Over two years ago Oregon voters passed measure 91, legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana throughout the state.
Despite this, the sale of recreational marijuana is still illegal in 101 Oregon cities.
Measure 91 allows for City Councils to veto the law and place an indefinite ban on recreational sales; councils are also able to put a temporary ban in place and allow the community to vote again in the November elections. Either way, there are 101 cities in Oregon where no one is allowed to sell recreational marijuana.
While each city’s reasoning for maintaining the ban is slightly different, there are a few concerns that are universal.
City Council members are worried marijuana will affect the safety of the community, they have moral objections to the consumption of marijuana, they object to the technical breaking of federal law, and most are councils from smaller towns with traditional views.
Out of the 101 cities who have banned recreational marijuana, all but three have a population below 30,000.
Albany is one of the three.
As Mayor of Albany, Sharon Konopa has had a major role in the decisions made regarding the sale of both medical and recreational marijuana. She broke the 3-3 tie in council to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Albany. Over the course of an interview, it became clear that her opinions on recreational marijuana are murkier.
Konopa is about as straight edge as they come.
“I’ve never had a cigarette in my mouth, I don’t drink; none of that,” said Konopa.
But she insists she doesn't want her lifestyle to restrict the freedoms of others.
“It’s somebody’s choice in life, what they want to do,” said Konopa.
Even with her view on medical, Konopa supports the 4-2 Dec. 15 decision to ban the sale of recreational marijuana until the general vote in November. She cites the contentious Albany vote on Measure 91 as reason to enforce ban.
“[Measure 91] was passed by the voters, but in Albany it only passed by 398 votes,” said Konopa. “So when you have a town of almost 52,000, it creates a divided community. I heard from many people for it, and I heard from many people against it. The state allowed that we could go back out to the voters in November so we just went that route.”
She sees the vote as a toss up, a vote that could have gone either way, and feels that voters needed more time to cool down and think things over.
“Of the ones that testified, about 30 percentdidn't live in Albany,” said Konopa.“Every one of them were dispensary owners.”
Konopa believes a lot of the dissatisfaction could have had to do with a misunderstanding of the intent of Measure 91.
“They [Town Hall participants] didn't understand that what passed was the state was going to establish rules, and we’re only following the rules that the state established, “said Konopa. “A lot of them didn't want to accept that the rules were we could go back out to the voters if the city council wanted to, and we could ban it from going back to the voters.”
Each city council has legal rights to continue to enforce a recreational marijuana ban as long as they feel fit. The decision required some proactive action by the council in order for the ordinance (OR. 5862) to be put in place. If they were to take no action at all, the default result would have been the legalization of the sale of recreational marijuana.
The Council voted to sign and return a form called the “Local Option Opt-Out.” It would provide the OLCC a copy of their ordinance, and stop recreational marijuana sales.
It was a perfectly legal action taken in conjunction with State law.
Konopa met with every dispensary owner who requested a meeting and discussed the topic for as long as two hours.
According to Konopa, some of these conversations were just as unpleasant as the Town Halls, she remembers it was “very difficult having a conversation.”
One phone call stood out to her.
“[The dispensary owner] kept going back and saying, “the voters voted on it,” said Konopa. ”He just kept going on and on, and yelling and yelling, and I finally got off the phone and I realized wow, he was high on marijuana. It's not easy to discuss an issue with someone when they're high on marijuana and they don’t see that. They don't realize what their behavior’s like,” said Konopa.
Her opinion of marijuana use comes from her understanding of the plant as something intrinsically worse than alcohol.
“It wasn’t that the council said to ban permanently; it was only to ban temporarily, and let the voters have a second look,” said Konopa.
The Council could have agreed with the State of Oregon, the majority of cities in it, and the slight majority of Albany voters, by legalizing recreational marijuana and still holding a general election in November.
They chose not to.
In any issue as closely contested as recreational marijuana is in Albany, tempers can begin to flare; the period of public hearings before the vote in Dec. was no exception. Konopa feels that the supporters of recreational marijuana were disporporantly ill-behaved.
“I’ve been in public service for 20 years, and I've never seen so much disrespect for the public meeting process as when we had those hearings over marijuana,” said Konopa.
She cites a Sept. 23 meeting as especially bad.
“These people were just mad; and they were just being abusive, and so disruptive, and had no regards for the public meeting process, said Konopa.“That for me was very disheartening.”
Not only were they out of order, but almost a third of attendants at the Town Hall meetings weren’t even from Albany.
Ray Kopczynski and Dick Olsen were the two “No” votes on the banning ordinance.
Konopa said, “They saw nothing wrong with Marijuana at all, they just think it should just be allowed like alcohol. They didn't see anything wrong with it.”
According to voting record, neither did the majority of voters in Albany.
In November citizens of Albany will finally have a chance to repeal the ban via voting. But what will actually happen? There’s no way to be sure; not even Konopa has any idea.
“I just don't know [if the ordinance will pass]. At first I kept thinking, over time, it might not pass.
I think that 400 person swing could go back to banning, it just all depends. But some of the people that maybe were adamant against it before, they might say, ‘Oh well I don’t see any issues now,’ and they might approve it,” said Konopa.
But, she says, one thing is certain about the November vote; it will require an active interest in the democratic process to be shown by the younger generation. In order to secure the ability to purchase and sell recreational marijuana, 18-24 year olds must make their voices heard.
“It's going to take the younger population to go out and vote. If they want the marijuana they’re going to have to be out there and do some voting, because those seniors are going to be voting no,” said Konopa.