Sean Flanagan and his partner, Michelle Kramer have twice unsuccessfully lobbied the Joseph City Council for permission to open a recreational and medicinal marijuana dispensary within the city.
The two, who own the Peace Pipe, a smoking accessory store in Joseph, desided to bypass the council and go directly to the taxpayers. They gathered enough signatures from Joseph citizens to put the issue to a city-wide vote in November’s general election as Ballot Measure 32-42.
They had petition signature sheets in their store, used word-of-mouth and also tried going door-to-door.
“It wasn’t a good idea,” Flanagan said. “We had a lot of naysayers who were unhappy about us coming to their house and asking them about it. We got screamed at a couple of times for that reason.”
Qualifying for the ballot meant 87 signatures. They turned in 183, of which 104 were accepted by the Wallowa County Clerk. Reasons for the difference included 30 signers who weren’t yet registered to vote and 35 who were from outside city limits, according to Kramer.
According to Flanagan, most of the resistance he’s met is from people who believe marijuana is a gateway drug into methamphetamine use, or that marijuana will end up in the hands of minors.
“You have to be 21 to even come on our property,” he said. “We don’t want kids to get hold of it.”
Flanagan said that if even 10 percent of the area’s several hundred thousand visitors annually dropped $50 at the store, the city would reap reward in the form of tax collected on each sale. He estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 people in the county as well as more from La Grande, which doesn’t have a recreational dispensary, would also add to the city’s coffers.
Flanagan said that the negative reaction from some citizens at city council meetings have kept the couple from overt efforts to keep the ballot measure in the public eye, but they planned to mail out a circular to the public.
Despite pushback from the Joseph City Council as well as the city councils of Lostine and Wallowa, they do not plan to give up. Flanagan said that as more people become informed about marijuana, the more accepting they are toward legalizing it.
“We’re not taking a no, and we’re not walking away from it,” Flanagan said.
Kramer urged that everyone possible get out and vote. She noted that Joseph voters have the power to speak through their votes and decide the issue.
“This is finally a chance for everyone to have their say,” she said. “We have to fight for every single vote that we can get.”
Among those in Joseph not enamored with the idea of legalized marijuana is Mayor Dennis Sands. He is against the measure, particularly in light of the fact that the council has already turned down Flanagan’s idea twice. The mayor said he’s talked to a number of citizens on both sides of the issue.
“Most of the people I’ve talked to say they will vote against it, but I talk to people who say they will vote for it,” Sands said. “I’ve talked to a number of people who may not approve of marijuana, but they approve of the revenue it may generate.”
He agreed the revenue could be counted as “extra money,” but problems that may come with retail marijuana could make the measure’s approval more trouble than it’s worth.
“There’s increased law enforcement, and we’re already struggling with our sheriff’s contract,” he said.
The mayor said he’s talked with the mayor of Huntington, which legalized marijuana sales nearly as quickly as it was able to do so once state law changed. The town has two retail stores, a grow facility and a processing plant.
The town budgeted $400,000 for city coffers for expected revenue, but not everyone is pleased.
“They’re not at all happy with the traffic it brings to town,” Sands said. He noted that the town had to make a number of adjustments, including assuring the product wasn’t used in public restrooms.
Much of Huntington’s marijuana traffic comes from Idaho and Ontario. Should either approve sales, Sands said it would greatly inhibit Huntington’s revenue.
Sands also said that kids picking up the habit are another concern for him.
“I guess it’s just the general permissiveness of it,” he said. “They can get it on the black market or have an adult buy it for them.”
He added that the costs of alcohol abuse are well-known, and he believes legalizing marijuana would add fuel to the fire.
Because of language in a city ordinance, a dispensary could only be located on the north end of Joseph, where visitors would see it upon entering town.
“I think it affects the city of Joseph,” he said. “Not in a good way.”
The mayor predicted the vote would be close.
“My estimate is 55 percent ‘no’ and 45 percent ‘yes,’” he said. “It could be closer.”