First recreational marijuana business opens in Sherwood
For Sheri Ralston, it's been a long road to her quest for the legalization of recreational marijuana sales in Sherwood, along a path that resulted in local voters twice rejecting the measure before passing Measure 34-299 solidly in November.
But last month, Ralston opened the city's first recreational marijuana dispensary, Western Oregon Dispensary, in the same location where she currently operates a medical marijuana business at 15025 S.W. Tualatin-Sherwood Road.
"We had been medical for five years, and the last year, we were the only operating medical marijuana dispensary left in the state," she said. "We still strongly cater to that medical customer."
Ralston said the fact that it took three campaigns to allow for such sales in Sherwood was something of an anomaly in the state. It was the longest fight to get recreational marijuana sales approved of any city in the state that she's aware of.
"We learned a lot from the first two campaigns," Ralston said. "We learned what we were doing wrong and what we needed to focus on. The third campaign we were much more optimistic about, because it was an election year and the turnout is higher."
Several years have gone by since the sale of recreational marijuana became legal, and much of the initial stigma tied to it seems to have dwindled, Ralston observed. In addition, a younger population has moved into Sherwood since then who seem to be more open to marijuana, said Ralston.
Another factor she believes helped was the fact some customers were frustrated that they had to drive outside the city to the next closest outlets, located in Newberg or King City.
"We put together an aggressive campaign last year and it went relatively smoothly and we were very, very pleasantly surprised with the outcome with the strong voter turnout for it and then the city followed up very quickly, allowing us to open," Ralston said. "We were tenacious in our stand to make it happen, however long it was going to take."
The number of residents who said "yes" to the measure in November was dramatically different than those who said "no""in 2017, with support increasing by more than 10 points.
The Sherwood business is the fourth of Ralston's Western Oregon Dispensary stores to open, the others being in Newberg, Cedar Mill and Hillsboro.
Ralston said although the Sherwood campaign used every media outlet they could to get their message out, pushing for approval of recreational marijuana use in the city, organizers also ran into a fair amount of resistance.
"Two-thirds of our weekly sidewalk signs were stolen or damaged every week," said Ralston. "We had pushback from local advertising arenas, unwilling to allow us to advertise. We had some hate mail."
Long an advocate for marijuana, Ralston has years of experience in business, especially the retail sector.
"My husband got cancer and marijuana has always been a part of my life and I believed in it, much over alcohol, and so it was just an easy step for me to move in to," said Ralston, noting that marijuana sales is a challenging business but fun at the same time.
One of those who advocated for the passage of the Sherwood measure was Sean Garland, a member of the Sherwood City Council, something she believes was a plus. Another councilor, Renee Brouse, did not endorse the measure, but she said in November that she was impressed with Ralston's work in marketing the recreational marijuana measure and finding support for it.
While the COVID-19 pandemic meant a drop in sales for many retailers last year, Ralston said her businesses reported a solid year.
"We saw an untick of new customers and a fair amount of those new customers were looking for products for stress, sleep and anxiety, rather than for recreational use," Ralston said. "The new customer is more apt to move into an edible product rather than a smokable product."
Recent changes in zoning regulations in Sherwood's neighbor to the east have also allowed Ralston to eye future locations there.
In a 5-2 vote last fall, the Tualatin City Council agreed to loosen regulations there regarding where such facilities could locate, expanding those locations to include not only industrial zones, but commercial areas as well. Perhaps since industrial areas have less main roadway visibility because of their locations, no retail marijuana businesses have set up shop in Tualatin to date, something that is expected to change in the not-so-distant future.
"We have two locations right now secured, and that should be coming in the fall," Ralston said of future plans to locate in Tualatin. "That was, again, a four-year project — but the council has come around and changed the zoning and (worked) with us nicely, and we're excited about that, because all of our stores are on the Westside and that matches our business model."
She declined to say where in Tualatin, specifically, she is looking at putting a store.
Even with the passage of Measure 34-299 last November, Sherwood only allows marijuana facilities to be located in industrial zones.
While the amount of tax revenue Sherwood will collect from the recreational marijuana portion of the store is unknown, Ralston said she believes the store will generate the same, if not more, than her other stores.
"At the end of the day, our stores run quietly and efficiently in towns and we generate significant revenue for them and there was no reason why that couldn't happen in Sherwood and benefit from that," Ralston said.
Several years ago, Sherwood approved a 3% tax on marijuana products sold. Although the amount of revenue generated by those sales is anyone's guess, city officials have estimated it could run anywhere from $50,000 to $125,000 annually.
Ralston is upfront about the long push to see recreational marijuana come to Sherwood.
"We didn't spend five years trying to get that store recreational with the intent that it wasn't going to be a good volume store," she said. "The effort shows what we anticipate."
Sherwood recreational marijuana requests by the numbers
2020: Yes: 53.95%; No: 46.05%
2017: Yes: 38.03%; No: 61.97%
2016: Yes: 43.59%; No: 56.41%
— Washington County Elections Division final official numbers
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