SALEM -- House Democrats successfully delayed a floor vote Monday on a bill that would let cities and counties enact local bans on medical marijuana retailers or dispensaries.

Citing "ongoing conversations" around Senate Bill 1531, Rep. Tobias Read, a Beaverton Democrat, asked to hold the bill until today. His motion passed on a 31-27 vote, with three Democrats -- Reps. Jeff Barker of Aloha, Chris Gorsek of Troutdale and Greg Matthews of Gresham - joining all 24 present Republicans in opposition. A House vote on the bill also had been delayed on Friday due to an abruptly canceled afternoon floor session.

SB 1531 has emerged as one of the few remaining points of contention in what is expected to be the final week of the short legislative session.

Under the new state program lawmakers approved last year, Monday was the first day for people to apply for licenses to open a dispensary.

The new licensing system, and its regulations for state inspections, aims to clarify the murky status of stores that provide medical marijuana. In recent years, their legal standing has been unclear, and some have been raided and shut down by authorities who claim they were engaged in illegal distribution.

But critics say the new licensing system offers scant regulation and enforcement while opening the door to a pot dispensary boom.

Some cities and counties have already approved local bans or moratoriums on dispensaries in their jurisdictions. Without legislative action this session, the issue of local bans could be resolved in the courts.

Rep. Andy Olson, an Albany Republican, said the state licensing program now going into effect will be "the most unregulated dispensary system in the nation" and that some counties and cities want to be able to impose moratoriums so they can take a "wait-and-see" approach about how it will all work. The city of Florence is among the jurisdictions considerating moratoriums.

With dispensary license applications starting Monday, "timing is of the essence" for the Legislature to act, Olson said.

Barker, the Democrat whose committee revived the proposal to allow local bans last week, also opposed Monday's delay.

"People, let my bill go," he said, paraphrasing Moses.

But House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, a Eugene Democrat, said the delay isn't intended to kill the bill. Rather, she said, it is to let lawmakers keep working "to find consensus on a bill that people feel very strongly about."

"This is specifically saying, 'Please give us 24 more hours to have discussions,'?" she said.

Rep. Brian Clem, a Salem Democrat, said he supports SB 1531 as is, but he also voted for the delay because the bill in its current form faces "a very uncertain path in the Senate."

"I don't think this bill will become law if we don't work something out" with more negotiations, he said.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that first vetted the proposal, supports allowing local governments to place "time, place and manner" restrictions on dispensaries, but not to ban them outright.

Prozanski said last week that he doesn't expect the Senate this session to vote in favor of allowing local bans.

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