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Marijuana dispensary plans stuck in the weeds

At its public hearing June 11, the Hillsboro Planning Commission voted to extend the discussion on zoning regulations for marijuana dispensaries well into July, leaving hopeful dispensary owners frustrated and discouraged.

Despite earlier pledges from city council members that they wanted swift answers to zoning questions so the opening of marijuana dispensaries could move forward, resolution seems to be on a slow track.

“It’s been two months of planning so far,” said Hillsboro resident Will McEvoy, who wants to turn his business, Mundo Verde, into a dispensary. “I don’t think the commission intends on ending the zoning debate at all.”

Oregon state law demands a 1,000-foot buffer zone separating dispensaries from schools and other dispensaries. However, city staff is interpreting that law to include all places where minors gather: including parks, libraries and residential areas. The planning commission has requested more and more maps be made of the city to highlight these areas.

“There has been a change on the state map that located schools,” explained Debbie Raber, project manager for the planning commission. “We took a preliminary look and we will be taking a closer look to make sure that the schools have been correctly located.”

McEvoy thinks the planners are stalling.

“The planning commission is just brainstorming ways to slow this down,” he said. “At first it was four maps, now they requested four more, and soon we’ll have 14 or 15. They are not moving forward in this discussion.”

Hopeful dispensary owners feel they are being zoned out of Hillsboro.

“State law 1531 states you can manage signage, business hours and general location, but it does not say you can put 1,000-foot buffers on every place in the city,” said Chris Matthews in testimony to the commission at the June 11 hearing. “This is zoning out dispensaries in Hillsboro.”

“There are no possibilities in that corner by the exit ramp,” added commercial Realtor Mel Adams, pointing out areas where dispensaries could be built according to proposed maps. “There are no possibilities on the airport runway, in the Nike private hangar, or in the manufacturing places west of the wetlands. No space available there.”

Many of the would-be marijuana dispensary owners believe the increased zoning stems from a fear that the presence of dispensaries will corrupt youth and increase violence.

“I saw dispensaries open up in Tacoma, Wash., left and right,” McEvoy said after the planning commission meeting. “They never got robbed and gangs never started hanging around. The facilities are secure and under surveillance, the only people this affects is card-carrying patients.”

“What you’re doing here with zoning is opening up the city to major lawsuits from the state of Oregon,” said Claudia Lavander, who operated the Oregon Medical Cannabis University in Hillsboro for five years. “You’re afraid of marijuana as a medication, but you’re not afraid of morphine or oxycontin or anything else you can find in a pharmacy? How is that acceptable in a state where medical cannabis has been legal since 1998?”

All citizens who gave testimony at the June 11 hearing were in favor of the state plan. However, planning commission officials insisted they need more time before they could forge a consensus to present to the city council.

“We are still waiting on more information to make the best possible recommendation to city council on this issue,” said Raber.

The planning commission’s next meeting is scheduled for July 9.