A citizen-led initiative to let voters decide if recreational marijuana should be banned will begin circulating this week. The organizers of the initiative say it’s not about being anti- or pro-marijuana. It’s about giving the City of La Grande voters a right to decide for themselves.
The initiative’s co-sponsors, Chris Jennings and David Moyal, have approximately two weeks to gather 1,200 signatures to get this initiative on the November ballot.
Recreational marijuana was made legal in Oregon in 2014, but the La Grande City Council took advantage of an option to opt out and banned recreational dispensaries within the city limits. Since then, due to the potential tax income and since the vote was nearly split down the middle, the council has revisited the issue. This April, the council voted 5-2 to take steps toward repealing the ban and let the residents decide, with Councilors Troy Pointer and Mary Ann Miesner voting against it. While some councilors said they are against legalizing the sale of marijuana in La Grande, they thought allowing the voters a chance to decide is the best course of action.
In May, the council took its first formal steps toward this by holding the first reading of the measure, without much discussion from the council or the public. In June, when the second reading was held, more opponents to repealing the ban attended the meeting and spoke up against it.
Jennings said those opponents were “very vocal” with their opinions, which ultimately led the councilors to change their minds. Some councilors noted that no one had personally spoken to them about supporting the repeal.
“The council got beaten over the head by those who were angry about the possibility (of legalizing marijuana) without thinking through the decision,” Jennings told The Observer. “They backed away from their decision.”
At the second reading, the council voted 6-1 to leave the ordinance as is, with councilor Nicole Howard being the single vote against.
According to Jennings, the fact the council stated multiple times that democracy should decide on this issue, but then took away that right from the voters “riled up a large amount of people.”
He said the comments on The Observer’s Facebook page and on other media outlets’ posts show that many people in the community are not happy with the council’s decision to continue the ban — and Jennings and Moyal decided to take action.
“We took it upon ourselves to figure out the system and what the (options to respond to this) are,” Jennings said.
The option to pursue a citizen-led initiative was decided upon, but it requires a quick course of action.
He said the deadline to get the signatures is approximately mid-July.
“It is a quick-paced thing,” he said.
Jennings and other initiative volunteers will be going to the La Grande Farmers Markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays to gather signatures. He is also holding an event at Max Square on July 11 — the same night as the next city council meeting and directly across the street — to voice their “dissatisfaction.”
The proposal to repeal the ordinance has not been fully supported. While a large number of people have voiced their support of repealing the ban, the majority of residents attending La Grande City Council meetings have spoken against allowing recreational marijuana.
Jennings said signing the petition is not an admission of being pro-marijuana.
“It’s very much about expressing our right to vote,” he said. “The organizational chart of the city is the community stands above the council.”
He said the voters need to hold the council responsible for the decision they made.
“Whether you vote pro or against, please express your right to vote,” he said.
Jennings has started a Facebook page that will include updates about the initiative. The page is called, “Our Valley, Our Voice, Our Vote.”
Contact Cherise Kaechele at email@example.com . Follow Cherise on Twitter @lgoKaechele.