Portland looks at stricter rules for marijuana retailers in fight over saturation


Portland is considering stricter rules on marijuana dispensaries and retailers including a 1,000-foot buffer between locations. (The Oregonian)

Portland is considering stricter rules on marijuana dispensaries and retailers including a 1,000-foot buffer between locations.

The City Council delayed a planned vote Wednesday on marijuana regulations until Sept. 26 after deciding more could be done to prevent businesses from clustering.

City officials had been considering 1,000-foot buffers only between marijuana retailers in the same category. For example, a medical dispensary couldn't be near another dispensary, but it could be near a recreational-pot store once those open in late 2016.

Now officials are considering applying the buffer to all marijuana retailers, meaning any location would have to be 1,000 feet away from another store or dispensary.

Marijuana businesses are already barred from purely residential areas, and must be 1,000 feet from a school.


Mayor Charlie Hales said the city wants to prevent oversaturation of marijuana businesses because of similar experiences with lottery operators on Hayden Island.

"Having been once burned, we're a little shy," Hales said, adding that a lack of communication between the Oregon Lottery and Oregon Liquor Control Commission created the island's "Lottery Row."

Dispensary owners have to decide whether to apply for a recreational license soon. State officials won't allow businesses to have a license for both recreational and medical dispensaries.

"You're standing on two logs," Hales said. "You're going to have to stand on one."

One medical business owner at Wednesday's meeting said "all of them" plan to enter the recreational market and offer discounts to medical customers.

The situation could lead to a "green rush" as both existing dispensaries and new businesses apply for licenses. State lawmakers did pass legislation allowing dispensaries to sell to recreational customers starting Oct. 1.

The city plans to accept license applications for all marijuana businesses starting Oct. 1. Applications are available online, but business owners will have to mail or drop them off at City Hall.

Applications will be processed in the order they are received.

Some medical marijuana supporters worry that buffers and a time crunch to get in applications could force some longtime operators out of business.

During the public hearing, many of the business owners said the city should give preference to existing dispensaries that apply for a recreational license.

"Give them an opportunity," said Geoff Sugerman, a marijuana lobbyist.

The City Council dismissed that idea, instead focusing on where to set the buffer.

Phillip Chen, owner of a Southeast Portland dispensary, said the original proposed rules would make it possible for a retail store to open between him and a nearby medical shop. "It makes the neighborhood unlivable," he said.

Sam Chapman, founder of New Economy Consulting, said without the expanded buffer, Portland "would automatically" double the number of dispensaries in town.

The buffer wouldn't apply to marijuana wholesalers or processors.

Not everyone is pleased with the proposed regulations.

Anthony Johnson, co-author of the voter-approved Measure 91 that legalized recreational marijuana, said the ballot measure didn't include plans for strict zoning rules.

"We would argue that marijuana should be treated like bars, breweries and wineries," he said, adding that the saturation issue would be resolved because "the cream will rise to the top."

Portland officials also revised costs associated with operating the city's marijuana program each year to an estimated $892,500. That doesn't include $170,000 in setup costs.

City officials also reduced projections for the number of marijuana businesses in Portland from 480 to 360. The revenue estimates and associated licenses and fees dropped from $1.4 million to $1.01 million.

Victor Salinas, Portland's marijuana policy coordinator, said expanding the buffer would reduce revenue from those projections.