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One week from today, recreational marijuana users will be able to legally buy cannabis at medical pot dispensaries throughout Oregon. But they won’t find any of those outlets in Lake Oswego, because the city has banned them through May 2016.


And if Mayor Kent Studebaker gets his way, the city will extend that ban for at least another six months, even though voters here overwhelmingly supported the legalization of recreational marijuana when they passed Measure 91 last year.

Studebaker believes that just because voters legalized the drug in Oregon, it doesn’t mean they want it sold in Lake Oswego. So last week, with support from Councilors Joe Buck and Skip O’Neill, he voted to extend the ban through November 2016 — a move that would require voters to weigh in on a local ballot measure in next year’s general election.

With newly appointed Councilor Charles Collins still a couple of weeks away from being seated, the council’s passionate debate ended in a 3-3 impasse. But the mayor says he intends to resurrect the issue when Collins joins the council in October.

When that happens, I believe the council should follow Studebaker’s lead and extend the dispensary ban. Because the mayor is right: The legalization of marijuana and the location of retail outlets are two separate issues. And as Buck told his colleagues, “There’s absolutely no harm in letting the people make a decision.”

Some of last week’s council debate was irrelevant, frankly. Police Chief Don Johnson’s testimony about the public safety and social repercussions of legalization was interesting — including a recap of the regulatory burden faced by financial institutions that want to provide banking services to what is now an all-cash industry. And there was no denying that Studebaker remains passionately opposed to legalization itself.

“I’ll tell you quite frankly that I’m very concerned,” he told the council. “I had the privilege of listening to testimony for hours on end from people who are very qualified ... and believe me, they were very clear about the effects of marijuana and the fact that this is not just a little drug. Regular use causes lots of problems — psychologically, physically and everything else.”

But voters turned those arguments aside last November when they emphatically approved Measure 91 — in Lake Oswego, it was by a 54-46 percent margin. “The fact of the matter is, the voters have settled this issue,” Councilor Jon Gustafson told his colleagues last week, “and they expect their government to make it safe for them.”

Councilor Jeff Gudman echoed Gustafson’s comments. “It is our responsibility to make that decision (on marijuana facilities),” he said, “and if our residents choose not to like it, they will let us know and vote us out.”

Gudman’s probably overstating things. I don’t believe anyone will be voted out of office over this one issue, because we did elect the mayor and council to make these kinds of difficult decisions for us. But I think it’s important to remember that we based our votes not only on the notion that these men and women will represent our wishes, but also that they will stand by the principles that speak so clearly to who they are at their core.

And when our wishes and their core beliefs clash, I believe we expect them to have the wisdom to turn to voters for direction.

“I was elected to do what I think is right for this community — THIS community,” Studebaker said. “I’m very concerned, but I’d like to know if our citizens are as concerned as I am and want to keep this out of here.“

The 2015 Legislature foresaw the problem when it passed legislation authorizing local communities to enact bans on processors, producers, wholesalers and retailers. There are financial penalties — the city will not share in state marijuana tax revenues as long as the ban is in place. And there are requirements to keep a ban in place — specifically, the decision must be referred to voters.

Given that, you have to admire Studebaker’s integrity and his refusal to back down on something that he feels will adversely affect the quality of life in Lake Oswego. Because you have to know that he does so with the full realization that voters might overturn his decision in 2016.

I understand the reticence of some councilors to create unnecessary controversy — to “stick our noses in it,” as Gustafson said. They believe the voters have spoken, and spoken clearly. But for a deadlocked council, the issue of allowing marijuana dispensaries in Lake Oswego is obviously not so clear, and that means they should seek guidance from the people who elected them.

“I think it’s important that we put this before our voters,” Studebaker said last week.

I agree.

Gary M. Stein is editor of The Lake Oswego Review.

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