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Albany council tackles marijuana dispensaries issue

Albany council tackles marijuana dispensaries issue

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The Albany City Council voted 4-2 Wednesday night to have staff investigate the city’s options regarding medical marijuana dispensaries, including banning them or taxing their operations.

Some city councilors were opposed to dispensaries, while others spoke out against “prohibition” of a substance that’s been approved for medical use.

Police Chief Mario Lattanzio is adamantly against dispensaries, saying after the meeting that they would be a regulatory headache and increase illegal marijuana use in Albany.

“You think Blue was controversial?” quipped Mayor Sharon Konopa, referring to the saga of a dog that was on death row in 2011 for biting a child.

The governor signed a bill into law in August allowing medical marijuana dispensaries, and a committee that includes Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany) is hammering out the rules and regulations of how the operations will work.

Some states have already taken a stance against dispensaries. According to the Associated Press, the Medford City Council made a rule change so that business licenses could be revoked by violating federal laws regarding marijuana.

Other cities also are looking at similar ways to ban dispensaries, but Albany doesn’t issue business licenses, said City Manager Wes Hare.

“We could have a dispensary open and not be aware of it,” he said.

Wednesday night’s City Council meeting had a slim agenda, but Councilor Bessie Johnson brought up dispensaries during open-ended business from the council, starting a lively discussion.

“A lot of cities are going on the proactive side now and taking care of it and getting laws passed because they don’t want them and think they could be a problem. I don’t want them either,” Johnson said.

Jim Delapoer said that prohibiting that which state law allows could result in the city spending money on challenges in court. 

Konopa and city spokeswoman Marilyn Smith said they had each heard from a property owner who had been contacted by a potential dispensary.

Ray Kopczynski and Bill Coburn voted against looking into the medical marijuana situation, later saying that it wasn’t the city’s place to make the drug harder to get for patients.

“I believe it is a tad naive of us to try and bring back prohibition involving a substance that Oregon has already deemed acceptable for certain uses and which the feds have also stated they will not prosecute,” Kopczynski said, in a Thursday e-mail.

Lattanzio previously worked in law enforcement in Arizona, where dispensaries were already operating.

He said that drugged driving grew to about half of all driving under the influence of intoxicants cases there, and most of those involved marijuana.

“When you have more availability, you’re going to have more issues,” Lattanzio said.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Oregon since 1998, but patients have had to grow the drug themselves or get it from growers registered with the state.

But local law enforcement has said laws are being broken by some patients and growers registered with the state, who use the medical marijuana program as a shield for illegal activities. 

Advocates say dispensaries provide safe access for patients and reduce the likelihood that they will deal with shady characters to get their medicine.

Some patients growing their own marijuana have found themselves the victims of crime by thieves and burglars who steal their plants.

The issue of medical marijuana dispensaries hasn’t come up before the Linn or Benton county commissioners.

Linn County Undersheriff Bruce Riley said he would recommend against allowing dispensaries, and echoed many of Lattanzio’s concerns.

Corvallis City Manager Jim Patterson said the matter likely will come before the Corvallis City Council at some point.

“This is an issue we are well aware of,” Patterson said.

He added that Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman is serving on Oregon’s rules advisory committee regarding dispensaries.

Patterson said two individuals had contacted the city regarding medical marijuana dispensaries.

Kyle Odegard covers public safety for the D-H. He can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net.

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