Talent receives marijuana dispensary request

TALENT — One company has applied to open a medical marijuana dispensary in town after the City Council approved accepting applications for business licenses for the outlets under current city codes.

Peter Gross and Michael Monarch of Ashland already have leased space at 103 N. Pacific Highway in anticipation of approval from both the city and the state for their Green Valley Wellness dispensary.

"I thought it was an admirable decision," said Gross, who praised Councilor Darby Stricker's rationale for making the motion at a March 5 meeting.

"The main thing that I thought was important was that they had never singled out any business for any reasons and she didn't think she wanted to start with that," said Gross.

The council could have declared a moratorium on licenses for dispensaries or banned them.

No other applications have been submitted, but there have been inquiries, said Community Development Director Zac Moody. The council approved accepting applications in a 4-2 vote. It also directed staff to refine land-use zoning regulations to include the outlets.

Medical marijuana dispensaries became legal under state law March 3. Communities throughout the state have taken varying stances on the issue, ranging from outright bans to moratoriums, regulation or no action.

The Oregon Legislature earlier this month approved allowing cities to impose one-year moratoriums on dispensaries to give planners time to set restrictions. Those moratoriums must be in place by May 1.

"We shouldn't offer resistance to existing laws," Stricker said. "The laws are on the books and we have the city codes to deal with it."

Stricker said the move was in the best interest of the city to preempt potential litigation. She was joined by council members Don Steyskal, Teresa Cooke and E. J. McManus in the voting. Joan Dean and Ryan Pederson voted against the motion.

Moody had recommended a moratorium be placed on the issuing of licenses for dispensaries. He said revisions of zoning regulations to include the outlets would take at least four months.

"I wanted to go with the staff recommendation. I'm not against medical marijuana dispensaries," said Dean. "I wasn't sure if I was going to vote yea or nay."

A moratorium would allow all applicants to be on an equal basis rather than some falling under existing codes and others under new regulations, said Pederson.

Steyskal argued that it shouldn't be that complicated to find a niche for sales of a legal substance in existing city code.

Gross and Monarch spoke in favor of dispensaries at the council session. Jamin Giersback, owner of Rogue Farmers in Talent, which offers supplies for growing medical marijuana, also supported dispensaries.

"I was really pleased with the direction," Monarch said. "I really feel like Talent is going to benefit from this decision as an early adopter."

Oregon has created a process for treating marijuana as a pharmaceutical and Talent has agreed to be part of that process, said Monarch.

Moody told the council that under his interpretation of codes, dispensaries would be classified either as retail or manufacturing operations if they included repackaging of products.

Either the business license process could be changed or land-use zoning regulations amended to provide more oversight of the operations. But a zoning amendment process will also allow other code issues to be fixed, said Moody.

Under current codes, dispensaries would be allowed in areas zoned as highway business, central business or light industrial, depending on how the products are handled, Moody said.

"I can certainly understand how people feel about it, but we don't get to disregard what laws we don't like," said Stricker. "It's important to follow the laws on the book."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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