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The city approved it, but residents say the placement of this dispensary violates state law

DAVID F. ASHTON - A group of neighbors and parents protested publicly at the site of Electric Lettuce Sellwood, a cannabis dispensary licensed to open near a preschool on S.E. 13th Avenue. Most of the recent push-back against the location of a new cannabis dispensary in Sellwood has been done by individuals, writing and calling City of Portland and state officials.

The subject of the protest is the "Electric Lettuce Sellwood" shop, now preparing to open at 7703 S.E. 13th Avenue, next to a toy store and just down the block from a preschool. It's that preschool nearby that appears to be contrary to state distance restrictions, but apparently not City of Portland restrictions.

One neighbor, Gregory Hemmen, says he's been talking to officials about pot stores being located near preschools for a year now.

For example, Hemmen alleges that the City of Portland's "Cannabis Map" inaccurately depicts St. Agatha Catholic School as being outside the boundary of the exclusion zone of a dispensary on S.E. Tacoma Street.

The "Creative Minds Learning Centers, Sellwood" school, which Hemmen's daughter attends, is situated at 7733 S.E. 13th Avenue, in the same block as the "Electric Lettuce Sellwood" dispensary. "Creative Minds is a legitimate K-12 school, as defined by Oregon Department of Education", contended Hemmen, and thus his concern.

"However, I've been raising these issues of dispensaries being too close to schools with the City of Portland [Cannabis Program], via emails and calls, since August of 2018 – well before [this business was licensed on S.E. 13th Avenue], near my daughter's school," Hemmen pointed out.

Repeated calls to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's compliance division weren't answered until July, Hemmen said. "There has been little or no coordination between the OLCC and the Oregon Health Authority, regarding setting boundaries and regulations," he told THE BEE.

"I'm not against the cannabis industry; but the concentrations of them going in is troubling," Hemmen said. "I think sensible barriers do need to exist between such shops and our kids' schools.

"I foresee how Oregon will become a 'case study' of how not to implement cannabis sales, relative to the protection of kids," remarked Hemmen.

Neighbors protest at store

On August 2, a group of neighbors gathered in front of the "Electric Lettuce Sellwood" location, carrying signs protesting the location of this cannabis dispensary.

"I represent people in the neighborhood who are concerned about this marijuana dispensary being put in right next to a toy store, and just down the street a preschool," said Michelle Forbes.

In addition to being located near a preschool, and within 500 feet of the Sellwood Branch Library, she said, "What really concerns me most is their advertising scheme – it's very colorful, and playful; at this location, it's really inappropriate.

"And, it's kind of like your modern day 'Joe Camel' situation," Forbes told THE BEE, referring to a past marketing tactic in the cigarette industry.

She, too, was concerned that while there are city regulations that prohibit dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, "they've left out preschools within that definition."

Neighbor receives 'notice'

Only neighbors in close proximity to proposed dispensaries receive cannabis license notices from the City of Portland, THE BEE learned. "I received the notice because we live within 300 feet of the dispensary," said Jonah Edelman, one of a group of neighbors who retained an attorney to help oppose the "Electric Lettuce Sellwood" store.

"To be clear, this is about, first, stopping a fast-growing company that apparently lacks basic decency and any regard for the well-being of children from illegally locating a dispensary next to a preschool/kindergarten.

"And, second, urging the City of Portland to update its marijuana dispensary location rules to better protect children from excessive marijuana marketing that's proven to increase highly detrimental teenage use."

Margaret S. Olney of Bennett Hartman Attorneys at Law, LLP, confirmed to THE BEE: "Yes, I was retained by concerned citizens to analyze the issue and write a [legal] memo. Edelman said that Olney submitted a "five-page legal memo on our behalf" to Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeve on August 12.

"Olney argues that the Electric Lettuce Sellwood siting is unquestionably illegal because it violates the 1,000 foot distance requirement from K-12 public, private, and parochial schools in ORS 475B.105, due to being less than 100 feet from a preschool with a full day kindergarten, which results in it meeting the definition of a private school laid out in ORS 339.030," Edelman stated.

Cannabis Program 'follows the Code'

After many neighbors wrote to Portland City Mayor Ted Wheeler and other elected officials, expressing concern about this marijuana dispensary's location, the City of Portland Cannabis Program – overseen by the recently renamed Office of Community & Civic Life – received word from the City Attorney about the matter.

"The City Attorney wrote back to concerned people saying that, in their view, a commercial preschool doesn't qualify as a school, under city code," said Cannabis Program Supervisor Brandon Goldner.

"Cannabis businesses are regulated 'strictly', in Portland," Goldner told THE BEE. "We have regulations that, if a [cannabis] business causes livability concerns, the Code gives our program a way to do something about it; if there are impacts, then we can respond," he added.

Before the City's Cannabis Code was drafted in 2015, Goldner, pointed out, there were community meetings and open houses.

"I'll do my best explain the history and Code to those who ask; and at the same time, people should feel comfortable reaching out directly to their elected officials," Goldner said. "The Portland City Council can change the Code." There was no specific response to the charge that the city code may be in conflict with the state statute.

Calls by THE BEE asking for comment from Groundworks Industries, the parent company of Electric Lettuce Sellwood, were not returned.

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