Umatilla County delays medical marijuana decision

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Brandon Krenzler of Pendleton told Umatilla County commissioners his daughter’s young life would be a nightmare without medical marijuana. He urged the board Tuesday to vote down a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

“If you ban dispensaries you are asking me to break the law,” Krenzler said.

Or drive to Portland to buy the product for his daughter.

The board considered the temporary ban in the wake of Senate Bill 1531, which Gov. John Kitzhaber has not signed. That bill allows counties to set up restrictions on how medical pot shops can operate, and it allows cities and counties to ban dispensaries until May 1, 2015. Hermiston City Council has already banned the shops.

The board heard from supporters of the moratorium and from medical marijuana advocates. About 40 people packed the new meeting room Tuesday at the Umatilla County Courthouse, Pendleton. After almost two hours, commissioners Larry Givens and George Murdock held off making any decision until March 19, when the third commissioner, Bill Elfering, would be present.

Krenzler has a Facebook page and website dedicated to documenting how his daughter, Mykayla Comstock, 8, used 2-3 grams of cannabis oil extract daily to fight intermediate risk T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia since her diagnosis in July 2012, and she continued taking the substance to alleviate the fatigue and sickness from chemotherapy.

Without the drug, he said, his daughter would be vomiting each day and not playing like a normal child. Krenzler asked commissioners to regulate the dispensaries, but not ban them.

At least two dispensaries operate in county jurisdiction near Hermiston. County planning director Tamra Mabbott said none went through the county’s planning process. But Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan said the problems with dispensaries goes deeper. He pushed for the moratorium.

The businesses operate outside regulations and lack any real oversight, Rowan said, and allowing more to open would create a public safety burden for the sheriff’s office.

County public health director Sarah Williams also supported the moratorium.

“There’s a lot of different things that need to be addressed to make sure the health of the public is maintained,” she said.

Jim Ruhe is the owner of The Releaf Center, one of those dispensaries near Hermiston. He argued the sheriff was wrong about oversight and claimed his business must account for every transaction, undergo full financial audits each year and meet other mandates.

“I have spent a significant amount of money to comply with what the health authority requires,” he said.

He also touted the success of medical marijuana to treat pain, seizures and even cure cancer, a claim some medical studies support on a limited basis. He said a moratorium would “leave people in the hole.”

His business and the Columbia Basin Compassion Center both are shut down and waiting for state approval, he said.

Jed Hummel said his daughter has a neurological health problem that required her to use opiates to control pain, but those drugs come with a risk of liver damage. She began using medical marijuana in November 2013 from a Hermiston dispensary and is off the opiates and feeling better.

He understands the criminal issues and acknowledged people abuse the drug, he said, but pointed out people also abuse alcohol.

Debbie Miller of Pendleton told commissioners medical marijuana relieves her depression and physical diseases and keeps her from giving up on her life. Jenifer Valley said she used medical marijuana to curtail her regimen of pills while she suffered thyroid cancer, and her mother would have survived cancer if she had safe access to the drug.

Valley also claimed Oregon law enforcement seized 13,000 illegal marijuana plants in 2013, a fraction of year’s prior, and prices of the drug have dropped. A long moratorium, she said, would introduce “the wild West show” of crime, which the dispensaries help curb.

Chris Roop, local businessman, asked the board to consider the economics of the ban. People already shop in Washington now, he said, and this would give them another reason not to shop local. Colorado, which has allowed recreation marijuana since the beginning of the year, brought in more than $2 million in state tax revenue from the program in its first 30 days according to the Associated Press.

County attorney Doug Olsen told commissioners the Oregon attorney general issued an opinion that federal law could preempt state law on the matter, and the Association of Oregon Counties recommended the moratorium.

After everyone who wanted to speak did, Givens said he was ready to vote. But Murdock said the board should wait until the next full meeting. Givens said that was fine with him.

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