A medical marijuana dispensary might soon be coming to a location near you, but don't expect the state to tell you where.
Monday was the first day that people could apply to operate a dispensary in Oregon, under a new law approved last year. Nearly 300 applications were filed statewide.
However, state law mandates that the locations of dispensaries be kept confidential, unless an applicant agrees to go public. The topic is so sensitive that state officials won't even say how many applications have been received to operate dispensaries in Josephine County.
"Fewer than 10" applications were received from people wanting to open a dispensary is the county Ñ the only number being released by the Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program.
A Daily Courier check of smoke shops and medical marijuana clinics in Grants Pass on Tuesday turned up no information on the location of proposed dispensaries in the county.
The newspaper has petitioned the Oregon Attorney General's Office to order the dispensary program to at least say how many Josephine County applications have been received.
Karynn Fisha, a spokeswoman for the Dispensary Program in Salem, said revealing how many applications have been received in counties when there are fewer than 10 applicants would violate the spirit of the confidentiality law.
In comments to the Daily Courier, she initially claimed that it was against the law to release the number, then backed down when challenged to cite the law. Instead, she said, it was an unwritten policy.
"It is our policy to not release numbers," she said. "That is how we are interpreting the law. I will say, though, we've invited applicants to waive their confidentiality. We think most of them will.
"We just have to make it not that easy to pinpoint where they are."
Eventually, a directory of dispensaries Ñ containing a list of dispensaries that have waived confidentiality protections Ñ will be published by the state, Fish said.
A spokesman for the attorney general said it could take up to a week to respond to the Daily Courier's petition.
When lawmakers last year approved the dispensary bill, House Bill 3460, they mandated that dispensary locations be kept secret.
"The addresses of registered medical marijuana facilities É shall be confidential and not subject to public disclosure," the law reads.
On Monday, the first day that people could apply, nearly 300 applications were received across the state. State officials said that number included 18 in Jackson County. Like Josephine County, state officials said there was at least one but fewer than 10 applications in Douglas County.
Under the new law, people with medical marijuana cards will be able to obtain their medicine at dispensaries, which can charge a fee to cover costs. Cards can be obtained for several reasons, including a multitude of diseases, severe pain, nausea and muscle spasms. In Josephine County, about 4,600 people hold patient cards Ñ more than 5 percent of the population.
It's unclear when, if ever, Josephine County will have a dispensary. Although federal officials are taking a hands-off approach for now to recreational use in Washington and Colorado, local officials in Grants Pass and Josephine County government say they oppose dispensaries on the basis that federal law outlaws possession of marijuana for any reason.
In a related matter, the state Legislature continues to debate whether to allow local governments to ban dispensaries.
On Tuesday the House Rules Committee approved a compromise measure that would allow cities and counties to control things like the hours and locations of the medical pot outlets. Local governments that don't want the facilities would be able to ban them until May 2015.
Democrats said the changes were a compromise designed to help the measure pass the Senate, where any attempt to water down the new dispensary law remains up in the air.