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C. Oregon marijuana shops face hazy future

By Kandra Kent
Published On: Feb 26 2014 09:50:06 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 27 2014 03:37:25 PM CST

NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent spoke with pot shop owners, city officials and substance abuse prevention advocates about a new bill regulating medical marijuana.

BEND, Ore. -

As more pot shops sprout in Bend, the debate over medical marijuana heats up in Salem with a new bill to regulate the drug: Senate Bill 1531.

And many in Central Oregon are watching.

"It helps to professionalize what we're doing," Bloom Well owner Jeremy Kwit said Tuesday.

Important legislation for those in the business, and those hoping to prevent substance abuse.

"We've got to get ready for this, or all of this is just going to roll on into place before we even know it," said Barbara Stoefen of the Bend Area Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

The newest debate in Salem comes just days before medical marijuana facilities become officially licensed statewide, thanks to a bill that passed last summer.

Legalization has given newer dispensaries like High Grade Organics, Bloom Well and CANNABend the confidence to set up shop in Bend.

"We're going to register with the state through OHA, the Oregon Health Authority," High Grade Organics owner Nick Harsell said. "And we have to meet their guidelines"

CANNABEND is planning some upgrades to comply.

"Computer systems, servers and storing video surveillance," said CANNABEND owner Lyle Coppinger.

Now the big question is: Will new legislation allow cities to ban dispensaries entirely?

"It's definitely unsettling," Coppinger said.

So far, lawmakers in Salem can't agree. They first cultivated a bill allowing the bans, then amended it to remove the option of bans -- and now the bans are back.

"I'm delighted to hear we as a community will hopefully have the opportunity to place some of our own limitations on it," Stoefen said.

Stofen said her group hopes to meet with Bend city councilors to discuss crafting regulations and guidelines for Bend dispensaries.

And despite the uncertainty in Salem, marijuana shops on the High Desert may be safe -- for now.

"We don't have much of an issue with dispensaries here," said Bend City Councilor Jodie Barram.  "We don't limit how many dispensaries that we might have in Bend."

It's an attitude troubling Stoefen.

"I'm concerned that Bend has been a little passive on this subject," Stoefen said. "In spite of the perception that so many have about marijuana as being this benign, no-big-deal drug  it can pose danger, especially to teenagers."

Bend city officials said the number of dispensaries in the city has more than doubled in a year to about 10 shops.

But if you drive north a few miles, you won't find any marijuana dispensaries.

Redmond City Mayor George Endicott told NewsChannel 21 that  he's not against marijuana, but he also said Redmond's stance on the plant is firm.

"For us to grant a license to someone to dispense an illegal substance means we're complicit in breaking a federal law, and we're just not going to go there," Endicott said.

But those working closest to the drugs say it's only going to hurt individuals already suffering.

"I don't think a local city council or a county knows better than the Oregon Health Authority or an individual's own doctor," Kwit said.  "To make access more difficult for patients for political gain, I think, is really unfortunate."

Also under fire is the sweeter side of marijuana, pot-laced candies and treats.

"That kind of product could be really appealing to young people," Stoefen said.

The bill includes provisions that could ban certain types of edibles, and prohibit marketing and product packaging that could be attractive to minors.

Local marijuana shop owners are upset the state would intervene in different types of medicine.

"There's a lot of people who want to get the relief from ingesting," Harsell said, noting his large array of marijuana-infused candies and chocolates.

Kwit said some of his clients can't smoke or inhale marijuana.

"It's really beneficial for clients who have GI tract issues or nausea," he said.

It's a divisive topic on so many fronts, but there's common ground -- both sides favor some local control.

"The more we can be compliant, and the more changes to how organizations operate will reduce the stigma about this misunderstood botanical plant," Kwit said.

For now, many are waiting to see what state lawmakers will decide, and where the shops can take root.

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