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County Considers Medical Marijuana Business Rules

DALLAS — Polk County will not be outright banning medical marijuana dispensaries — at least not yet.    The Polk County Board of Commissioners clarified its ordinances and zoning codes to address dispensary applications, essentially stating the county doesn’t have a provision in its codes addressing dispensaries and therefore they would be subject to a public review.    The move was made as an intermediate step before the Oregon Legislature weighs in and expected lawsuits on both sides of the issue play out.    Last week, the Senate approved Senate Bill 1531 that allows cities and counties to regulate — but not ban — medical marijuana dispensaries. Several jurisdictions, including Dallas, have indicated they wouldn’t allow such businesses to operate. The bill is yet to be addressed in the House of Representatives.   But even if it passes, the issue of local control over dispensaries could still end up in court, said Austin McGuigan, the county’s community development director, during the Feb. 19 public hearing on amending the county’s code to possibly ban dispensaries. He said the county may want to wait to make its own determination until potential legal issues are resolved.    “If there is a desire to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, there may be an opportunity to do that in the future, but there is legal risk if we get ahead of the game and start doing things that we may or may not have the authority to do,” McGuigan said. “This may be part of a larger legal battle.”   The League of Oregon Cities and Association of Oregon Counties both backed the original version of SB 1531, which gave local jurisdictions the right to ban dispensaries. The version that cleared the Senate did not include that provision. Instead, it authorizes cities and counties to “adopt ordinances that impose reasonable regulations on the operation of medical marijuana facilities registered, or applying for registration. ...”   McGuigan said cities and counties may sue to retain their right to ban dispensaries. Sheriff Bob Wolfe added those who support the dispensary law have also threatened lawsuits if applications are turned down.   McGuigan said, in absence of a final decision on dispensaries, he wanted at least to establish a process for addressing applications, if any come in.   “I just want to be sure that if someone does come to the county planning counter and wants to open one of these that there’s a process I can put them through,” he said, “so we can go through a public process to determine whether or not it should be permitted. I’m comfortable with that today, to some degree.”   

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