After hearing two hours of impassioned testimony against a proposed ordinance that would put a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, the Albany City Council on Wednesday declined to hear a second reading of the ordinance and thus it was automatically held over to the council's next meeting in two weeks.
"How many people will die in those two weeks?" asked a voice from the standing-room only audience of about five dozen people.
About 20 people, some of them close to overcome with emotion, a number of them veterans, took turns telling the council why the panel should not make it harder for patients in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program to obtain what the state has determined to be a legal and beneficial pharmaceutical product. No one urged the city to enact a moratorium.
After a 10-minute intermission, the ordinance was read to the council once by Deputy City Attorney Sean Kidd, but when Councilor Bessie Johnson moved that it be read a second time in title only, a majority of her fellow councilors said no. The crowd groaned when Mayor Sharon Konopa announced that meant the ordinance would not be voted on Wednesday but rather would be taken up again April 9 and voted on at that time.
A second proposed ordinance, which would place restrictions on where dispensaries could be located, was not discussed Wednesday because that proposal would obviously be moot if the council votes to enact an up to 14-month moratorium.
Though the council did not vote on the moratorium Wednesday, following the public testimony each of the six councilors stated his or her opinion on it. Rich Kellum, Floyd Collins, Bill Coburn and Bessie Johnson expressed support for a moratorium; Ray Kopczynski and Dick Olsen were opposed.
Kopczynski said it was "unconscionable and morally indefensible" for the council to force patients in Albany to get their medical marijuana from dispensaries in other towns rather than their own.
The mayor, who votes only in the event of ties, reiterated her view that it's the council's job to revitalize and protect neighborhoods and talked about the damage "head shops" could do to an area's livability; that's why, she said, the council needed to control if and where dispensaries set up shop in Albany, and that based on whom she had heard from, residents are divided 50-50 on whether Albany should have dispensaries.
Below are some of the thoughts shared by those members of the public who testified Wednesday:
Michael Holloway: "I want that money (that's going to unlawful marijuana providers) out of their pocket and into our community."
J.D. Harris Jr.: "We need to open our heart to what is natural and true instead of keeping this witch hunt going for no purpose. Life is too short to be ignorant. We gotta understand, we gotta lighten up. What we've been doing the last 99 years has been wearing us out for no reason."
Scott Pierson: "The decision before you is a business decision. Sometimes an unpopular decision is the right decision. I hope you weigh it with both your mind and heart."
Michael Dee: "I don't think any of you doubt it's real medicine, at least for some of us. A dispensary will have no effect on its availability to kids. They all know where to get it or who to talk to if they don't. A dispensary is the same thing as a pharmacy; right now it's just segregated from the other ones."
Mickie Fluckiger: "It's a legal medicine in the state. These people have paid their dues and gotten their cards, and they should be treated as legal citizens able to access the service."
Chad Smith: "Most of these people have already paid out thousands of dollars in medical bills, and now you're asking them to travel farther (to get their medicine). It's time for us to stand up and do what's right."
Greg Bechtel: "Marijuana provides an avenue for people to get off opiates. The choice is simple."
Karen Chambers: "Opiates are a serious problem. They're killing people; cannabis is not. Don't lump these patients into the stoner category. We're talk about patients who suffer from a myriad of ailments."
Follow Steve Lundeberg on Twitter, @AnyGivenLundy, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.