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Pot shop gets approval from planners

 

September 27, 2017



The Sweet Home Planning Commission Sept. 20 approved a conditional use permit for Modern Forest, a retail marijuana shop.

The business will be located at 150 Main St., the former Econo Wash building located at the intersection of Main Street and Pleasant Valley Road.

The Planning Commission voted 4-0 to approve the permit. Present at the meeting were Thomas Herb, Greg Stephens, Henry Wolthuis and Edith Wilcox. Absent were Chairman Lance Gatchell, Anay Hausner and Eva Jurney.

The business, which has operated a retail marijuana store in Lebanon since March, is owned and operated by Sven and Amber Roberts of Lebanon and Charles and Laura Troxell of Sweet Home.

The applicants scrapped plans to operate a bakery at the site, which is zoned commercial. A bakery is considered processing, which is allowed only in industrial zones in Sweet Home.

Sven Roberts focused on the impact of the shop in his testimony to the Planning Commission, while three speakers in opposition to the request were concerned about the impact of drug sales and use in Sweet Home. One person testified in support of opening the shop.

“I understand that there is a lot of potential impact,” Roberts told the commission, stating that impacts can be negative, neutral and positive. They can be physical and sociological.

Roberts said the owners propose improvements to the physical location, to the structure and to the landscaping, creating a “uniform” and “pleasing” appearance.

Ventilation will be well-filtered, Roberts said, as it is in their Lebanon shop, keeping marijuana odors from being detectable outside the building.

He said the filters are strong enough that it’s hard to detect the odor inside the Lebanon store.

Then there are the aesthetics of a marijuana store near the entrance to the city, Roberts said.

“What we propose to do is provide a marijuana store and eliminate as much of that impact as you come into the city.”

The store will not have a green cross or marijuana leaf, he said. It won’t have the words “cannabis” or “marijuana.” It will not use plastic banners. The business won’t advertise through flyers, handbills, mailers, billboards or other outside advertising.

Early on, the owners thought about the name Modern Marijuana for their store, Roberts said, but they abandoned that after speaking with people in Lebanon. They believe that the name Modern Forest would suffice in Sweet Home too and help keep the store’s presence low-key.

That’s important to attract the type of clientele they’re after, Roberts said. The average customer is 36 years old, spending $43 per transaction, at the store in Lebanon – much different from the stereotype.

Also of possible concern is the idea of bringing marijuana to the community, he said. It may be cliché, but marijuana “product is already here. Stores like ours actually fight and take away a share of black market sales.

“We serve so many Sweet Home residents already.”

Black market sales decrease as the price of legal marijuana falls, he said.

“Marijuana is an alternative to opiate use,” Roberts said. “And we do have a lot of our customer base talk about the fact there a lot of people out there who used to use (opiates).”

The store also will provide product to those who hold medical marijuana cards, Roberts said. The regulations allow the business to sell the same products. The only difference is those who hold a card do not pay the sales tax on the marijuana.

Because marijuana is such a pariah, they must do everything they can to positively impact the community, by participating in community efforts and minimizing their perceived negative impacts, he said.

“We truly are not stoners smoking weed,” Roberts said. They are a family, and they’re conservative.

Hayward Bellah of Sweet Home told the commission that he is a retired Army sergeant major, and has been fighting his whole life to stay out of drugs.

If he were a foreign general who wanted to invade America, “I’d pass out joins, crack cocaine and so forth,” Bellah said. Walking through town, “the bad news is the marijuana is everywhere, and it’s not just marijuana.”

Running the sidewalks, “it’s impossible to do that without running across people who are down and out,” he said, and the problem just snowballs.

He described how marijuana use leads to the use of harder drugs, like crack cocaine and opiates.

“I’m 100 percent against it,” Bellah said. “I could sit here and give you reason after reason after reason.”

Bonnie Neal grew up in Sweet Home and then returned a year ago, she said. She said she was shocked to find a store already here.

That store is Going Green, a medical marijuana dispensary which is in the process of converting to retail sales.

Marijuana sales are a “very negative thing” for Sweet Home to get into, Neal said. She realizes the business owners are interested in being in business, paying taxes and contributing, but “there are many ways to get into business and pay taxes other than drugging people. If we already have one store here, why do we need another.”

Natalie Attramatt, of Keizer, has been a teacher and active duty Army. She is in the Army reserves.

“I can tell you, we drug test frequently in the Army and in the Army Reserves,” she said. If they test positive, they lose their jobs – for compelling reasons.

Marijuana doesn’t make anyone smarter, more ambitious or productive, she said, and there is no guarantee that the business owners will maintain a low-impact presence.

The applicants say they want to eradicate the stigma, Attramatt said, but she wouldn’t want her children or anyone she cares about to use what they’re selling. Normalizing it ensures that it will have a bigger audience.

She said she wasn’t sure that paying taxes and helping with community projects would mitigate lower productivity or even child neglect that will result from the sale and use of marijuana.

Theresa Howard, 67, of Sweet Home, said she has never used coke, crack, opium or heroin.

“For many years, I’ve used marijuana,” Howard said. “I do not believe that marijuana is a gateway drug.”

She said she uses it for medicinal purposes, and hers contains higher levels of CBD compared to THC, the psychoactive ingredient.

“People don’t just sit around and get stoned,” Howard said. “Sweet Home needs recreational marijuana sales. The money at least would be staying in Sweet Home.”

In rebuttal, Roberts answered those in opposition by noting that research has failed to show that marijuana is any more of a gateway drug than Budweiser or Jack Daniels.

“I think those are valid concerns that have been brought up,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know how valid the concerns are because research into marijuana has been illegal.

Referencing the question about a second marijuana outlet, Roberts said, “I don’t feel a monopoly is healthy for any community.”

He told the commission he is willing to accept conditions it feels are appropriate. He wondered if the city had a way to put in writing the limits he is placing on his marketing.

The low-impact marketing is not from the “goodness of our heart,” Roberts said. “In order for us to attract our target market, we have to appeal to our target market.”

That target market “looks like a lot of people in this room,” Roberts said. It’s not a “stoner kid” in a “hoodie.” It’s people above the age of 35, with many in their 60s and 70s.

Flashy neon signs would turn off everyone in the room, and they wouldn’t be in business long, Roberts said. “Without positive impact, we will not be profitable.”

Planning commissioners voiced support and some concerns.

“I applaud that we’re getting another business in town,” said Wilcox during Planning Commission discussion.

“I wish I didn’t know both sides of it,” Herb said. “My son uses it. He had the hell blown out of him in Iraq, Day One. It seems to have worked a little.”

Stephens suggested extending the sidewalk around from Main Street to Pleasant Valley Road for safety reasons. Herb agreed.

“It’s a bad intersection especially at quitting time at White’s Eletronics,” Wolthuis said.

The store will generate significantly more traffic at the intersection, Stephens said.

Among the conditions for the permit, the commission included a provision that Modern Forest not protest when the city requires construction of a sidewalk in the future.

“I think those that have spoken in opposition have shared some valid points,” Wolthuis said. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reminded that marijuana is still illegal in the United States.

Somehow, Oregon, Washington, California and Colorado have gone around that, Wolthuis said. He said he would like to not see drugs in “our community.”: As far as he is concerned, he would like to see no liquor store as well, but voters in Oregon have chose to legalize marijuana.

“We need to make our decision based on findings of facts,” Wolthuis said, not on personal opinions about marijuana.

 
 

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