Grants Pass Update via Daily Courier: City Council reaffirms its anti-marijuana stance

The Grants Pass City Council Wednesday night reaffirmed the city’s ban on all things marijuana — except for possession.

The council on Wednesday unanimously approved two ordinances that prohibit marijuana commerce of any sort — including both medical dispensaries and recreational retail outlets — in the city. At the same time, the council approved two resolutions referring the ban to city voters in November 2016.

Most of the action the council took Wednesday simply reaffirmed the city’s continuing stance against marijuana, both medical and recreational.

However, the council did amend the ordinances to address the use of the term “possession,” which is newly legal by state law. In the original draft of the ordinance, the word was used as a reference to the storage of large amounts of marijuana by those who grow it.

All of Wednesday evening’s votes were unanimous. Councilor Lily Morgan was absent.

Measure 91, which took effect July 1, allows people 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana outside the home and 8 ounces at home. To date, however, there has been no legal way to buy it.

That will change in two weeks, when a change in state law will allow dispensaries to start selling marijuana for recreational use on Oct. 1. There are at least six dispensaries in Josephine County, none of which are affected by the city’s ban, including one on Rogue River Highway just east of the city limits. Up to now, the city has declined to issue business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries, citing conflicts with federal law. The council never voted on the policy, but offered tacit approval because it did not direct the city staff to change the policy.

On Wednesday night, about 10 members of the audience testified regarding the new ordinances that reaffirm the city’s policy. Two supported the ordinance during the public hearing segment while the rest appealed for reconsideration of the ban.

Peter Gendron, a marijuana grower and legislative adviser from Sunny Valley, told the council it’s difficult to come out of nearly 80 years of prohibition and legalize an entire industry that had previously existed outside the law.

“I am disappointed in actions the City Council is taking and has every intention of voting on tonight,” he said. “I suggest you refrain from other action tonight until after you have more information.”

“It was written without any thought for the people being regulated, for the people who want to grow some pot in their backyard as state law allows us to do, out of sight of public places,” complained Rycke Brown of the Southern Oregon Natural Gardening Association.

One supporter of the ban, Linda McFerran, who lives along Westholm Street, said her neighbors grow marijuana. She complained she had to close her windows all summer and turn on her air conditioning because of the “skunky” odor
coming from the plants.

Grants Pass police Detective Pete Jenista, who told the council he was off-duty and on his own time, expressed concern over legal marijuana finding its way to the black market.

“It’s not every business and it’s not every time, but I do see it already as a huge problem in Josephine County,” said Jenista. “Marijuana has always been readily available, well prior to Oregon medical marijuana laws or recreational marijuana laws.”

Council President Dan DeYoung defended the ban as a way to protect marijuana startups that could be put out of business if voters uphold the ban in the 2016 referendum.

“On a local level, one thing we don’t want to do is say OK, we’re going to allow this to happen until 2016 and then have to serve notices to five new startup businesses if the vote swings that way,” he said.

Gendron, however, said the city will miss out on tax revenue. “By denying canna business, you are denying yourself to benefit from the revenue that the canna business is bringing to this city, county and other
areas around the state.”

Reach reporter Jules Rogers at 541-474-3813 or [email protected]

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