Keeping it simple

In the case of medical marijuana dispensaries, the Ashland City Council has set an example other Rogue Valley cities might do well to emulate.

Oregon state law allows medical marijuana dispensaries. Federal law still considers marijuana illegal. Ashland's municipal code stated the city would not grant a business license to an enterprise engaged in "unlawful activity."

Faced with this contradiction, the Ashland council kept it simple. It removed the "unlawful activity" language.

That doesn't mean dispensaries will be handing out pot on every Ashland street corner. In fact, restrictions already included in state law — dispensaries may not operate within 1,000 feet of a school or another dispensary and are permitted only in agricultural, industrial, commercial or mixed-use zones — mean only a very small number could be established in Ashland anyway.

The council was wisely taking the position that it is not the business of city government to overrule state law by declaring a state-sanctioned business illegal.

Meanwhile, Phoenix city leaders are wrestling with the question of a dispensary already operating in town. Council members are leery of granting a business license to the The Greenery before the Oregon Health Authority issues final regulations under dispensary legislation passed last year.

They won't have long to wait; the OHA says it will issue those rules by the end of next week.

Oregon voters have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and lawmakers wisely decided to establish a state licensing procedure for dispensaries, which were a gray area in the law, to try to prevent unscrupulous operators from using the medical marijuana system as a smoke screen for black-market pot sales.

There is no reason for city officials to hyperventilate over the idea of dispensaries in their communities, although some have done so anyway. The Medford City Council voted in October to ban dispensaries outright, despite legal opinions saying the city cannot overrule state law.

Federal law still considers marijuana an illegal substance with no medical value. But 20 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana, and medical pot laws are pending in six more. Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational use of the drug.

The U.S. Justice Department has said it will not interfere with marijuana businesses that comply with state laws and meet certain criteria. The Ashland City Council has taken essentially the same position, saying businesses permitted under state law should be granted licenses.

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