La Grande City Councilor Nicole Howard ended Wednesday night’s three-hour meeting asking the councilors to “own up” to their decision in June not to pursue allowing the voters to legalize recreational marijuana dispensaries within city limits.
Mayor Steve Clements admitted it was a decision he has regretted making.
“We got into the (discussion) of the pros and cons of marijuana,” Clements said. “I didn’t vote for the item in front of us. I didn’t vote correctly.”
In April, the majority of the council voted to put a measure that would ask voters whether they wanted to legalize recreational marijuana dispensaries on the ballot. Some of them stated although they would likely vote against the ordinance in the November election, they would support the action of taking that decision to the voters.
At the June meeting, when the ordinance was in its second reading, a group of people pleaded with the council not to support putting it on the ballot. The council listened to those participants and voted not to pursue the ordinance.
Because of that, a citizen-led initiative is circulating to bring that issue to the voters.
Clements said the council lost sight of the original intention and should’ve let the voters decide.
“There are very few times I’ve regretted a decision I’ve made, and this is one of them,” he said.
Councilor Gary Lillard said those community members who had supported the ordinance in April but did not return in June to give testimony should not have assumed the process was over.
While many argued the council took away the voters’ democratic rights, Lillard said he doesn’t agree, noting that “the county and city (already) voted against it.”
He said a citizen-led initiative is more appropriate than the city council implementing another vote. If the council were to bring this to the voters again, he said, it would be as if they were saying their original votes on legalizing marijuana didn’t count.
Howard, who was the only voice on the council who wanted to pursue the ordinance in the June meeting, said while she didn’t entirely disagree with what Lillard said, the council should have kept their word.
“It was confusing. We said we were going to take care of this,” she said. “That’s really an injustice. We supported it in April.”
Lillard said the process wasn’t complete in April and people should not have assumed it was a done deal.
“We need to own the bait and switch,” she said.
The majority of those who participated in the public hearing at Wednesday’s meeting agreed with Howard.
David Moyal, one of the two co-sponsors of the initiative, voiced his disappointment with the council when they “reversed course.”
Moyal said the June decision left the citizens with a very tight deadline to gather the signatures needed to put the measure on the November ballot.
Even if they do not get enough signatures, he said, they’ll pursue the initiative again.
“Our initiative may not have enough time to gather signatures,” he said, “but we’ll be back.”
Ashley O’Toole, who is running for city council in November, said the council “lost focus” on what the discussion was about.
“The discussion was about whether or not the citizens of La Grande should be allowed to vote on such a hot-button issue,” he said. “I agreed with your 5-2 vote in April to put it on the November ballot. I even remember more than one of you having a sentiment of wanting to see it on the ballot just so you can vote no. So what happened last month?”
O’Toole said he doesn’t want people to buy marijuana on a street corner or from some shady characters.
“Every weed dealer in La Grande should be here right now saying, ‘Thank you for your continued support,’” he said. “It has been proven around the state, and more so in other states where it has been legalized longer, that legalized, regulated cannabis sales have all but dried up black market activity.”
Brent Clapp, who owns La Grande Alive TV and records the city council meetings, supported the council’s decision. He said it is inaccurate for people to say the council is not allowing them to participate in the democratic process.
“It’s disingenuous,” he said. “No one took your right to vote away. They took away the way to make it easier.”
Contact Cherise Kaechele at ckaechele@lagrandeobserver. com. Follow Cherise on Twitter @lgoKaechele.