Lots of information, no solutions. This is the summary from Thursday night's symposium about medical marijuana dispensaries in Josephine County.
Held at the Anne Basker Auditorium, the event featured a nine-member panel that shared information and asked questions of each other, while County Commissioner Simon Hare moderated.
Meanwhile, a fluid audience that peaked at about 60 people sat and listened.
A major quandary for local governments is the conflict between federal law, which criminalizes marijuana, and Oregon law, which not only issues medical marijuana cards to qualified patients but now (since earlier this month) allows medical marijuana dispensaries.
Panelist Paul Schmidt, a former agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration who now consults with businesses that sell or dispense medical marijuana, shed some light on the subject.
"Federal agencies were never established to target individuals," Schmidt said. He pointed to Colorado, for example, with its proliferation of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana use.
"Everything that's happening in Colorado is unlawful" according to the federal government, but the feds have not interceded, he said.
In Schmidt's opinion, the federal government is sitting back and letting states work things out. Washington state has also legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
Nonetheless, Josephine County Legal Counsel Steve Rich emphasized that federal laws indeed ban marijuana, making it difficult for local governments to decide what to do.
Rich also pointed out that Josephine County has a home rule charter form of government, which gives the county broad authority set its own rules. Josephine County residents ought to be able to decide what they want to do, Rich said.
Another controversial aspect of dispensaries is how they will be regulated and monitored.
Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon Counties, said it's his opinion that Oregon has rolled out the most under-regulated medical marijuana dispensary law in the country.
That perspective was countered in a written statement from Rep, Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, which Hare read aloud during the meeting.
Buckley, who could not attend the meeting, stated that Oregon's law provides adequate safeguards that are more stringent than the rules in neighboring California.
Buckley, who co-sponsored Oregon's new dispensary law, also said that what is getting lost in the discussion is the dispensary law is intended to provide safe access for medical marijuana patients and to undercut the black market created by medical marijuana.
One panelist clearly advocated for allowing local dispensaries.
Susan Rutherford, a mortgage banker, said she has applied for a dispensary permit from the state and has already invested $150,000 in property for a site.
Medical marijuana is not a panacea, but she said it has proven to help patients, including members of her family.
Rutherford said she has hired consultants and toured approved facilities in order to make sure her facility will be professional and comply with all the regulations. She predicted that other facilities will do the same.
"I firmly believe the industry will self-regulate itself. It's too costly not to," she said.
Rutherford said there are plenty of safeguards within the law. She said she wants to move the use of medical marijuana "out of the shadows."
Hare also broached the question of whether marijuana could be the "golden egg" to provide financial relief to cash-strapped Josephine County. Panelist Cherryl Walker, chairwoman of the county commission, pointed out that county government can only recover its costs related to regulating an enterprise.
"We can't make money," Walker said. "We can't go out there and grow marijuana and sell it."
Moreover, she said, the county's charter requires taxes and fees to be approved by voters.
Panelist Daniel Dalegowski, president of the Cave Junction city council, said dispensaries are not allowed in Cave Junction because of federal law. However, he anticipates the council will consider the issue further because of the potential for local jurisdictions to receive revenue.
Grants Pass Mayor Darin Fowler, also a panelist, said that, based on events in Colorado and Washington, any financial "golden egg" benefits related to marijuana seem to be related to recreational use, "which is not here yet."
Other panelists were Rep. Wally Hicks, R-Grants Pass, and Shawn Martinez, coordinator of the county's drug prevention and treatment program. Hicks provided a history of legislative bills about medical marijuana that led to this point and Martinez furnished statistics about local marijuana use.