A plea for pot: The fate of a medical marijuana business rests on vote

A plea for pot: The fate of a medical marijuana business rests on vote »Play Video

Update: Washington County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday night, approving a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.


ALOHA, Ore. -- The big sign hanging over the storefront says Westside Wellness, although all is not well inside.

The two women who own the medical marijuana dispensary said Tuesday night's vote by the Washington County Board of Commissioners could shut down their business before it ever even opened.

"The county commissioners will be deciding our fate," said Claudia Lavander, who thought the dispensary she owns with her partner would already be open.

There's no question anymore whether medical marijuana dispensaries like theirs in Aloha are legal.

Now it's only a matter of when.

State lawmakers passed a bill last year allowing people like Lavander to register dispensaries with the Oregon Health Authority.

Lavander and her partner sunk $70,000 into the business, stock shelves, invested in high-tech security and signed a lease for their shop in a strip mall just off TV Highway.

And then March 2014 happened.

Lawmakers passed another bill, signed by the governor, giving cities and counties the power to adopt a one-time-only delay.

More than 100 local jurisdictions in Oregon did just that -- including the cities surrounding Lavander's business: Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood.

Westside Wellness is in the unincorporated areas of Washington County, which will decide Tuesday night whether it will join its neighbors and adopt a year-long moratorium.

The bill that passed in March allows cities and counties to stop dispensaries from operating until May 2015, but only if they enact the moratorium by May 1.

Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett issued a public plea to the commissioners asking them to vote "yes" on the delay.

He posted a letter on the county's website, calling the current set of state rules unsafe.

Among other concerns, Garrett questioned whether zoning restrictions should be tougher, banning dispensaries from opening near parks or libraries, for instance.

There are no such things within earshot of Westside Wellness, which is on Frontage Road in a strip mall shared by tenants like an auto parts store and a construction company.

"We're trying to bring legitimacy to our medication," said Lavander. "We deserve it to be respected as well as the pharmacies."