Locality Bans are Missing the Point

Oregon Senate Bill 1531, if passed, will amend Oregon State Law to allow local municipalities to regulate or totally restrict medical cannabis dispensaries. Similar efforts are underway in communities across the country, and are the focus of a front-page New York Times article.

While I understand that putting power in the hands of communities is usually a good thing, I can’t help but feel that the proponents of these local bans are missing the point.

First of all, local bans won’t do anything to keep recreational smokers or ambulatory medical users from obtaining their cannabis – they will simply drive to a city where dispensaries are allowed. One hopes they will not drive home under the influence, a problem which could be avoided if they didn’t have to travel.

In fact, local bans will create an incentive for cannabis sales in those localities to take place outside of the State regulatory framework (that is, illegally). Surely proponents of local bans wouldn’t want to create a business opportunity for drug dealers?

On the other hand, non-ambulatory or otherwise seriously ill patients who live in “dry” counties will face a huge inconvenience in traveling out of town to obtain their medicine. For someone dealing with a debilitating disease like AIDS or cancer, just getting through a normal day can be a tremendous struggle. Forcing these folks to travel just to obtain their medicine is probably the exact opposite of what proponents of local bans want, but if SB 1531 passes, that is exactly what will happen.

If these issues sound familiar, they should – these are some of the same issues which have driven the cannabis legalization movement for decades.

Professor Doug Berman at the Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform Blog has a different take, arguing that cannabis reformers should support local control. His colleague, Professor Robert Mikos, disagrees, and points out a number of overlooked costs likely associated with local control.