The Clackamas County commissioners’ proposed one-year ban on medical marijuana facilities could put already-operating dispensaries in the county out of business for good.
Mario Mamone, owner of Maritime Cafe on Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard, said he couldn’t afford to close down for a whole year while the commissioners craft local regulations for dispensaries in unincorporated areas. Mamone, 65, and several other dispensary owners — most of which are located along McLoughlin — most likely would have to find new jobs.
Cities and counties in the Portland area are quickly passing one-year moratoriums under Senate Bill 1531, which requires local governments to act before May 1.
The moratorium option comes through the law signed in March by Gov. John Kitzhaber, allowing local governments to regulate medical marijuana facilities by location and the hours and manner of operation.
Clackamas County’s version currently includes existing dispensaries, so the Maritime Cafe — one of the longest-running dispensaries in the area — would be affected, as well as newer dispensaries that have popped up in unincorporated county.
Advocates plan to ask the board to exempt existing facilities when the board makes a final decision after a public hearing April 24.
“We’re not asking for a non-moratorium,” said Maritime manager Desirea Duvall. “We’re just asking for businesses that are compliant to be allowed to stay open and compliant.”
The commissioners’ action surprised Mamone, who signed a new three-year lease on the commercially-zoned building just two weeks ago. He’d likely have to break the lease or be evicted, even if he could afford to stay closed for a year.
“I can’t imagine the landlord would want to go along with that,” Mamone said.
Maritime is a nonprofit, and most money is funneled back into improving the building, such as the $30,000 filtration system Mamone recently installed. He also set up an alarm and camera security system when he first opened, which wasn’t required at the time. He also donates medicine to patients — Mamone claimed about $70,000 in retail value — and the dispensary helps people, such as Rancour, who can’t afford to pay for OMMP card renewal.
Mamone said he takes little of the dispensary’s revenue home, after paying his staff.
That pay is key for Duvall and her husband, Chris Tysinger, who both rely on their salaries at the dispensary to support their two children. They are scared the proposed dispensary moratorium tentatively approved by the Clackamas County commissioners will push them into unemployment — and into buying marijuana illegally.
Duvall couldn’t hold a job with the pain she suffered from Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, and because she is legally blind. Duvall is scared her eyesight will hold her back from finding a new job.
“I have to memorize where I touch everything and know where everything goes,” she said.
Duvall took several prescription pills a day, but couldn’t shower or wear a bra because of the open sores on her body. About 2.5 years ago, she got her Oregon Medical Marijuana Program card and visited the newly-opened Maritime Cafe on McLoughlin Boulevard near Gladstone.
Duvall, who lives in Oregon City, worked out a deal with Mamone to clean the dispensary in the mornings before patients arrive in exchange for medicinal marijuana. For awhile, she did her work and went home because she felt so sick.
But soon, she started feeling better and the sores disappeared. Even more liberating was the encouragement she got from Maritime’s patients, many of whom are veterans with PTSD, cancer patients or terminally ill.
Kip Rancour, who lives in an adult care facility in Oregon City, practically serves as the cafe’s mascot for those patients. He can barely make the trek into the dispensary, though it’s just a few blocks by bus and a short walk from where he lives.
When he first started visiting, he relied on a walker, but now uses a cane, hobbling up the steep Washington Street hill in Oregon City to his home.
Rancour’s disability keeps him from longer bus rides, such as the one he’d need to take to Portland if Clackamas County bans dispensaries. With most cities in the county following suit, Portland will be the closest option.
It’s a tough one, though, for Mamone’s 1,200 customers, some of whom who live as far away as the coast or in Maupin.
Patients worry they will have to buy marijuana on the black market if the moratorium effectively stops them from buying marijuana in what they see as safe, controlled environments.
“There has to be an increase in crime necessarily if there’s a moratorium,” said medical marijuana lawyer Leland Berger. “It’s harsh to the businesses, but it’s especially inhumane to the patients.”
Closing existing dispensaries also affects the vendors. Traci Watson, of Clackamas, started selling the marijuana plants she’s been growing for 12 years at home to Mamone shortly after he first opened. Watson also sells to a few other local dispensaries.
She uses the income to pay for hospice care for her brother, who has cancer, and his food and home.
“It’s his livelihood, as well as mine,” Watson said. “No one can wait a year and take the loss.”
She also sells to patients individually, but not enough to make ends meet.
Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas questioned the moratorium affecting existing facilities cautiously at the April 3 public hearing. The commissioners can still amend or change the moratorium at the next hearing before adopting it.
Despite most driving by Maritime Cafe probably dozens of times since it opened, and The Oregonian covering it’s opening, the commissioners said they didn’t know any dispensaries already operated in unincorporated county.
Most commissioners acknowledged that medical marijuana does benefit some patients, but worried that it increases access to kids. They also committed to including advocates into the discussion of how to regulate dispensaries after the moratorium expires.
“I would hope we would be brought into the discussion about the rules and regulations implemented because we are the most knowledgeable,” Mamone said, who added that he has complied with all regulations so far as they come up.
Mamone already has a provisional dispensary license from the state, and expects an approved one soon. He also tests his employees, who are not allowed to take drugs other than marijuana, and regularly quizzes them on the latest studies and literature about medical marijuana, different strains and their effects.
“We have high expectations of the employees and patients here,” Mamone said.
Mamone said he will likely get out of the medical marijuana business, though, if his business is closed by the county.
— Molly Harbarger
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