The Albany City Council is considering changes to zoning ordinances regulating where marijuana-related businesses inside the city limits can locate. The move has alarmed the owners of medical marijuana dispensaries.

At the council's work session on Monday, councilors will discuss the proposal, which if enacted could discourage new marijuana-related businesses and affect the city's currently operating dispensaries.

The issue began with Albany’s Canna Kitchen, a dispensary on Southwest Ferry Street. The city gave it a zoning exception, allowing it to exist 300 feet from residential zoning, rather than the state requirement of 1,000 feet. Mayor Sharon Konopa said the city granted Canna Kitchen the exception only because the shop deals just with edible cannabinoids and not products that are smoked.

She also suggested the exception was granted to placate Canna Kitchen owner Rhea Graham. “We exempted Canna Kitchen just to please her,” Konopa said.

The problem now, at least for some city elected officials, is that the exception legally carries over to all dispensaries, and then in theory to retail shops that could be selling recreational marijuana. Konopa and some councilors would like to revoke the exception, returning to the 1,000-foot rule.

Not surprisingly, the move has the dispensary community up in arms.

“We have no idea why she (Konopa) has such a thing against cannabis,” said Graham. “Cannabis is legal now, just like alcohol. These two products that are both mind-altering substances should be regulated through the OLCC in the same way.” (The OLCC, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, is charged with creating rules that will govern the recreational sale of marijuana.)

At a Thursday night meeting at Canna Kitchen between dispensary owners and council members Ray Kopsczynski and Dick Olsen, Graham noted that liquor stores can be located across the street from schools and apartment complexes — well within 1,000 feet.

Kopczynski, who called the meeting essentially to advise the dispensary owners on the upcoming moves and to coach them on how to approach any opposition, addressed Graham’s point.

“I would save your breath and your emotion on that argument,” he said. “What I am hoping is that you as a group can present yourselves with logical and fair opposition.”

Kopczynski referred to the Sept. 23 council session, which lasted more than three hours and ended in a vote to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from the early sale of recreational marijuana. Opponents packed the Council Chambers at that meeting, and many presented emotional or hostile arguments.

“Sharon keeps saying we need to wait for more facts,” he said. “And she said she wants to wait and see what OLCC finally does with this, but, you know, the OLCC is constantly changing the regulations on controlled substances, so when will we ever have a final set of rules?”

Konopa maintains that waiting to see what will happen is her chief motivator.

“Right now, OLCC doesn’t know what to do,” she said. “My big issue is that there are pocket areas (in residential and industrial-zoned areas). And I don’t want it in a neighborhood. I don’t want a sign across from a kid’s home that says ‘marijuana shop.'"

Konopa also argued that more than 50 percent of the voters in Albany are against legalized marijuana. (Election numbers from Albany on Ballot Measure 91, the marijuana-legalization initiative last November, suggest that the measure narrowly passed in Albany by a 51-49 percent margin.)

Still, she said she does not want to ban pot completely.

"We just need to tweak the ordinance a bit,” she said.

But City Attorney Jim Delapoer had some cautionary words at the Sept. 23 council meeting regarding any attempts to tweak the ordinance.

“They will sue us if we try to prevent this,” Delapoer said, according to a video recording of the meeting.  “And I will tell you that if the case is properly contended, our case will be difficult to defend.”

Delapoer added that it's not his job to tell the mayor or councilors what they can or cannot do. But he added: "It is my job to say whether we have a strong or a vulnerable legal case. And I think we would have a vulnerable legal case.”

In the meantime, dispensary owner Trey Mork of Albany Health Solutions believes that the city's apparent opposition to marijuana has hurt the business in Albany. And he worried that the robust early sales of recreational marijuana elsewhere in the state may give competing dispensaries the capital they need to come to Albany and displace his and other smaller businesses.

“I don’t think she wants to see recreational marijuana in Albany at all,” he said.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.