LA GRANDE — A medicinal marijuana farmer is leading the charge to bring back a medical marijuana dispensary to La Grande.

Derik Drake, owner of Flower of Life Farms, Nyssa, is aiming to partially repeal Ordinance 3228 banning marijuana farming and distribution in La Grande in order to take over as owner of HWY 30 Cannabis. Drake hopes to gain 1,315 signatures by Monday, July 26, in order to put the initiative on the city ballot in November.

Drake and his team have frequented local shopping centers, events and the downtown area in order to advertise and garner support.

“We’re working at it from every angle,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep things moving in a positive direction in this community.”

In 2015, the city of La Grande adopted Ordinance 3228 banning medical marijuana processing sites, medical marijuana dispensaries, recreational marijuana producers, recreational marijuana processors, recreational marijuana wholesalers and recreational marijuana retailers. Despite the ban, HWY 30 Cannabis on Adams Avenue was grandfathered in as a result of being opened prior to the ordinance, which allowed the shop to continue operating as the only medical marijuana dispensary in the city.

As a local medical marijuana farmer, Drake sold his product to HWY 30 Cannabis for years and looked to take over the business as owner Rona Lindsey started planning her retirement. However, Drake taking over at the same location is banned by Ordinance 3228, since he would be opening a new dispensary by technical terms.

“So even though we’d be in the same building and doing the exact same thing that she was and staying medical, they’re not letting us enter,” he said.

After the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, Oregon saw a major shift from medical marijuana dispensaries to recreational dispensaries. Prior to ending its licensing and becoming a CBD and accessories store, HWY 30 stood as one of the few remaining medical dispensaries in the state for Drake to sell to.

“I just see it as a healing tool and a helpful thing that people need and can be educated about,” he said. “Even if you don’t support it, we’re keeping it off the streets. We’re regulating it and trying to do a positive thing for the community.”

According to La Grande Community Development Director Mike Boquist, HWY 30 and the Oregon Health Authority agreed upon not renewing the dispensary’s license.

As a result, all existing city permitting and grandfather rights expired when the license was not renewed.

“I don’t think they realized at the time that selling the property to a different dispensary to go in there was going to be a whole new permit and that it was going to be a problem,” Boquist said. “I think it just comes down to what the rules say and following that.”

If Drake gathers the required 1,315 signatures, the initiative to partially repeal Ordinance 3228 will likely make its way onto the November ballot for La Grande residents to vote on. The La Grande City Council could potentially move to approve the initiative prior to the November election or let it ride on the results of a vote in November.

When recreational marijuana was legalized, residents in La Grande voted in majority to ban its sale in the city. Since then, initiatives have been put into place by HWY 30 and city council members to lift the ban, which have never come to fruition.

In Councilman David Glabe’s 2020 campaign, he ran as an adversary to recreational marijuana in La Grande. He stated that he recognized the medical benefits for some individuals but does not condone any movement toward recreational sales.

While Drake is only looking to bring medicinal marijuana back into the community, there has been a lack of support in recent years as seen by HWY 30’s failed attempt to repeal the ordinance in March 2020.

“We know that La Grande is kind of conservative and that they don’t want a bunch more dispensaries in,” Drake said. “We’re just trying to allow (only) one location to open back up.”

As of Tuesday, July 20, Drake and his team had acquired nearly 1,000 signatures, with one week remaining to submit the required number of signatures.

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