Pot politics on the down-low in Cannon Beach

In Cannon Beach the biggest surprise of the November election is the sound of silence.

After a City Council meeting this spring opened the doors licensing of retail marijuana dispensaries within city limits, opponents reacted quickly. “We will do an initiative,” Cannon Beach resident Marlene Laws announced after the meeting.

Despite the success of state Measure 91 allowing recreational sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana — approved by 63 percent of Cannon Beach voters in November 2014 — the city only licenses businesses which abide by local, state and federal law, which excludes pot. After hearing opinions from both sides of the issue, councilors considered an array of options, including to opt out of state law and maintain a ban on marijuana sales.

Sam Chapman of New Economy Consulting appeared before the council announcing his intention to open a dispensary, but until the city makes up its mind one way or another, he decided to wait.

“We are waiting for the Cannon Beach City Council to make a decision to allow medical marijuana dispensaries,” Chapman, who lobbied for the state’s Measure 91 legalizing recreational cannabis, said in March. “It sounds like they’re split on the issue. I hope they decide that they’re bringing new jobs and a new economy … I’m hoping sooner rather than later the council will allow dispensaries to exist.”

In April, with pressure to take action from the state, councilors were divided over the range of options: repeal of the existing ordinance that prohibits the operation of any marijuana facility, declare a ban on sales or refer the matter back to the voters.

Councilors never actually approved or denied the licensing of retail dispensaries; rather, they voted not to vote. Their action effectively opened the city’s door to retail dispensaries and recreational sales.

Opt-out initiative

Either way, residents could have forced an initiative to reverse their decision, and they did.

Marlene and Gary Laws, Jeremy Randolph, Nancy Giasson and Molly Edison formed the committee that brought the opt-out initiative to the city.

“I’d ask that you consider the fact that there is no good place in Cannon Beach for recreational marijuana sales,” Randolph said. “I moved to Cannon Beach for a very specific purpose. I wanted to live in a village. This is not a tourist town; this is a resort town.”

Their declaration immediately sent off alarm bells.

Pro-pot and anti-pot yard signs in Cannon Beach during peak tourist months? That’s something Cannon Beach City Councilor George Vetter said he feared. “It’ll be headlines in Portland,” Vetter said at a late-spring Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce coffee meeting. “Not too many towns are saying no with the kind of reputation we have. We’re a very well-known community. We reach to Vancouver, Seattle. If we don’t have to go through that, I don’t want to be the impetus.”

Vetter said he feared the city would lose out on state and local sales tax revenue on the sale of cannabis— disallow it and get nothing from the state’s projected annual take of more than $50 million in cannabis tax revenue.

“But the main risk of denying permits for cannabis sales is the publicity that would be associated with the decision,” Vetter said. “This is going to be during our peak season. We’re going to have all these marijuana signs, in stores and shops, signs that would be a distraction.”

In early July, the City Council voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance with time, place and manner restrictions for medical and recreational marijuana businesses, limiting sales down from Ecola Creek to Washington Street on the south, midtown from Harrison Street on the north to Elliot Way on the south, and Tolovana Park from Delta Street on the north to the northern boundary of Sand Castle Condominiums on the south.

On the ballot

As they had announced, Randolph and the anti-cannabis lobby in Cannon Beach gathered the 155 signatures and filed their petition. Measure 4-179 prohibits the sale of recreational marijuana in Cannon Beach, and asks voters: “Shall recreational marijuana producers, processors, wholesalers, and retailers be prohibited in Cannon Beach?”

If voted in, the measure would prohibit the establishment and operation of recreational marijuana producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers within the city of Cannon Beach.

If approved, the city would be ineligible to receive a share of state marijuana tax revenue and unable to impose local taxes or fees on its sale.

A separate vote initiated by the city will ask residents if a 3 percent tax should be applied to recreational marijuana sales.

The lawn signs feared? Not so much. Cannon Beach cannabis advocates are more furtive than a tourist with a vape pen.

Chapman and possibly others yet to declare themselves are waiting for the city’s results.

“We are waiting for the November vote to occur, then will move forward with solidifying our final location,” potential dispensary owner Chapman said.

Stalemate

Until then, the city is at a stalemate. City Planner Mark Barnes said the city’s business license requirements remain the same as they were before state residents endorse Measure 91.

“Since marijuana is still illegal by federal law, we can not accept any business license applications at this time,” Barnes said.

As for the lawn signs and national publicity?

No one registered an opposition to the initiative when it was advertised in the paper per Oregon law, Barnes said. “So I do not know of any organized opposition to the initiative to ban recreational marijuana businesses within the city limits of Cannon Beach.”

City Manager Brant Kucera said there has “not been a lot of activity” on either side, and the city had not received any licensing requests. “I’ve had maybe in the last six months two phone calls — and really nothing. It’s pretty low-key, apparently.”

“It’s pretty much under the covers,” Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Court Carrier said this month. “I do hear that people have so much access in other communities, it doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue.”

“I think Trump’s trumping it,” Kevan Ridgway of the chamber added.

Zach Zappone of Sweet Relief, in Astoria, Oregon. Cannon Beach residents may have to find sweet relief outside of their own c
Zach Zappone of Sweet Relief, in Astoria, Oregon. Cannon Beach residents may have to find sweet relief outside of their own city is a ballot measure passes in November.
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