Here’s an interesting question in the wake of this week’s Albany City Council meeting, the one at which the council voted in favor of a temporary ban on recreational pot sales by medical marijuana dispensaries:
Is the council’s 4-2 vote the first step in an effort to impose a more permanent ban on sales of recreational marijuana?
Time will tell. But one thing is for sure: Imposing a permanent ban is a much more elaborate process than imposing the temporary ban, which only applies to dispensaries. (Recall that under state law, those dispensaries — and no one else — can sell recreational marijuana beginning on Oct. 1. Other retail sales of recreational marijuana are on hold while the Oregon Liquor Control Commission works out the regulatory framework for those.)
And any decision to pursue a permanent ban by any local government in Linn County would involve taking the issue directly to voters.
Here’s why: Under the terms of the complex deal the Legislature worked out in its session this year, local governments in any county in which at least 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91 can simply move to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, recreational marijuana retailers, producers, processors and wholesalers.
In other counties, any prohibition on marijuana businesses must be submitted to a vote of the people.
Linn County voters rejected Measure 91 (which, of course, passed statewide). But the county didn’t hit the 55 percent threshold – in fact, only 15 counties, all of them in eastern Oregon, hit that mark. (In Linn County, about 52 percent of voters voted against the measure.)
So that means any permanent ban on any aspect of the marijuana business by any local government in Linn County must be approved by voters. Some Linn County communities already are planning for elections on that question in the November 2016 general election.
Will Albany join the list?
Maybe. But here’s something for city councilors here to keep in mind: Even though Linn County voted against Measure 91, the city of Albany did not. In fact, by our count, Albany voters approved Measure 91 by about 400 votes out of about 19,000 cast.
Now, that’s not a huge margin of victory — it works out to be about a 51-49 percent margin.
But in the absence of more recent polling on the issue, how Albany voted last year on Measure 91 would seem to offer a relatively reliable measurement of what city voters think about marijuana legalization.
It also seems likely that how the rollout of recreational marijuana goes throughout the state over the next year could end up swaying the views of voters throughout Linn County if they’re faced with a ban proposal on the November 2016 ballot: If things go smoothly (or if legalization hits significant bumps), that could well shape election results.
Here’s another likelihood: You can bet that both proponents and opponents of legalization — the same political forces that clashed over Measure 91 — are keeping an eye on these ban proposals. It seems a good bet that marijuana as a big political issue across Oregon isn’t going to be fading any time soon. (mm)