OR: Council Again Turns Down Recreational Marijuana Sales

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Ron Strider

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The often rancorous battle over recreational marijuana sales in Brownsville will continue, at least for a while.

On a 4-3 vote Tuesday evening, members of the City Council upheld a Planning Commission decision to deny the sale of recreational marijuana at the Green Cross medical marijuana dispensary at 221 West Bishop Way.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 60 people filled the council chambers on the second floor of City Hall and much like prior meetings held over the last three years, supporters and opponents of marijuana were seemingly evenly divided.

Voting to overturn the Planning Commission were Mayor Don Ware and councilors Carla Gerber and Mandy Cole. They based their votes on the fact that dispensary owners Randy Simpson and Gayle Ashford have met city ordinances concerning location and operation required for such a business.

But councilors Lynda Chambers, Mike Neddeau, Gary Shepherd and Doug Block voted no, based on language in the city code that such an operation could create an "adverse condition" in the community, which was the same reason given by the Planning Commission.

Adverse conditions might include negative effects on the health of children, the proximity to a nearby playground and whether edibles made with marijuana extracts might be attractive to children.

There also was concern that several times over the years, the Simpsons have said in public hearings they had no interest in selling recreational marijuana and only wanted to sell medical marijuana.

Their dispensary has been open since June.

The Simpsons have the right to appeal the City Council's decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals, which is what they plan to do, according to Randy Simpson.

They are also conferring with legal counsel about possibly filing a lawsuit against the city.

"Gayle and I are very disappointed and angry with the Brownsville City Council's decision to uphold the Planning Commissions denial of our conditional use permit for a recreational dispensary. We were encouraged by the mayor's decision to vote for approval of our permit," Simpson said in an email to the Democrat-Herald. "We thought we were finished fighting with the city over our dispensary when we won the local marijuana ballot measures on the issue last November, when the local Brownsville voters approved medical and recreational marijuana sales in the city, and to tax it, but here we are, still fighting the city."

Simpson called the four members of the Planning Commission (Gary Compton, Josh Kometz, Bryan Wyant and Mike McDaniel) and the four councilors (Gary Shepherd, Doug Block, Mike Neddeau and Linda Chambers) who voted no "prohibitionists" who "have completely disregarded the will of the voters approving recreational sales."

Proponents of recreational marijuana sales said the council members should represent the will of the residents of Brownsville. Last November, the sale of recreational marijuana was narrowly approved in the general election with 445 yes votes to 442 no votes.

They said not allowing the sale of recreational marijuana won't reduce its use in the community. Residents will continue to grow their own or purchase it in nearby communities where recreational marijuana sales are allowed.

They also said the community is missing out on the 3 percent sales tax associated with recreational marijuana sales.

Opponents said medical marijuana sales should be sufficient.

Councilor Doug Block has been a school bus driver for about 14 years and said he already contends with intoxicated drivers on roadways and he does not want to add those affected by marijuana being behind a steering wheel.

Pastor Kelly Williams of the Assembly of God Church, which is near the medical marijuana dispensary, said adding recreational marijuana sales "would be an issue."

"We believe children's safety is a real problem and this would not be a good fit for our community," Williams said.

Several other pastors were in support of her comments including Joel Stiff, who called Brownsville a "unique, caring, loving, wonderful place" and the task at hand was "not just an issue of zoning, it's an issue of quality of life."

Business owner Merritt Schilling brought in several small samples of recreational marijuana products and put them before the council members.

He said it is already difficult to find employees who are drug free, without adding recreational marijuana sales in the community.

Whether they support or oppose recreational marijuana sales, both sides agreed that it should be kept away from children, just as alcohol and prescription medications should be.

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