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Not in My Town

The next battle looming on the marijuana front is whether or not cities and towns have the ability to exclude medical marijuana dispensaries, something many are keen to do. Under current law, patients are allowed to possess marijuana, provided they meet the standards of Oregon’s law. But they may have a hard time getting it legally. Our dispensary system won’t become active until next year.

From the pro-marijuana side, the regulation of where a dispensary can be located should be up to the state, and state law will allow them. But traditionally, local government authorities have had the say on what kind of businesses will operate within their borders. Under zoning rules or other local ordinances, medical marijuana dispensaries could be disallowed – in effect, using one set of laws to accomplish what is legal under another set.

The nuclear weapon in all this is filing charges for selling marijuana, not in state courts, but with federal authorities. Under federal law, marijuana of all amounts is still illegal, no matter what the purpose. A local police department or prosecutor who manages to get a federal case going will have a way around any state laws on marijuana.

Ideally, communities will poll their citizens and decide what’s best for their town. So long as there are enough dispensaries around, it shouldn’t matter much if a short drive is involved. In fact, in some states that have faced similar issues, marijuana delivery to patients’ homes has become an emerging market. Even patients with a dispensary close by may be restricted by their disease and use a home delivery option.

One possible problem is that more rural areas of the state, which lean conservative, may be the most likely to disallow dispensaries en mass. Since those are the areas where travel time is greatest and dispensaries are likely to be rarer than cities anyhow, several adjoining counties with prohibitions against dispensaries could amount to a real burden on patients. It will be these situations that are most likely to lead to lawsuits and court battles.

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