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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Marijuana Dispensary Leads To Small Town Political Showdown

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network

The town of Gold Hill, Oregon is in turmoil. Two-thirds of its City Council is the subject of a recall election on Monday.

What has some of the 1,200 residents of Gold Hill so riled up? The targeted city leaders had voted to approve a medical marijuana dispensary.

From the outside, Breeze Botanicals doesn't look like a place that sells pot. There's a couple of crates of garden veggies out front. Walk inside, and you're greeted by soothing acoustic music. But there's one thing that hints of something amiss: A big sign that says "Vote No on the recall."

Owner Brie Malarkey said she really didn't want to get into politics when she opened her dispensary a few months ago.

"I'd much rather have my hands in the dirt and be an herbalist and working with patients and find the right herbs for them versus politicking,” she said. “But if we don't do that we'll have our rights taken away from us."

The recall election wouldn't specifically force Malarkey to close her doors. Instead, it's aimed at the four city council members who voted to approve the zoning changes necessary for Breeze Botanicals to open.

Doug Reischman, one of the council members whose volunteer position is at stake, defended the vote that landed him in hot water.

"What the council did was to stand up for the entrepreneurs,” he said. “And as long as they're running a legal business, there's no reason to stop it."

Clearly that view isn't held by everyone in Gold Hill. The recall petition accuses Reischman and three of his colleagues of disregarding the community's wishes.

Christine Alford lives across the street from the dispensary and said she'll vote to remove the council members from office.

"It reminds me of that old saying, ‘cotton is king down in the South,” she said. “Well, are those the new game rules, that marijuana is king and that it pre-empts everybody else's rights?"

Alford and other opponents said the dispensary is too close to a nearby church, city park and library. Under state law that’s okay.

Gold Hill voters have until Monday to turn in their recall ballots.