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Emergency services, school district appeal marijuana permit

Opponents say nursery goes against citys values


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - The proposed site of a medical marijuana growing operation at 1271 Columbia Boulevard in St. Helens, two blocks from Lewis and Clark Elementary School and next door to the Columbia River Fire and Rescue station.The St. Helens Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for a marijuana nursery on Columbia Boulevard last month over the objections of city police and school district administrators, and the decision now faces an appeal.

St. Helens School District Superintendent Mark Davalos said Columbia River Fire and Rescue and the St. Helens Police Department filed a joint appeal with the St. Helens School District to oppose the permit.

The nursery, located at the former site of Midway Electric, would be just down the street from Lewis and Clark Elementary School, and very close to the fire and police stations.

“We’re not looking to get involved in licensing and businesses and this and that ... but I think the idea of something so close to a school, and how they’re applying that 1,000-foot rule, is our concern,” said Davalos, referring to federal law that increases criminal penalties for the distribution of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, as the nursery would be.

“That’s really our main concern,” he added.

The federal government announced last month it will not make the enforcement of a nationwide ban on marijuana a priority in states that have more tolerant laws toward the plant, which some medical experts say has medicinal applications.

Oregon has laws permitting and regulating the growth, distribution and use of marijuana for medical purposes. The St. Helens operation would follow the state’s laws, growing medical marijuana for four users to be consumed off-site, according to applicant David Mighell of Destination Farms in testimony before the Planning Commission.

Commissioners unanimously approved the conditional use permit at their Aug. 13 meeting after discussing the application in July as well.

But city planner Jacob Graichen said the St. Helens City Council would be the government body to consider the appeal, and he declined to guess as to how councilors might rule.

“With the marijuana involved, that’s kind of a hot topic everywhere, and this is an example of us dealing with it,” Graichen said.

Graichen said marijuana growing is not new to St. Helens, but this particular case is more controversial because the nursery would be located on a commercial property.

“We have [marijuana plants] in houses throughout town, and that doesn’t raise a stink because it’s an incidental use to the dwelling, and as long as it complies with [state] marijuana laws, at least as far as the police are concerned, some of those issues haven’t blown up,” Graichen said. “This one’s a little different animal because they’re taking a commercial building and wanting to use it for this purpose, including modifications to the building, which requires a variety of building permits, too.”

St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss asked the commission to consider how its decision would impact “the values of this community” in a letter read into the record at its July 9 meeting. He argued the application should require a business license, which the city could deny because growing marijuana violates federal law.