Legal Pot or Not: Hermiston Voters to Decide – Again

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Hermiston voters will have another opportunity to allow legalized recreational and medical marijuana available inside the city limits come next November.

On Monday night, the Hermiston City Council passed an ordinance that will give Hermiston voters a second chance to allow state-regulated marijuana sales to occur in town.

The vote comes 17 months after the council passed an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries from operating inside the city. In the past 18 months, many cities in Umatilla and Morrow counties have banned both medical and recreational marijuana operations. In November 2014, voters statewide approved Measure 91, which allows for the manufacture and sales of recreational marijuana.

However, the state Legislature has allowed cities and counties whose residents voted against the measure by at least 55 percent to prohibit recreational or medical marijuana from being produced or sold within their jurisdictions. In November 2014, 62 percent of Hermiston voters rejected Measure 91.

When a new ordinance was crafted earlier this year to outright ban recreational marijuana from being sold or produced in the city, Councilor John Kirwan convinced the council to let local voters decide – even though they already made their choice clear last November.

Kirwan said he believed a higher turnout during a presidential election would more accurately reflect the view of local citizens.

Hermiston resident Ken May criticized the council for proposing any kind of ban in the first place.

He said there are currently 640 medical marijuana card holders in Umatilla County who have no place to buy it.

“There’s definitely a need here,” he said. He then accused the council of preferring an unregulated and untaxed black market to a state-run system. May also said the city could use tax revenue generated from marijuana sales to fully fund the construction of the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center, which is about $4 million short of the money needed to complete the facility.

Kirwan said there are currently “a lot of unknowns” about the legal sale of marijuana. He said by putting it to a vote next year, voters will have more information to base their decision on.

The council voted 5-2 to allow voters to make the final decision. Councilors Doug Smith and Rod Hardin voted against the ordinance.

“I think we need to send a real clear message that we want to keep it out of our wholesome city,” Smith said.

“We already voted against it,” Hardin said. “That’s where I’m coming from.”