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Compromise would let local pot bans stand

(The Register-Guard) — SALEM -- Oregon's local governments would be allowed to enact yearlong moratoriums on any new medical marijuana retailers opening in their jurisdictions, under an attempted compromise unveiled by House Democratic leaders Tuesday.

The new amendments to Senate Bill 1531 followed several days of heated debate among lawmakers, in private and on the chamber floor, about the issue of local control over the new retail outlets, called dispensaries.

House Republicans and some rank-and-file Democrats support allowing cities and counties to ban the dispensaries outright. Other key Democrats in the House and Senate only want local governments to be able to enact "time, place and manner" restrictions on dispensaries.

Under the attempted compromise, Oregon cities that have already enacted moratoriums would be allowed to keep them in place for a little over a year, until May 2015. And other local governments could enact moratoriums of their own in the next two months, which would also be good until May 2015. The city of Florence is among the jurisdictions considering doing just that.

The bill would allow local governments that don't enact a moratorium to still approve "reasonable limitations" on dispensary operations.

On Monday, the first day of the new dispensary program, state officials received 289 applications from prospective medical marijuana retailers, including 41 in Lane County. Under the compromise, those individuals could seek a full refund from the state for their $4,000 application fee, should their local government choose to enact a moratorium.

The amendments to SB 1531 were introduced and adopted late Tuesday afternoon in the House Rules Committee. The committee approved the bill 5-2 along party lines.

The full House could vote on the bill as early as today.

House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, a Eugene Democrat, said the dispensary bill "has been a challenging issue, at a difficult time at the end of the session."

"There are strong feelings on both sides," she said. "We wanted to make sure we got a bill, rather than no bill" out of the House.

The push to allow outright local bans on dispensaries appeared to have the necessary support to pass the House, but faced an uncertain path in the Senate.

Several House members expressed confidence Tuesday that, with the most recent changes, SB 1531 could pass in the upper chamber.

"I think out of everything, this stands the best chance of passing" the Senate, Hoyle said.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat and key opponent of the bans, said Tuesday he needed "to see the specifics" of the compromise bill before taking a definite position.

"I would consider whatever the House moves over" to the Senate, he said.

Time is of the essence as the legislative session is scheduled to conclude at the end of the week.

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