Outrage after Phoenix City Council temporarily bans medical marijuana dispensaries

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Tue, March 4 2014 at 6:31 PM, Updated: Wed, March 5 2014 at 10:09 PM

Phoenix, Ore. -- Medical marijuana patients in Phoenix are angry after the city voted in favor of a four-month ban on medical marijuana dispensaries Monday night.

"I'm furious, I'm absolutely furious," said Melanie Barniskis, who helps manage The Greenery in Phoenix. She described the establishment as a patient resource center for medical marijuana cardholders.

She's not the only one who's upset about the city council's controversial moratorium, which will temporarily prohibit the city from issuing business licenses to medical marijuana facilities.

Why the city council voted in favor of a moratorium

"We have a lot of things that say we need to abide by federal law including our city charter, our business license ordinance and if we're not going to do that in the future, then it's going to require changing those documents before we can issue a business license," said Jeff Bellah, Mayor of Phoenix.

According to Bellah, the decision was made in part because the city needs time to change some city documents.

"We're also hoping the state will give us a little more guidance than they have which is about none," he continued.

Bellah said there's a possibility that the moratorium could end early if the city is able to get their background work done and the state comes out with better guidelines pertaining to what cities and counties can and can't do when it comes to dispensaries.

"The City of Phoenix decided to go back into the days of reefer madness and fear mongering and claim to need more time to study something they know has been coming for a year," said Barniskis, regarding the city's decision.

"This attitude needs to go away," she continued.

Can City of Phoenix shutdown The Greenery?

Barniskis, who attended Monday night's meeting, said she was being told that The Greenery would be shut down.

However, Bellah said the city does not have the authority to shut down a place like The Greenery, which he said has been operating without a business license from the city.

"We're not putting them out of business because as far as we're concerned they shouldn't have been in business anyway," said Bellah.

He said because The Greenery has been open with no business license, the city has been issuing fines every day for the last month or so.

"We're kind of limited to fines at this point ... they must have 30 or 40 by now," Bellah said.

According to Bellah, those fines are hefty, coming in at $100 each.

Determined to keep doors open

Meanwhile, Barniskis said The Greenery is remaining committed to keeping their doors open.

"I was a fighter for women's rights back in the 60s and 70s," she began.

"This is the second fight of my life for my rights and I'm just as determined now as I was back in the 70s," continued Barniskis.

She said despite the temporary ban, she's determined to keep providing people with the medical marijuana they say they need.

"We spend our lives trying to help people. We're down here everyday volunteering so that people can get the medicine they need to improve their lives," said Barniskis.

She added that the temporary ban might be acceptable if people's ailments were also put on hold.

"People are sick now and they need this medicine now."

Other options for OMMP cardholders?

According to Bellah, medical marijuana patients have other options even if The Greenery were to close.

"They are allowed to cultivate their own marijuana. They are allowed to have someone grow it for them. We're not trying to hinder any of that," he said.

However, proponents of medical marijuana dispensaries say the establishments provide a safe place for people to access cannabis, who would otherwise not know where to get medical marijuana.

One 66-year-old Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cardholder we spoke with said it would be an inconvenience if her safe access point was taken away.

City and The Greenery to appear in municipal court

Bellah said the City of Phoenix and The Greenery will be meeting in municipal court on March 20th to settle the issue of operating without a business license. He said if the judge finds The Greenery guilty, the daily tickets the city has been issuing will be assessed. If they continue to operate without a business license, Bellah said he's not sure what would come next.

Town Hall meeting scheduled for March 20th

Also on March 20th, the city will hold a 6pm town hall meeting at Phoenix High School. The plan is to talk about medical marijuana dispensaries. Bellah said there will be experts attending who can speak to the pros and cons of having medical marijuana dispensaries in the community. Public comment will be allowed.

Referendum submitted to Phoenix City Hall

Meantime, some activists told NBC 5 News that they're simply not accepting the city's decision.

On Tuesday, one of the organizers of a referendum, Steve Schulman dropped off the paperwork at Phoenix City Hall. 

We spoke with another organizer, Tere Knight who is also an OMMP cardholder. She said the referendum is intended to stop the temporary four-month moratorium.

According to Knight, the Phoenix City Council has had ample opportunity to deal with the dispensary issue.

"They chose not to until this late date. I feel that a moratorium is just another way to kick the ball down the road," said Knight. 

Organizers said once the referendum has been reviewed, petitioners will have to get signatures from at least 10% of registered voters in Phoenix.

What do you think? Sound off on our Facebook page and on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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