregon Health Authority received 298 applications, the overwhelming majority of which were from Multnomah County, which includes the Portland metro area. Benton County had less than 10 applications.

One such Benton County business is Corvallis' The Healing Center, owned by former OSU students Ryan Smith and Jake Lewis. In the interim before approval, they have established a system allowing patients to pre-register in order to use the facility as soon as it is legally open for business.

"We definitely have lots of people registered," Smith said. "We've got a nice following."

Smith, along with the 297 other applicants, has sent off his information and is now waiting for registration confirmation from the state, a process that will take place within the next few weeks.

"Once the application is approved, they can begin to operate legally," said OHA Spokeswoman Karynn Fish.

Following the application and payment of the corresponding fee, background checks are administered, and proof of residency, on-site security systems and appropriate zoning are required.

The premises must be on a site zoned for commercial, industrial, mixed use or agricultural land. Dispensaries cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a school or another registered dispensary and cannot be on the site of a registered marijuana growth site.

Following approval, OHA staff will visit existing dispensaries to ensure all of these codes and requirements are being met.

"Law requires inspections to the premise once a year," Fish said.

Fish acknowledged that dispensaries have operated previously all over the state but it was the goal of the law to allow government regulations for safety and efficiency as the number of medical marijuana patients in Oregon continues to grow. The law gives grounds for inventory control, safety regulations and a restriction of who can be on the premises.

"This ensures patients have safe access to medical marijuana and makes sure of community safety," Fish said.

On Tuesday, the Oregon House voted 51-6 to allow local governments more control on dispensaries, including imposing a ban until May 1, 2015. Corvallis has made no such move and has thus allowed those potential dispensaries to open once approval from the state is finalized.

According to the Corvallis Police Department, there were a total of 117 cases dealing in which marijuana or marijuana contraband was seized. Of those cases, 30 percent only involved a marijuana offense, while the other 70 percent also included charges such as sexual assault, theft, disorderly conduct or hosting a party for minors.

"From a law enforcement perspective, if everyone follows the rules it should be fine," said Police Chief Jon Sassaman.

The risk of driving under the influence of marijuana is a major concern. Because the drug is still an illegal, controlled substance, little is known about how marijuana could impair driving.

Strong safety measures controlling a potential increased accessibility to the drug for minors is also a chief enforcement concern. All patients must present valid medical marijuana cards to enter a dispensary and receive their dosage. If any operating dispensaries raise concerns, OHA is permitted to more than the annual site visit to ensure the safety and legitimacy of these businesses.

"If the system works, there should be repercussions," Sassaman said.

Emma-Kate Schaake

City reporter

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