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Weed advocates, anti-drug groups brace for influx of dispensaries

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Don Morse, co-director of the Human Collective medical marijuana dispensary on Barbur Boulevard, said he expects legal recreational marijuana will create an influx of dispensaries at first, but that will come down as the market evens itself out.Voters' approval of Measure 91 will change a lot of things, but Connie Ramaekers said she won't quit doing the job she's had for years: Keeping marijuana from entering the hands of young people.

Ramaekers is the founder and director of Tigard Turns the Tide, a Tigard-based coalition that partners with local schools to educate teens about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Ramaekers also founded Tigard Turns the Tide’s Tualatin sister organization, Tualatin Together in 1991.

The organizations have been targeting marijuana use among teens for the past year and a half and plan to hold a summit about the dangers of marijuana use on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

“We were going to have it, regardless of whether (Measure 91) passed or not,” Ramaekers said.

The forum is set for 6:30 p.m. at Tigard High School, 9000 S.W. Durham Road.

The event is open to parents and students and is free of charge, Ramaekers said.

“It will not only be educational, but it will also be a fun evening” Ramaekers said. “I hope parents can come with their kids to start a conversation because it is time to talk to your kids about marijuana and the dangers of it.”

'Like the gold rush'

Ramaekers said passage of the measure in the Nov. 4 general election will give teens more access to the drug.

“Once there is more accessibility to drugs, use increases among youth,” Ramaekers said. “I know this will be the case in Tigard and Tualatin. We want to make sure that the metro area, Washington County, Clackamas County and Multnomah County are forming a pact to regulate marijuana.”

That work is already underway across the area. Tigard, Sherwood, Tualatin and Washington County have all passed a moritorium on marijuana dispensaries until May 2015.

John Floyd, a planner with the city of Tigard, has been working for months to draft potential rules and regulations for how marijuana dispensaries will operate within the city.

“We anticipated this vote coming at some point,” Floyd said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries can apply for a business license as soon as the moratorium is lifted in May, Floyd said. Recreational retailers won’t be able to open until the law goes into effect in July.

“I have spoken to quite a few people who are interested in opening up in Tigard,” Floyd said. “It appears that the market interest is to open retail facilities in the city.”

Tigard had a medical marijuana dispensary from 2009 to 2011, when it was raided by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

The Human Collective has since re-opened on Barbur Boulevard, on the Multnomah County side of Interstate 5.

THC’s director Don Morse said he expects to see several dispensaries open up in the area next year, but said the market will eventually stabilize.

“The market is already glutted,” he said. “It’s like the gold rush of 150 years ago. People will say, ‘Give me a pickaxe and a shovel, and I’ll strike it rich!’ And then they will get here, spend a fortune to get compliant, and then what? There will be so many that they can’t compete. I see the failure rate of dispensaries approaching that of restaurants at some point. There is too much.”

But the anticipated influx of dispensaries has many in the community excited.

“It’s exciting times. It’s a whole new movement,” said Dean Vincent, a patient at THC and a grower. “It could mean a lot of negative things. We’re waiting on the bench to see what happens. It’s exciting to be a part of.”

Vincent, who lives in McMinnville, first started smoking marijuana after he was diagnosed with cancer three years ago.

“It absolutely helped me,” he said.

Back in Tigard, Ramaekers said she plans to form a committee to lobby the state to place tight restrictions on how dispensaries will be able to market their products, such as edibles shaped like candies.

“We will continue to educate and raise awareness,” Ramaekers said. “The one area that we will really focus on is to make sure that there are strict regulations around where stores are located to make sure kids can’t get access to it. We want to make sure edibles have the correct labeling.”

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