Kenny Francis and his wife, April, are anxiously awaiting Monday when he can mail off an application to the state to begin the process of opening their shop in Brookings: South Coast Dispensaries, a medical marijuana supply firm at 1025 Chetco Ave.

He took a step forward Tuesday, when the state Senate gave unanimous approval to Senate Bill 1531 that says local government can regulate but not ban dispensaries. The state last year approved House Bill 3460 that legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal uses, including pain management, glaucoma, complications from AIDS and many other ailments.

"The problem is there is no real licensing or regulation for testing facilities, manufacturing, baking, packaging - it's all pretty much unregulated," said Curry County Commissioner David Brock Smith at a board meeting Wednesday.

Smith added, "We have the most unregulated medical marijuana program in our nation."

The Brookings' couple has been advertising the business in the Curry Coastal Pilot as "Brookings premier professional medical marijuana dispensary: featuring a large variety of medicinal cannabis and accessories."

Francis realizes that his ad in the Pilot notes that the opening of his dispensary on Chetco Avenue is contingent on local and state government approval - of which there are 30 pages of requirements in Oregon.

At least two cities - Beaverton and Tualatin - have implemented temporary bans to give their city councils time to develop local regulations, although Brookings elected officials have said they don't intend to add anything on top of what the state already requires.

"It's a highly charged issue," said Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog. "But the state's doing a good job. And as far as the feds coming in on it, on this issue, it's not a federal issue; they should stay out of it. We're going to oblige by state and state court rulings rather than federal ones."

Curry County and Port Orford officials have yet to discuss the issue, and Gold Beach is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"This is a touchy one for me," said Gold Beach Mayor Karl Popoff. "Personally, I don't want anything to do with them. But we've decided we're going to go ahead, sit back, wait a little bit and see what state is planning to come up with in March."

State legislation

Currently, the only thing threatening to sideline the legislative bill allowing counties and cities to add further regulations is Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who is trying to get a party-line vote to, in essence, get the bill into committee where it could very well die.

Local officials don't want it to die because then they would have no local control over how dispensaries are regulated - including hours of operations, locations and proximities to schools, and who may operate such a business.

Francis has been through the hoops and is keeping an eye on legislation throughout the nation.

"We are opposed to the whole Bob Marley, Rasta colors. ... I'm doing alternative health care - professional health care. We'll have a doctor here, a chiropractor, people from several different professions."

He ran his phone number with his advertisement to address concerns and questions people might have.

And he's received hundreds of calls.

"It's not to convert people, but assure them it's not going to be a bunch of hippies out front smoking joints; that's not what we're doing," Francis said. "I have not gotten a single call of concern other than, 'When are you going open?' or 'Do you want to buy product from me?'"

Francis said he's "hemorrhaging money" to open his store - at the earliest by mid-March - but is certain business will be robust.

"There's only room in the city of Brookings for two (dispensaries)," he said. "Between the setbacks and the zoning with schools, I've chewed up the entire north end of Brookings."

And there are 700 medical marijuana cardholders in Brookings alone, he added.

"Just the little city of Brookings," Francis said. "People you would never think of - and I'm not naming names - but you'd think, 'Holy cow! Are you serious?'"

Personal testimony

Francis and his family know the benefits of medical marijuana first-hand.

"It saved my life," he said. "I was bedridden for two years in the hospital with diabetic neuropathy. I weighed 105 pounds. I couldn't work and I was in an intense amount of pain."

The doctors gave Francis pain pills, "but when one would stop working, they'd just switch me to another one.

"I held a gun to my head because of the pain," he said. "I was addicted to pain pills, I was having issues with my liver, and my teeth were rotting away."

Francis said he never came in contact with marijuana until age 23, when a friend offered him some to relieve his pain.

"Someone told me to try it and it just flipped a switch. Within a month I was off all meds and was able to start working again," he said. "This (information) needs to get out, people need to know this. I'm one story out of millions. It gave me a second lease on life."

April believes medical marijuana saved her husband and gave their children their father back.

"It makes it possible for daddy to go dirtbike riding with our kids again," she said.

Other challenges

Francis has a lease on a building and a banking institution on board - that's been a challenge in other states where banks didn't want to be involved with activities that might be perceived by federal agencies as laundering - and is awaiting his state permit before installing vaults and a security system.

"There is no banking institution that is going to stand by and miss that kind of revenue," Francis said. "And I'm not different than any other business."

Security cameras will tie directly to the state, and the building will be secure - another concern in other cities.

"We'll be more secure than a bank," he said. "Product will be in cinderblock vaults with steel-reinforced blocks. Someone would be a fool to try to break in."

And then there's the feds.

The federal government, in the meantime, has been increasingly rattling its sabers regarding marijuana legalization at any level.

Its stance has many city and county elected officials wondering how to balance the will of the voters - legalization of the plant - with federal law that still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

"We took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the land," Popoff said. "We're having a problem with this in that the U.S. government does still not allow these things. It's the state governments that are doing it."

Francis thinks otherwise.

"In one to three years," Francis predicted, "it'll be industrialized. The government will be making 10 times what they're spending to enforce it. They realize it; they're just saving face. They're going to have to say, 'We were wrong, it's not addictive, it's not like crack and cocaine and meth.

"It's been around for thousands of years. Let's get on board and make some revenue off of it."

Francis can be reached by calling 541-373-1793.