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Marijuana dispensary moratorium?

SELLWOOD CONTROVERSY


by: DAVID F. ASHTON - The exterior of NW Green Oasis on S.E. Tacoma Street in Sellwood. On March 21, the Oregon Health Authority announced it had issued licenses to eight medical marijuana dispensaries – one of them in Sellwood. Since then, more than forty such licenses have reportedly been issued statewide. The Sellwood business is called “NW Green Oasis”, and it is sited in a former mortgage business office (“Bank of England”) at 1035 S.E. Tacoma Street, on the corner of 11th Street. On April 2nd, neighbors of the new Sellwood storefront gathered at the General Public Meeting of the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood association, SMILE, to seek its backing for their request for a moratorium on the already-opened store. The moratorium, through an act of the Oregon State Legislature, would close the doors of the business for up to a year, after which it could reopen and operate normally.

The owner, Kelly Green, and partners in the dispensary were present at that SMILE meeting to answer questions, and to assure its neighbors that the store was “not going to be an issue” for them. But the neighbors were adamant that although the business had apparently met all state and city rules in opening, the state law that permitted it just did not allow for sufficient notice and input from neighbors, and a moratorium was warranted. They wanted the SMILE Board to back their position.

Consequently, THE BEE paid a visit to the dispensary on April 16th to find out more about its operation. A partner in the new Sellwood dispensary welcomed us into the newly-opened business, after checking our identification at the security entryway window.

The store and its furnishings looked like an upscale jewelry store or coin shop. “We’ve been open about two weeks now,” said Sam Chapman.

As one of the co-authors of House Bill 3460, Chapman told THE BEE he knows well the security and testing rules imposed by the Oregon Health Authority, the licensing body – and the requirements of tracking “every single gram” of marijuana coming in from licensed suppliers and sold to customers.

“We refer to our clients as patients,” Chapman explained. “Everything in the store, and how we operate, is in 100% compliance with the law.”

He said that their business is more highly regulated than a liquor store, and just slightly less than a prescription pharmacy. “Of course, there are different regulations for all of those things, because these are such different products. I don't think that we should be regulated exactly like a prescription medicine pharmacy, although what we do has a many pharmacy aspects to it.”

Due to the nature of the product they stock, Chapman said – without going into detail – that security at medical marijuana dispensaries like theirs is necessarily very high.

The law insists that patients must have valid Oregon Medical Marijuana Program documentation in order to be buzzed in through the front security door.

Also, the “Green Oasis” strictly enforces the rule of “no medicating on premises”, Chapman added. “Some [other dispensaries] are trying to have a ‘lounge model’ of operation. We’re not opposed to that, but we are opting to run a business that is clean, safe, and where patients feel comfortable returning to.” For additional information, consult their website: http://www.portlandgreenoasis.com. On Wednesday, April 16, the neighbors returned to SMILE Station, at S.E. 13th and Tenino Street, to repeat their request for a vote at the monthly SMILE Board meeting supporting a moratorium of up to one year for the operation of the “Green Oasis”.

The neighbors repeated their concerns over lack of notice or input in the granting of both the state license and city business license to the store; and a woman who said she and her children live immediately adjacent to the dispensary have special concerns over the livability of their home if, in the November election, the recreational use of marijuana – still an illegal drug at the federal level – is permitted in Oregon by the voters. In that event, the dispensary could turn into a public retail store, she said.

After considerable discussion with the neighbors, and questions and comments by the ten members of the twelve-member SMILE Board who were in attendance, a motion was proposed by SMILE Transportation Committee Chair and Board member Brian Posewitz that acknowledged the primary concern expressed by the neighbors, and went considerably farther in scope than they had requested:

“Moved that SMILE send a letter to the City of Portland supporting a one-year moratorium on all medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, on grounds that there should be reasonable notice and opportunity to comment for nearby neighbors, and on the grounds that these facilities may require special land use considerations.”

The motion was seconded, and carried by a vote of 8 to 2. How the city may react to this blanket request is, as this is written, unknown. (Eric Norberg contributed to this report.)