Council resumes talk of pot rules

Albany City Hall, where another year of marijuana discussions began Monday.

Albany City Hall, where another year of marijuana discussions began Monday.

The Albany City Council is trying to get prepared in case city voters decide in the November general election that Albany will allow recreational marijuana businesses. Councilors would like to adopt some restrictions ahead of time, such as time, place and manner of pot sales and processing sites. But at Monday's work session they didn't sound overly clear just what they wanted.

So they left it up to Sean Kidd, the assistant city attorney, to come up with various options and to illustrate them on colored maps. The maps would show where in town pot businesses would be allowed under which set of hypothetical restrictions, taking into account the zoning map and the city development code too.

The council majority voted last year to ban recreational marijuana businesses in town. A 2015 state law gave the city the right to do so but said under certain circumstances -- which apply in Albany and other Linn County towns -- such local bans have to be sent to the voters in the Nov. 8 general election.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are not affected by the ban, and neither is private recreational marijuana possession, use or production by private citizens as allowed by state law. But apparently the council, when drawing up restrictions, could ban any additional dispensaries. There four now, the council was told.

Mainly the council seems to be concerned about where recreational pot businesses could start if the voters overturn the council's ban. The trick will be combining the state law on where businesses can be -- not within 1,000 feet of a school, for instance -- with local requirements so that the combination meets the required test of reasonableness. Councilors also said they want to give potential marijuana enterprises clear information on where they might be able to set up.

Kidd cautioned the council that whatever options he illustrates will not be the only ones. There are hundreds of possible combinations of restrictions that state law allows, and he doesn't want to be in a position of limiting the council's choices.

Also up for a decision: Should Albany impose a 3 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana sales? If so, that question might also appear on the city ballot in November. Kidd, though, allowed that it seems odd for the city to ask voters to continue banning recreational sales while proposing to tax sales at the same time.

Technically, the ballot question on sales will be not whether to allow marijuana stores but whether to approve the council's ban. Marijuana sales proponents thus will want to vote no, while opponents will want to vote yes. If that is confusing, there's plenty of time to try to explain it between now and the fall.

In 2014, Albany voters narrowly favored Measure 91, the initiative legalizing recreational marijuana. That might be reason enough for the council to expect its ban to be overturned. (hh)

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