Decision makers for cities and counties throughout Oregon who have been wringing their hands over medical marijuana dispensaries may want to send thank-you cards to the Cave Junction City Council.
With several members who are medical marijuana supporters, the council Monday night voted to seek a declaratory judgment in federal court regarding dispensaries. That type of judgment is the legal determination of a court that resolves legal uncertainty.
Oregon governments have been thrown into a quandary because a state law that kicked in March 3 allows medical marijuana dispensaries. However, marijuana is illegal under federal law, and most cities and counties have business codes that include language prohibiting anything that violates federal law.
The ruling sought by Cave Junction could resolve that predicament.
The council voted 3-1 to seek the judgment after emerging from a lengthy executive session regarding potential litigation related to dispensaries.
Mayor Carl Jacobsen and Councilors Charles Polk and Margaret Miller voted yes. Daniel Dalegowski, who supports dispensaries, voted no. John Gardiner, who also supports dispensaries, recused himself.
Miller characterized the decision as a way for the city to get clarity and move forward. The council did not vote to place a moratorium on dispensaries, which is allowed under Oregon law.
Cave Junction is relying on Ryan Kirchoff of the Grants Pass firm of James, Holmbeck, and Kirchoff to obtain the ruling. While it could take months for a judge to make a final ruling, Kirchoff told the council there could be a preliminary decision within two weeks.
City Recorder Ryan Nolan said a preliminary decision would give the council direction and pro vide “injunctive relief” if the council takes any action based on the preliminary decision.
Prior to the vote, Dalegowski declared a potential conflict because he is a licensed medical marijuana grower. However, he said he has no intention of opening a dispensary. He also noted that he has family members who “may or may not” be growers and who may or may not be interested in opening dispensaries.
Dalegowski said he discussed his situation with the Oregon Ethics Commission, and because he will not personally benefit financially if dispensaries are allowed, he said he was advised he could vote on the issue.
Gardiner also declared a potential conflict, but opted to recuse himself because he has not discussed his situation with the Ethics Commission. Gardiner said his conflict stems from the fact his wife has been approached by a third party about operating a dispensary should such businesses be allowed in Cave Junction. That said, Gardiner said he supports dispensaries, which he believes should be able to provide a safe medical product for patients.
Gardiner also said he was disappointed by the legal advice the council received during executive session and that he’s concerned about the possibility of putting off a decision for months, depending on the courts.
Nolan said city recorders and city managers throughout the state have wondered which government entity would be the first to address the issue in the courts. “I think everybody thought it would be Medford,” he said. Instead, it will be Cave Junction.
Because of the conflict between state and federal law, the Oregon Legislature passed a law in late March to allow local governments to place a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries for up to a year if they act before May 1. Cave Junction’s next council meeting is April 28, so it’s possible the city may yet impose a moratorium.
At least 71 Oregon cities have enacted moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries and more than 40 others are considering one. Among the cities that have not imposed moratoriums are Portland, Bend and Eugene.
* In other business Monday, the council voted 3-2 to support ballot measures in Josephine and Jackson counties that would ban genetically modified crops. Polk and Miller voted no.
As the meeting wound down, Josephine County commissioner candidate Mark Seligman of Selma became embroiled in a dispute with Jacobsen over how much time Seligman would have to address the council.
Seligman requested more than the alloted three minutes because he had waited for two hours for the executive session to end. Mayor Jacobsen declined that request, prompting Seligman to ask for a vote of the council to consider his request.
Jacobsen said it was the mayor’s perogative and he told Seligman he was limited to three minutes. After an argument, Seligman threatened to return at a future meeting with enough people to fill the council chambers in protest.
Jacobsen then threatened to have Seligman arrested, at which point Seligman took his seat.