Some Northeast Portland residents are pushing back on plans for a medical marijuana dispensary on Fremont Street, saying the business clashes with the neighborhood’s kid-friendly vibe.
The latest conflict underscores the lack of city rules to address dispensary issues, such as location, hours of operation and public notification of planned medical marijuana outlets.
Katy Fackler, a mother of two who lives on Northeast 46th Avenue in Beaumont-Wilshire, said she discovered plans for the dispensary last week when she stopped by to check on activity at Fremont Commons, a commercial building with several storefronts on Fremont, including a restaurant and professional offices.
She called the building landlord, Timothy Ray, who told her that a medical marijuana shop would open soon. Ray told her, she said, that the high visibility spot would make it the perfect storefront for a “hash house” if voters support legalizing marijuana this fall.
Ray did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
State law requires dispensaries to locate at least 1,000 feet from schools and other dispensaries. Fackler argues that a Sylvan Learning Center, about 600 feet from the dispensary, should qualify as a school under the state rules.
Tom Burns, the Oregon Health Authority official who oversees the dispensary program, said the tutoring center does not fall under the dispensary law’s definition of a school “as the Legislature envisioned it or as we interpreted it.”
“Trust me, I am sympathetic to their concerns, but it’s a legislative problem not ours,” Burns said.
The nearest Portland public school is Beaumont Middle School, about 1,500 feet away.
Karen Foreman, who will operate the Fremont dispensary, Cannacare Organics, said the retail outlet will be a “very holistically minded and true healing center.” She hopes to offer other services, such as naturopathic care, on site.
“With wanting to have this kind of experience, being in a neighborhood like Beaumont really suits our mission,” said Foreman, who is an Oregon medical marijuana patient. She denied plans to convert the dispensary into a “hash house” if marijuana is legalized this fall.
Foreman, who lives in Portland, said she and the owners are “committed to being good neighbors.” She declined to identify the owners or say how many are involved, saying only that they are “industry professionals.”
There is no easy way to determine ownership of medical marijuana establishments in Oregon. The Oregon Health Authority does not necessarily know the identities of dispensary owners unless they are the people responsible for the establishment. State law only requires background checks for the person responsible for a dispensary, and by law their identities are confidential.
Foreman, who acknowledged to The Oregonian that she is the person responsible for the dispensary, said the establishment has a provisional license from the state and plans to open Oct. 18.
The clash mirrors one in Sellwood-Moreland over the opening of Green Oasis, also a medical marijuana dispensary. Sellwood neighbors fumed about the establishment’s proximity to a church and in the heart of a residential neighborhood.
By law, local governments may impose restrictions on dispensary hours and where they can locate. So far only Ashland and Klamath Falls have imposed additional restrictions on dispensaries, said Scott Winkels, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities.
He said communities can pursue rules more in line with federal statutes targeting drug dealing within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate, such as arcades, daycares and playgrounds.
Josh Alpert, director of strategic initiatives for Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, said a task force is considering additional dispensary regulations, including expanding restrictions on where they can locate. Such regulations, however, would not affect places already operating. He said officials may require existing dispensaries to sign “good neighbor” agreements.
The City Council is not likely to enact any rules until after the November election, he said.
Sellwood neighbors who object to their local dispensary and Fackler and her neighbors want the city to require some type of advance notice to area residents before a dispensary goes in.
Fackler said the dispensary is out of sync with the neighborhood. She pointed out the many businesses on Northeast Fremont that cater to children or welcome them. She said Northeast Sandy Boulevard is more amenable to dispensaries given its bustling commercial nature.
“Children are up and down, riding their scooters,” she said. “My children personally go to the bookstore twice a week. We go to the candy shop. It’s a children’s neighborhood. It’s not a neighborhood like Sandy (Boulevard).”
Michaela Santen, a mom of three who lives down the block from Fackler, questioned the need for a dispensary on Northeast Fremont.
“I don’t know how it is going to serve that neighborhood specifically,” she said. “That is my biggest concern. I just don’t want it there. It does not fit there. We have a sweet, innocent neighborhood and I want to keep it that way.”
Fackler has rearranged her living room furniture to avoid seeing the storefront from her window. She said she would prefer to “be focused on soccer and ballet and everything else in my world” but felt she needed to speak up once she realized medical marijuana would be sold in her neighborhood.
“It wasn’t an issue for me until I could see it and then I thought, this is not appropriate,” she said.
Fackler, who like Santen said she does not have a problem with medical marijuana in general, said the flap over the location of a dispensary in her neighborhood has cast doubt on whether she’ll support legalizing the drug for recreational use.
“Before I was going to vote for it,” she said. “This has soured that immensely.”
Elayne Janiak, who lives around the corner from Green Oasis in Sellwood, said she empathizes with Fackler and her neighbors. Janiak predicts they will end up as frustrated as Sellwood residents were with the lack of response from Portland city officials.
“They are out of luck,” she said.
— Noelle Crombie
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