COVE - The Cove City Council may alter its course on marijuana.
The council took a big step Tuesday toward opting out of Measure 91, the measure Oregon voters passed in 2014 legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes.
The council, after taking input from the public, conducted a first reading of an ordinance calling for the city to opt out. A second reading of the ordinance is set be conducted at a Dec. 22 council meeting. If the council approves the second reading, the ordinance would take effect immediately under an emergency clause that would be invoked by the council.
Earlier this month it appeared that Cove would not opt out of Measure 91. The council, at its Dec. 1 meeting, did not opt out of Measure 91 when the subject, which was an agenda item, came up at the meeting. City councils have until late December to opt out of Measure 91.
Cove Mayor Lyndon Rose, who was not at the Dec. 1 meeting, last week called for meetings of the council to gather input from Cove residents about how they felt about the sale of recreational marijuana.
"I don't think that a small group should vote for the majority of people unless they hear what the majority has to say," he said.
Nobody from the public spoke with the council about marijuana at the Dec. 1 meeting.
Close to 25 people attended Tuesday's meeting, with a majority being Cove residents. A show of hands - asked for by Rose - indicated that close to all of the Cove residents opposed the sale of recreational marijuana in their city.
Joyce Coates of Cove said that legalized marijuana would raise the community crime rate.
"We have no police force," she said. "Any income we would get (from marijuana taxes) would be surpassed by the security cost."
Gary Hager of Cove also said the community's crime rate would rise if marijuana is allowed to be sold for recreational reasons.
"A number of people firmly believe the crime rate would go up," Hager said. "I want to keep this a nice quiet place."
Hager also said the sale of marijuana would set a bad example for young people in the community. They would see that if it is OK to sell marijuana and then assume it is OK to use, he said.
Carl Seelhoff, a pastor of the Grace Lutheran Community Church in Cove, also expressed opposition to allowing marijuana to be sold in Cove for recreational purposes.
He cited the results of a study written about in a 2014 article in the Humboldt Journal of Social Relationships, indicating about 14 percent of Oregonians use about an average of 1 ounce of marijuana a month. He said assuming 14 percent of Union County residents regularly smoke marijuana, this could spell trouble for Cove if it were the only city in the county where recreational marijuana is sold, a possibility since many Union County cities are opting out of Measure 91.
Seelhoff said that if Cove were the only city in Union County where recreational marijuana was sold, about 43,000 trips to Cove would be made a year by county residents to Cove to buy the drug. He said the additional traffic would not be good for Cove.
Seelhoff also presented a letter to the city council from the Leadership Board of the Grace Community
Lutheran Church in Cove. The letter asks the council to opt out.
Cove is among the municipalities that has the option of banning the sale and production of marijuana under House Bill 3400, which was passed earlier this year. Municipalities have the option if they are in counties, such as Union County, where at least 55 percent of those voting cast ballots against Measure 91 in 2014. Approximately 59 percent of Union County voters opposed Measure 91. Cove voters rejected Measure 91 174-104 in 2014.
Cities that opt out will not be able to share in revenue from the state tax on recreational marijuana sales, something Cove City Councilor Doug Kruse said is an important factor to consider. He said the city is strapped for funding and has limited means of raising additional money.
If Cove were not to opt out, it would be hard for a store selling recreational marijuana to open in Cove because the land available for the operation of such a store is limited, according to Councilor Regina Kruse. Most of the land in Cove's commercial zone is within 1,000 feet of Cove School District property. Measure 91 stipulates that no retail marijuana shops can operate within 1,000 feet of a school.
Rose, who said he is personally opposed to allowing the sale of recreational marijuana, said the public input from Tuesday's meeting will be given serious consideration.
"We will take what you said to heart seriously," Rose said.