Views sharply divergent on pot dispensaries
While McMinnville city councilors plan to take testimony on a specific ordinance when they address the issue at 7 p.m. Tuesday — one banning dispensaries for the time being at least — commissioners requested input on an open-ended basis. They have no proposal under active consideration at the moment.
Commissioner Mary Stern, who chairs the board, indicated she would not favor an outright ban or moratorium when the board opens deliberations at 10 a.m. next Thursday in Room 32 of the county courthouse.
But when dispensary advocate Jim Galba asked Commissioners Kathy George and Allen Springer, "Which way are you leaning on this?" he got non-committal replies. They declined to tip their hands in advance.
Galba, who operates a hydroponics business called H2Organics out of Bunn Village, is keenly interested in opening a dispensary. And while his operation has a McMinnville address, it actually lies outside city limits, putting it under county jurisdiction.
The Oregon Health Authority is scheduled to begin accepting dispensary applications March 3, and local cities and counties are scrambling to get some kind of regulatory framework in place by the. Galba said he is prepared to comply with whatever rules and regulations the county might deem appropriate, provided it shops short of an outright ban.
Stern, a lawyer who worked for the federal Bureau of Prisons before winning a commission seat, said the biggest rub for her is a conflict between federal law, which continues to criminalize marijuana, and state law, which has been increasingly relaxing the reins. She said she is sworn to uphold all the laws, not just the local ones, and that puts her in a awkward position.
"I'm in an awkward position," Galba countered. "I feel like I'm being held hostage.
"There aren't very many days left. As a potential dispensary owner, I'm in limbo right now."
Stern said she understood. She apologized for the inconvenience, but said the board was doing the best it could.
As in past hearings at both the state and local level, most of testimony came from advocates, who have reliably turned out in force. However, Sheriff Jack Crabtree pharmacist Leonard Leis offered some countering testimony Thursday.
Crabtree is a vocal critic of Oregon's new dispensary law, terming it badly flawed. He objects most strenously to a perceived failure to provide the kind of "vigorous" enforcement the governor promised, saying the law only allocates enough money to fund two field inspectors.
"We should wait until we can make sure this is safe for dispensary owners and the community, and that's doable," he said. "It's not some sort of pipe dream.
"Let's fix the law first. The majority of people want this thing done right, and it's not a good service to the public to move forward without fixing it."
Crabtree also objected to opening the door to THC-infused food products known as "medibles," which critics fear will attract children and youth. But Galba suggested responsible dispensary owners would address that on their own.
"There are ways to ingest marijuana without it looking like a cookie or a brownie," he said. "I can work with you guys, and patients, trying to address everybody's concerns and be helpful.
"Marijuana is here, it's all over the place. We're just trying to get it corralled up and make it cleaner and regulated."
He said, "I'm here to be reasonable with you, and I would expect the same."
Anthony Taylor, director of Compassionate Oregon, urged the commissioners to zero in on what's best for patients using marijuana to relieve chronic pain. "There are more than 1,000 medical marijuana patients in the county right now, and one or two well-sited dispensaries would serve them," he suggested.
Leis, who boasts 45 years as a pharmacist, questioned the entire premise of marijuana being used for medicinal rather than recreational purposes. He suggested the latter might actually be masquerading as the former.
"I've seen no evidence of marjiuana's medical benefits, besides addressing nausea and loss of appetite," he said. He termed most medicinal claims being raised by advocates "outlandish."
If cancer patients really need medicinal marijuana, Leis said, it's already available in a synthetic form that can be dispensed from an existing pharmacy in a container with a childproof lid. He said it doesn't need to be sold in raw form on the street, largely unregulated.
Former Army colonel Ray Meyer followed by saying he agreed wholeheartedly with Leis until he came down with cancer. When his condition began to deteriorate, he said, his doctor gave him two options, chemotherapy or therapeutic cannabis, and he chose the latter.
He said it went against his personal morals, his military values and his upbringing. But he said, "I'm telling you, it was a miracle. My numbers totally turned around and I'm healed."
Meyer said the synthetic version, a THC extract, lacks the healing properties to the plant material itself. He said he doesn't want to see children gain access either, but he said, "It's no different than having a liquor cabinet."
As an Army colonel, he took the same oath to uphold the law that the commissioners took, he said. But he said, "We're in a new time, and we can't keep it from people who need it."
Stern promised commissioners would consider Thursday's testimony when they met next week to deliberate on the issue. She said she hoped they could come to a conclusion then.
However, she also said, "We're trying to be careful and conscientious as we consider this important, complicated issue." And that could mean taking additional time, she told members of the audience.