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Oregon Retail Pot Sales Start October First…But Not Everywhere

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Chris Lehman
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Starting October 1st, adults in Oregon will be able to walk into a medical marijuana dispensary and buy pot for recreational use.

But not in dozens of communities across the state, where local officials have banned such sales. Correspondent Chris Lehman visited one of the towns that's just said no to recreational pot.

Across the street from a KFC in La Grande, Oregon, you can buy marijuana. If you know where to look.

Rona Lindsey: "There's no marijuana leaves, there's no any of that. We just have an open sign and a green cross in the window."

That's Rona Lindsey, the owner of Highway 30 Cannabis. The medical marijuana dispensary has been open just over a year. And despite the low-key storefront, she says business is brisk. It’s a victory of sorts for Lindsey, who was arrested along with her husband on drug charges in 2006 after police raided their home. All of those charges were dropped. Lindsey says the fact that the city allowed her to open a dispensary is a sign that her name was finally cleared. Still, she says she could reach even more customers if given the chance.

Rona Lindsey: "We get probably 40 phone calls a day and I don't know how many people walking in a day asking if they can come in and buy recreational."

The answer to that is "no." And it will stay "no" even after October 1st. That's the date Oregon lawmakers set for medical marijuana dispensaries to be able to sell pot to recreational users--that is, to people without state-issued medical marijuana cards. But the legislature also gave towns the chance to opt out of recreational sales. And that's what the La Grande City Council did. They join more than two dozen other cities and counties around Oregon that have banned retail sales of recreational marijuana. La Grande Police Chief Brian Harvey says he agrees with that decision.

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Credit Chris Lehman
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Medical marijuana cardholders can select the product of their choice at the sales counter of Highway 30 Cannabis in La Grande, Oregon.

Brian Harvey: "When you do the commercial component of it, where you've got a store that is no different than a grocery store, you can walk in there and get your marijuana, what message does that send to your kids? And how much more does that put out onto the street?"

Harvey says the council's decision reflects the will of local voters. Union County voted 59 percent against last year's measure that legalized recreational marijuana in Oregon.

Brian Harvey: "We have a more conservative populace in eastern Oregon. I don't think that's lost on anyone."

Now as it happens, I spent an hour on a downtown La Grande street corner, and only one person I talked to supported the ban on retail sales. And she didn't want to speak on the record. Everyone else I met, from a college student to a retiree, told me they didn't think marijuana was a big deal. Marie Balaban says she thinks city leaders will eventually change their minds.

Marie Balaban: "Well, I would expect that over time they'll change their opinion because of the income that that business would generate. And because in other places in the state it will be sold recreationally."

Back at Highway 30 Cannabis, I ask owner Rona Lindsey where she thinks people will have to drive to in order to purchase recreational marijuana. Will it be Bend? Portland? Maybe Washington state?

Rona Lindsey: "The nearest place is going to be on the street, is where they're going to go to get it. And where they are now purchasing it. If they're going to get it, they're going to get it, whether it's in a shop or in a street."

Lindsey says she thinks the real reason behind the ban on retail sales is that despite marijuana's legalization, there's still a stigma associated with the drug.

Rona Lindsey: "They think everybody's going to be the reggae, with dreadknots, and smoking on the streets and all that stuff. But that's really not how it is."

And Lindsey herself doesn't fit the stereotype of someone who sells marijuana, either. When she's not overseeing her dispensary, Lindsey heads down to her day job: She's an administrative assistant at the Union County Chamber of Commerce.

copyright, 2015 Northwest News Network