First, it was a 120-day ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, passed by the Hillsboro City Council in January.
Then, it was a one-year ban, passed in April, but city officials said it could be over in just six weeks. Planning commissioners eventually said they wanted zoning figured out by the end of July.
When July came, the Hillsboro Planning Commission again delayed its decision, until Aug. 27. Then, at Tuesday’s meeting, city councilors gave the commission their blessing to wait until November.
Now Will McEvoy has had enough.
“At this point, I think I’m going to pretty much call it quits on Hillsboro because of a hostile business environment toward us,” said McEvoy, who wanted to open a dispensary called Mundo Verde on Southwast Walnut Street.
During the first 120-day moratorium, McEvoy rented a property at the corner of Southwest Connell Avenue, in a location that would satisfy even the strictest regulations being considered by the city – 1,000 feet from parks, libraries, schools and residential zones. McEvoy said this spring that his family invested tens of thousands of dollars into the building, installing security equipment and a barrier between the main room and the area where the marijuana would be kept.
Now, McEvoy says he cannot afford to wait any longer for the city to approve zoning regulations. He can’t keep making the payments associated with his business without any income, he said.
“I just think we picked the wrong county to try to help medical marijuana patients. … I feel like the city government has pretty much run us out of town,” McEvoy said.
McEvoy has repeatedly pointed out that all 17 in attendance during two open houses in February and March said that the state’s regulations – which include 1,000-foot buffers from schools and other dispensaries – were strict enough. He accused the Planning Commission and City Council of going against the public’s will by stalling.
Some Hillsboro residents, however, have written to the planning department and testified at public meetings in favor of the city’s measured approach.
“I greatly appreciate all of the work you are doing,” resident Barbara Johnson said during the Planning Commission’s July 9 meeting.
But, McEvoy asks, what about the more than 4,200 medical marijuana cardholders in Washington County?
“It’s great that that lady got a little bit of comfort about not having it in the community, but what about the thousands of patients that are getting denied their rights?” he said.
Mayor Jerry Willey said the Planning Commission has been doing “an excellent job of filtering through all of those idiosyncrasies.” The city is also considering how to regulate the dispensaries’ outdoor lighting and visible security bars, among other things.
“It’s more than just the 1,000-foot rule,” Willey said. “And so they’re doing a good job of getting educated and we are going to be very methodical in going through this process and getting it right.”
Willey has a personal connection to the medical marijuana issue. His mother-in-law, who died in early June, was given six months to live last December, Willey said, and his family considered medical marijuana. She lived in Washington.
“She qualified for medical marijuana,” Willey said. “And as a matter of fact, we tried to get her medical marijuana in a state that legalizes social marijuana, and we could not, and it was a little bit frustrating. … So I certainly understand the anxieties of those who want to have access to it in Hillsboro.”
Willey added that it “would have been good for me to see what medical marijuana would have provided her as far as pain relief.”
But his family situation has not made him any more eager to rush through the process. City officials want to wait to see whether recreational marijuana is legalized in November, which would likely have an impact on how to regulate dispensaries in Hillsboro.
“I’m really not focused on the timeline or hitting any particular deadline on this,” Willey said. “I’m much more focused on making sure that we just do what we’re supposed to be doing.”
— Luke Hammill
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