Here Weed Go Again: Medford City Council Punts a Proposed Ban Back to the Voters
Interestingly, the proposed ban had been discussed at Medford City Council for the past few months—and until last Thursday, November 19, not a single person had showed up to formally opposed the idea to ban indoor and outdoor marijuana grows within the Medford city limits.
In early November, with little fanfare, city council voted 6-2 to enact the ban—a ban that would pull the plug on 1,942 state-licensed marijuana growers in Medford, roughly one-third of the licensed growers in Jackson County. Because the vote was not unanimous, a second reading was required—and it seemed as if the grow ban would easily pass.
But then the tone changed: At the second reading for the ordinance, a noon meeting for Medford city council, dozens of opponents showed up, many wearing bright green shirts and holding chlorophyll green signs reading, “Let the people grow.”
The protests were effectively a goal line stance: Already the proposed ban had garnered a solid vote, and there was no reason to think anyone was changing his mind.
Ostensibly, the proposed ban was predicated on a handful of complaints about the “odor” from outdoor grow sites; since September, all told, 27 complaints had been filed about marijuana growing with Medford police (but no citations issued)— roughly the number of traffic citations in a single day. Which is to say: It was a minor problem, at best.
“I do not believe taking a few stray comments from our city of 77,000 people and banning the right of all to grow is acceptable,” councilor Kevin Stine told The Messenger, one of the two votes voting against the ban in the first round. “When it comes to marijuana, I am for reasonable regulation and against bans,” he added.
In spite of the passions on each side about the issue of marijuana and its legality, the testimony was primarily calm and measured. Andrea Adams, wearing a green shirt and a green ribbon, asserted that she was speaking “with the hope you will hear us today,” and other residents stood in front of the assembled members of city council with various perspectives on the economic and medical benefits for marijuana. One seed grower stood at the microphone and told councilmembers that in the previous week he had grossed $8,000—and went on to explain that each seed he sells will generate tens of more thousands of dollars in the local economy. “You’re spitting in everyone’s face,” he concluded his comments.
As he took his seat, the meeting began to turn into a verbal squirmish. There were grumbles and some heckles from the crowd—and councilor Chris Corcoran shot back, “you’re doing it the wrong way,” he told the audience, and then asked the mayor whether they could clear chambers and ask each person to testify individually.
That comment stoked more comments, with a few people shouting out “elected servant” and “you serve us.”
As the meeting wobbled forward, Mandy Valencia stood at the podium and began to give her public comments. A former reporter, Valencia had helped rally people to attend the hearing with Facebook postings and social media. “Show up to the next city council meeting to let the Medford city council know those 27 people complaining don’t speak for you,” she had posted, referring to the small number of complaints that had been filed with the police department.
In her comments to city council, Valencia primarily spoke about the value for medical marijuana and also pointed out that voters already had approved both medical and recreational marijuana. “Aren’t you required to follow state law,” she asked.
After the hearing, she told the Messenger, “I think the city council got busted trying to pass a ban that would affect over 1,900 medical growers within the city of Medford, countless recreational grows and thousands upon thousands of patients without any of those affected people knowing.”
“When I heard they were trying to pass this ban on grows within the city,” she added, “I rallied as many people as I could, to come speak at the council meeting about it. We had great representation of the spectrum of medical and recreational users, contractors who build grow rooms, growers who produce seeds, lawyers, business owners, and sick patients.”
All told, a couple dozen people spoke against the ban—and none in favor of it—and the testimony at the noon meeting on November 19 lasted 45 minutes before Mayor Gary Wheeler interrupted, “We have other business.”
As quickly, he was interrupted, “I move to extend the time limit,” one person spoke out, and Mayor Wheeler looked slightly frustrated, but continued. “I’m not going to have a discussion with the audience,” Mayor Wheeler shot back.
Two councilmembers then quickly moved to move the discussion to the evening session, several hours later—a move that nearly made the CSPAN moment as dramatic as an ESPN highlight, yet some of the audience did not seem to immediately recognize that they had scored a big victory and continued to grumble.
Again, Mayor Wheeler’s head shot up, “again,” he said, “you’re not doing yourself any favors by acting out.”
The proposed growing ban is the latest in a series of legal wrestling over marijuana in Medford; in 2013, city council voted unanimously to ban dispensaries and the vote on Measure 91 to legalize recreational use of marijuana was evenly split in Medford. In addition, last November, Clay Bearnson was elected to Medford city council; it is believed that he represents the first marijuana grower to be elected to a governing body in Oregon.
When the city council meeting reconvened at 7 pm, the tone—and minds—of some of the councilors had clearly shifted. “I’ve heard some good arguments,” said councilor Dick Gordon, and made the somewhat radical suggestion that council table the matter and move it to a ballot measure for voters to decide. It was a remarkable about-face and a change of heart.
In conclusion, the council voted 7-1 to move the matter from council to a popular vote, most likely in May.
Like a series of bad Halloween movies, that vote sets up yet another sequel for the legality for marijuana in Medford. The outcome for that vote is far from clear, as the vote for Measure 91 in Medford was almost precisely 50-50.
“I think that is a fair resolution,” commented Valencia to The Messenger, “although many are not happy about it, asking ‘How many times do we have to vote for this? We voted for Medical Marijuana. We voted for recreational marijuana, now we have to vote again to grow in Medford? But, we will vote for it, if that’s what we have to do to convince Mayor Wheeler and the five other city council members who seek to ban the plant. It’s pretty ridiculous that we have to do that.”