Will McAvoy is on food stamps “for the first time in [his] adult life,” he told the Hillsboro Planning Commission on Wednesday night.
McAvoy is the owner of Mundo Verde, a business on Southwest Walnut Street that he hopes to turn into a medical marijuana dispensary once the city approves zoning regulations for the now-legal establishments. He and his family rented the space earlier this year, after the city banned dispensaries for 120 days in January. But then the city council, reacting to a law passed in Salem during this year’s short session, extended the ban to last until May of next year, though officials directed staff at the time to move forward with the zoning regulations.
Now, McAvoy – still without income and wondering whether he’ll be able to make rent payments – and other advocates of bringing dispensaries to Hillsboro are accusing the planning commission of dragging its feet and refusing to move forward in good faith. They angrily confronted the commissioners during time allotted for public testimony on Wednesday, demanding to know what was taking so long.
“There’s [about] 4,300 people in Washington County that have medical marijuana cards,” said Chris Matthews, who wants to establish the Cascadian Care Group dispensary on Northwest Amberglen Parkway. “We’re not having this discussion about pharmacies, and they’re everywhere.”
He accused the commission of “zoning it out based on fear that children are somehow going to get into a dispensary…and that’s not the case.”
State law requires that dispensaries not be located within 1,000 feet of a school or another dispensary. But Hillsboro staff is interpreting the law to allow restricting dispensaries 1,000 feet from anywhere children might congregate and thus recommending that the commission adopt additional 1,000-foot buffers from parks, libraries, the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza and residential zones. That leaves few areas in the city where dispensaries can actually locate.
Claudia Lavander, the president of the Oregon Medical Cannabis University on Southwest Cornelius Pass Road, warned the commission that adopting such strict regulations would open the city up to “major lawsuits” and said she is moving her business out of Hillsboro. If state legislators wanted to institute additional buffer zones from parks and libraries, she and others noted, they would have written that into the law.
Planning Commissioner Jim Maguire acknowledged that all 17 people who came to two open houses in February and March indicated that they did not want the city to impose additional buffer zones and said the state regulations were adequate. He also noted that with only one exception, every person who has submitted public comment has supported the less-strict state regulations.
Maguire said the planning commissioners are keeping that in mind and reminded the audience that the commission doesn’t have to listen to the staff’s recommendation.
“What I need you to do, as my neighbor, is dial down the rhetoric, dial down the anger, and dial down the accusations, and try to understand what we can do as a commission and what we can’t do,” Maguire told a frustrated McAvoy.
Commission Vice President Brian Roberts said the city may end up only allowing dispensaries in two or three areas, but he also noted that the commission can’t legislate the dispensaries out of Hillsboro by imposing too-strict zoning regulations.
“We all keep a very open mind,” Roberts said. “There are people out there that I’m sure don’t think so. … We can’t legislate it out, and it has to be fair.”
— Luke Hammill
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