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Medical marijuana enforcement rules in a haze

By Kandra Kent
Published On: May 07 2014 10:44:33 PM CDT
Updated On: May 08 2014 06:50:05 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent investigates enforcement of Oregon medical marijuana dispensaries.

BEND, Ore. -

They came, they sold, and now some medical marijuana shops are closing.

"It's heart-breaking knowing all the time and money that I put into this, and it didn't get me anywhere," High Grade Organics owner Nick Harsell said Wednesday.

Harsell is the owner of one of four shops in Bend that have been denied registration by the Oregon Health Authority.

Eight other cannabis shops in the city have been approved.

The stores required to shut down received letters of  "proposed denial" from the state.

High Grade Organics and CannaCopia Collective are two dispensaries that were found to be out of compliance with state law.

"We approved another dispensary that had their application in before the CannaCopia application," said Tom Burns, director of the OHA's pharmacy program.

High Grade Organics also lost the race of registration to nearby Garden King. closing for the same reason as CannaCopia -- they are too close to another registered dispensary.

Oregon state laws says medical marijuana shops must be more than 1,000 feet apart.

It's hard pill to swallow for Harsell, who said he put much time, effort and money into his facility, not knowing his application would be considered by the order in which it was received alone.

"I worked on my application for months and months and months to be fully compliant," Harsell said.  "And to realize it all came down to a click of a button, and the time stamp was more important than becoming fully compliant."

Burns said full compliance is not required in order to apply, and dispensaries granted licenses have extra time to get up to code.

Still, two months into the medical marijuana program, the state does not know who's following the rules on the High Desert.

Burns said none of the state's three inspectors have set foot in Bend.

It's on the to-do list.

"We'll be checking up on those dispensaries that we've approved, as well as verifying that we have denied an application to are in fact closed," Burns said.

It's a little too late, considering OHA and police say a Bend shop was operating illegally for weeks after its application was denied.

CannaCopia only recently shut its doors, even though OHA sent them a proposed denial letter back in mid-April, noting the shop was too close to the Herbal Center.

On Tuesday, Bend police delivered a letter to the dispensary, telling owners they were operating illegally.

"They (were) in violation of the law and subject to both criminal action and we can start the process to impose civil penalties on them," Burns said Tuesday.

Easier said then done.
 
"This is all brand new, so we're working very hard to figure out where we should go with this," Bend police Capt. Ken Stenkamp said Wednesday.

Stenkamp said the department will look to the Oregon Health Authority to take the lead.

"We're not in the business of shutting businesses down," he said. "The way this was put together is, primarily the enforcement is through the Oregon Health Authority through a civil process."

Burns said OHA will fine illegal shops $500 a day, but also must rely on local police to enforce the law.

"We can impose civil penalties, but law enforcement must be the ones to physically close and lock the door of a dispensary," Burns said.

So far, it's a new program where the questions are high and the answers hazy. Some state regulations are going through the approval process, with four upcoming hearings, including one in Bend on May 22nd.

The Oregon Health Authority wants to make it clear that marijuana shops that are sent a proposed letter of denial are not allowed to operate during the appeals process.

Other rules dispensaries must follow include being a certain distance away from schools, installing proper security, and keeping track of patient information.

More rules and information can be found at: https://public.health.oregon.gov/DiseasesConditions/ChronicDisease/medicalmarijuanaprogram/Pages/index.aspx

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