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Medical marijuana draws small crowd

Kimberly Strand, who operates the PGN Lodge on Cherry Avenue, speaks at the Medical Marijuana Facilities Task Force meeting on April 22. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Kimberly Strand, who operates the PGN Lodge on Cherry Avenue, speaks at the Medical Marijuana Facilities Task Force meeting on April 22. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

Before the hearing started on Tuesday evening, there was a question of how long it would last.

As it turned out, not too long.

Keizer’s Medical Marijuana Facilities Task Force met for a second time at Keizer Civic Center – the group had first met on March 19 – with a majority of the meeting set aside to hear from members of the public and to gather input on what the city should do in regards to state laws about medical marijuana dispensaries.

At various recent meetings in Keizer, there had been talk about an expected large turnout. Since those speaking were allowed three minutes each, a long meeting was anticipated.

Instead, the meeting was done in barely more than an hour.

Helping to keep the length down: only five people in the sparsely packed council chambers spoke.

City councilor Dennis Koho, allowed task force members to have their say first. When none of the eight spoke, he opened the floor for the public hearing.

Kimberly Strand, who runs the PGN (Patient Grower Network) Lodge on Cherry Avenue, noted her business is a social lounge, rather than a dispensary as currently being discussed.

“We’ve been there four years now and never had one incident on the property, leaving or coming to the property,” Strand said. “If you don’t allow a dispensary, you are displacing a people of your community. You’d be surprised who the people from this community are. Many have done 20 to 25 years at their jobs. They are people who have given to their community.”

House Bill 3460 and Senate Bill 1531 both recently went into effect and have rules regarding medical marijuana dispensaries, most notably none can be within 1,000 feet of schools or of each other.

“I agree with the 1,000 feet within schools rule,” Strand said. “The 3460 rules are very strong. I do agree with the restrictions.”

Strand noted a key difference between a lounge like hers and a dispensary.

“You are not allowed to medicate at any dispensary,” she said. “You will make an educated purchase and then go home and do that.”

Task force member Jonathan Thompson was among those referencing “some consternation” in the community about possible dispensaries.

“What are your thoughts about what kind of system we can put in place to give the community comfort there is a good neighbor policy?” Thompson asked Strand. “What are things the city can do to make sure a permit can be suspended, but not be so onerous that you couldn’t operate?”

Strand, who noted she doesn’t know of any applications yet for a dispensary in Keizer, pointed to what has happened in other places.

“Most dispensaries cleaned up the property, have community gardens and most do give back to the community,” Strand said. “Many in Salem have been operating for five years with no issues. If you look at dispensaries, some I wouldn’t go to. It’s like a bar, if you don’t like the vibe or if you don’t feel safe there, you’re not going to patronize the place.”

Strand suggested dispensaries don’t need to be open more than eight hours a day.

“It gives some security to the community if they are open 10 (a.m.) to 6 (p.m.),” she said. “Eight hours is plenty of time to be open.”

George Weathers noted he has lived in Keizer his whole life and remembers before the town had taverns.

“A lot of people wanted to keep things that way,” Weathers said. “People thought we would have drunks on the sidewalk when the first tavern opened. That didn’t happen. I think it’ll be the same thing if a dispensary opens. The sky won’t fall.”

City councilor Jim Taylor shared some concerns.

“My concern is about the youth of Keizer,” Taylor said. “Studies show youth under 16 who frequently smoke or do marijuana are a lot less productive in later age. Also, the state does not test these like they do other drugs, so I’m concerned about the quality…I’m concerned about putting dispensaries in Keizer at this time. I say let’s wait until May 2015 to see if it becomes legal. I’d hate to step into this without all the information out yet.”

Tim Brannies, a medical marijuana patient and grower, spoke about the moratorium.

“I encourage this task force and the city council to not impose another year of moratorium in Keizer,” Brannies said. “There is a small demand for a dispensary here in Keizer. It’s unfair for Keizer to deny people in the area access to cannabis that is allowed by law. House Bill 3460 sets stringent rules aplenty.”

Mark Caillier, representing the Keizer Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development and Government Affairs (EDGA) committee, thinks more time is needed.

“We do support a moratorium to study this issue as much as possible,” Caillier said. “Don’t get caught up if marijuana should be legal or not. You’re here to talk about dispensaries.”

Koho noted the way River Road is laid out, a rule of no dispensaries within 1,000 feet of each other, schools or residential areas would limit the possible numbers.

“The business district is fairly linear,” Koho said. “If you said you can’t have them within a certain distance of each other, that provides some limitation.”

The task force will meet again April 29 at 7 p.m. to come up with a recommendation to send to the city council.