“Fearsome Foursome” breaks stalemate, votes to put marijuana sales ban on ballot

Three members of the “Fearsome Foursome” show off the outfits they wore to Tuesday night's Pendleton city council meeting. Tom Young, Becky Marks, and Neil Brown, along with John Brenne, not pictured, were given that nickname in a Nov. 19 East Oregonian editorial for voting to not let residents vote on a marijuana ban.

The Pendleton City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that refers a marijuana sales ban to the ballot Tuesday, but not without some sartorial flair.

The four councilors that previously voted for an indefinite ban without a voter referendum — John Brenne, Tom Young, Neil Brown and Becky Marks — came to the meeting wearing shirts that read “Fearsome Foursome,” a reference to a Nov. 19 editorial published in the East Oregonian.

The editorial was critical of the opposition of the four councilors to a ballot referral at the Nov. 17 meeting. But Brown said their vote that night was less about barring public input and more about getting additional time to review the draft ballot referral City Attorney Nancy Kerns introduced at the meeting.

“If anyone in this room buys a house or a car or anything for investment, I don’t care what it is, without reading the contract or the agreement, do you think that would be a wise move?” he said.

Not everyone liked the foursome’s fashion statement.

“I would especially like to thank the Fearsome Foursome for ... their illustration of the split of this council, which I think illustrates the split in this town (between) those who think people should have a choice (and) people who think they should have their choice made for them,” resident Bruce Staley said.

Staley was one of three Pendleton residents to voice their opposition to the indefinite ban during the public hearing. Over the course of three city council meetings, 15 members of the public opposed the ban while four members supported it.

The past two meetings were mired in stalemates as the indefinite ban couldn’t get the requisite five votes for passage and an amendment to refer it to the ballot was voted down 5-4. But the council had no such trouble on Tuesday.

Both the ballot referral amendment and the ordinance enacting the temporary ban passed 8-0. The ban will last until the November 2016 election, in which voters can either make the ban permanent or repeal it.

Marks offered her begrudging support for the ballot referral.

“I’m not happy about it,” she said. “I think it’s the wrong move for Pendleton to make. I think we’re sending the wrong message to young people.”

Even though the members of the council decided to refer the ban to voters, there’s still work to be done on how the ballot will be presented.

Councilors have previously suggested that medical and recreational marijuana sales be presented as separate referendums, with an additional question asking voters to approve a local 3 percent tax on recreational marijuana.

Mayor Phillip Houk threw another idea into the pot, proposing the city operate its own dispensary if one or both ballot measures pass, which he said would ensure the store would be well-run and properly vetted.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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