- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - An Oregon House committee moved Monday to let cities and counties ban medical marijuana dispensaries, reversing a Senate decision to allow local governments to regulate but not ban the pot stores that will become legal this year.

Representatives for the local governments lauded the move in the House Judiciary Committee. Pot-dispensary advocates called it “short-sighted” and warned it could keep patients from getting necessary medication.

Christopher Oss, owner of a dispensary in Marion County, said he supported legislation that would allow cities and counties to regulate some aspects of the pot dispensary operations, but not outright bans that would make someone like his grandmother “go to a skate park to get drugs from a crackhead.”

Oss was one of several medical marijuana advocates who testified against amendments to the bill, SB 1531, that would allow local governments to prohibit dispensaries in their areas. He likened it to banning pharmacies that distribute oxycodone, a drug derived from opium, and antibiotics.

The Legislature last year authorized medical marijuana dispensaries, but some cities and counties want to keep them from opening up the in their areas. Several jurisdictions have already passed legislation banning them.

The action on Monday would allow those bans to remain in place. It reverses a decision made in the Senate, where lawmakers voted to let local governments restrict the time, place and manner in which pot stores can operate but would prohibit outright bans at the local level. A key argument against the bans on the Senate side was that local governments are not allowed to ban pharmacies in their areas and should not be able to prohibit the medical pot stores, either.

But Rob Bovett, an attorney for the Association of Oregon Counties and former district attorney, rejected the pharmacy comparisons.

“Pharmacies are highly regulated at both the federal and state level,” Bovett said, but the state’s dispensary program “is not highly regulated by any stretch of the imagination.”

In addition to allowing local bans, the House Judiciary Committee also voted to add restrictions aimed at protecting children. The bill would now require child-safe packaging on marijuana products and prohibit them from being made or packaged in a way that would appeal to children.

The measure goes next to the full House. If it passes, it would go back to the Senate, which could accept or reject the changes.

Rep. Brent Barton, D-Oregon City, voted to approve the amendments, but he said the voters have sent mixed messages about medical marijuana by approving the drug but voting twice against dispensary programs. He said resolving that conflict is “going to be messy.”

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Reach reporter Chad Garland on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/chadgarland