Ryan Alexander-Tanner

THE CITY'S fumbling attempts to regulate the pot industry have an unofficial motto of sorts: "It's still wrong."

That simple declaration has been uttered again and again in the last month—first in a set of three hearings over proposed licenses on cannabis businesses, then in private meetings between city staff and cannabis industry representatives.

Most recently, it was voiced by pot industry attorney Amy Margolis, who on Tuesday brought clients around Portland City Hall to impress upon city commissioners—again—that regulations the city is considering could hamper Portland's cannabis businesses.

"I am so tired of talking to the city," Margolis said. "Everybody is trying to act from best intentions, but they're about to create a pretty huge catastrophe."

This gets confusing, so let's back up.

Portland already has pot regulations. They were passed in rushed fashion on September 30, even as commissioners acknowledged they'd have to be tweaked.

The laws that sit on the books today are hard to fathom, tacked with provisions that require baroque calculations to decide who's allowed to sell you pot and who can't. They might become more confusing still under changes city council is scheduled to consider October 14, but they won't be any more palatable to the city's pot retailers—the very people the changes are aimed at.

That's largely because of a belief among city staff that marijuana's going to bring the same problems that alcohol does. No conversation about pot licensing goes far without some city official impugning the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for allowing problematic liquor establishments to festoon Portland.

"You guys are in some ways tarred by association," Deputy City Attorney Ben Walters told pot industry representatives at a recent meeting to hash out licensing rules. (Never mind that bars and pot dispensaries have little in common.)

The "tarring" Walters spoke of has led the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) to push rules that vastly limit the number of weed stores by ensuring that most can't be within 1,000 feet of one another.

It's this provision that's causing much of the trouble. It raises questions about whether existing dispensaries might get pushed out or be limited in their ability to sell recreational pot if other businesses encroach on their turf. And it's still in force under the "fixes" council will consider October 14.

At least one city commissioner thinks the city needs to rethink its strategy altogether. Since late last month, Commissioner Dan Saltzman has argued for drastically limiting the city's regulations on pot dispensaries.

The city's current laws seem "overly regulatory and overly duplicative," Saltzman said September 30. "We should let the market establish itself and it will shake itself out."

Margolis and her crew made a similar case on Tuesday in meetings with city staff. They say the city should pull back, rethink its strategy, and simplify its planned regulations.

Those pleas weren't enough to avert what will almost certainly be another contentious hearing. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees ONI, planned to take up the proposed changes despite industry concerns, her staff said, "still wrong" or not.