Because the legislative session that starts in February is a relatively short one, it’s not the best time to bring up contentious issues — but legislators nevertheless may need to wade into the state’s looming controversies on marijuana on a couple of fronts.
First, it may well be that the law regarding dispensaries for medical marijuana will need clarification.
And it’s not out of the question that legislators will make a run at referring a legislative initiative to voters — in part to possibly head off a citizen-written measure that could appear on the ballot as early as November.
Deadlines are tighter with the dispensary issue, especially since applications from people who want to open the establishments will start to flow to the state beginning March 3.
At issue is the implementation of House Bill 3460, passed earlier by the Legislature in an effort to solve a problem with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. Under the rules of the program, medical marijuana patients must either grow their own or find someone to grow it for them.
The new dispensary law creates a third-party system for matching patients with a reliable supply of cannabis.
The law directs the Oregon Health Authority to create a registry of state-approved dispensaries and develop regulations for their operation. An advisory committee has been meeting to hammer out rules for licensing and running dispensaries.
In the meantime, though, mid-valley entrepreneurs are pursuing plans to open dispensaries in both Albany and Corvallis. And officials in both cities are pondering the possibility of trying to block the establishments, in part because of concerns from law enforcement.
It’s not clear, however, what legal mechanism governments could use to block the dispensaries. The League of Oregon Cities has told its members that they have broad latitude to ban them, but the state’s legislative counsel responded with an opinion that cities can’t prevent or restrict the operation of the facilities.
No wonder that prudent city attorneys, like Albany’s Jim Delapoer, would prefer to see some other city serve as the expensive test case in the courts.
Or the Legislature could try to clarify the issue while at least a little time remains before that March 3 deadline.
Also looming is the question of marijuana legalization, which seems almost certain to make the Oregon ballot at some point. Advocates of legalization in the past have urged the Legislature to take the lead and draft a carefully written proposal for voters to consider rather than roll the dice with a potentially haphazard measure written by proponents themselves.
And that still is the best course of action. It might take a little longer — and it might not be something that the February session will have time to deal with. But a delay could give us a chance to watch developments in Washington state and Colorado, states which have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. And it could result in better public policy.