Is Vancouver neighborhood growing into a marijuana mecca?

Orchards district's existing retailers, residents unfazed by prospect of marijuana-industry cluster

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 
photoOrchards neighborhood may become pot retail center. Click to enlarge.

Take a quick walk around the block of stores at Evergreen Plaza in Orchards, and you may see the sprouts of a new — if somewhat controversial — industry.

Within view of the shopping center at Northeast 117th Avenue and Fourth Plain Boulevard are three "head shops," stores specializing in pipes and other marijuana paraphernalia. And within about a mile of the plaza, at least three people have applied for marijuana retail licenses, while a handful of others have applied for growing or processing licenses.

Why the area seems to be turning into a marijuana mecca is anybody's guess, beyond the fact that at least portions of it meet the state guidelines that say stores must be more than 1,000 feet from a school, public park, transit center, library, child care center, playground and arcade.

But what's more noteworthy is the lack of strong outcry against it by the community.

"People in my church haven't really said anything about it, and they usually do speak up — especially about roads and other things going on in the area," said Kathy Neary, president of the Maple Tree Neighborhood Association and pastor of Orchards United Methodist Church. "I think people are waiting to see what happens."

Some have mentioned the potential new pot stores in neighborhood meetings, but even that has been a lot less than you'd expect, she said.

"Somebody at our last meeting asked about the new laws," Neary said. "And there was concern about the impact, and how much the Clark County Sheriff's Department will be policing the area. But I think the concern is more that we have enough deputies to cover each store (and the potential for break-ins or other criminal activity)."

Cmdr. Mike Cooke of the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force said he's concerned about legalized marijuana — is, in fact, opposed to it altogether. Some studies in Los Angeles have shown issues with increased crime around medical marijuana dispensaries, he said.

"From a law enforcement point of view, it remains to be seen whether the marijuana business will increase crime here," Cooke said.

Mostly, though, residents seem to be just watching the situation.

Christie BrownSilva, president of the Sifton Neighborhood Association, said she's heard a mix of comments from her community, but it hasn't been overwhelmingly strong either in support of or opposition to the marijuana industry.

"It's a little bit of everything," BrownSilva said. "We have a pretty large neighborhood, so you get a variety of opinions. But the thing is that if (potential stores) go through the process, and they get approved, they're going to be a part of our Neighborhood Association, so we have to be careful not to alienate anyone."

Economic boon?

Daniel Pool, a manager at Smoke 'N' Pipe, a paraphernalia store at 12113 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Suite C., said he thinks a retail marijuana store or two would be good for the business economy of the area — especially for the stores that are already there.

Last year's legalization of possession in Washington didn't increase sales at his store significantly, but he said he hopes that will change once people are able to buy the product legally.

"Business fluctuates up and down," Pool said. "There are some months when we do really well, and others where we think we might have to lay a few people off. What I assume will happen is, once (marijuana) is in the stores, then we'll see a big upswing in business. My personal opinion is, I think Vancouver will grow exponentially because of this."

And that growth will spread beyond the array of head shops, he added.

"If they have the amount, the number of people going through here, that they anticipate, there will be lots of jobs," Pool said. "The people coming over here will use our gas stations, they'll buy pipes and utensils from us, they'll buy food, maybe they'll even stay in one of our hotels. That will help everybody."

J.S., one of the marijuana retail license applicants in the area, agrees that if the process can move past moratoriums and bans set up by Clark County commissioners, it will help create more jobs.

The woman, who asked that her name not be used until and if her license is approved, applied in both Orchards, which falls in Clark County's jurisdiction, and in Vancouver, which is under city rules that appear to be lining up with state laws.

"We'll see what happens, but I have higher hopes for the city of Vancouver being more reasonable about this," J.S. said. "But yes, it will create jobs. In an actual shop, you have maybe four employees, but there are all these ancillary jobs. Security workers, producers, other niche industries that will pop up."

And even Neary said the people in her area would be happy to see that happen.

"I think we could use more robust business in the area," Neary said. "The idea that it may be your local pot dealer, I don't know. But we could certainly use the business."

She also thinks pot is less of a concern for the area than alcohol.

"I think if we were as concerned about alcohol consumption, we could do a lot more for public safety," Neary said. "I'm not really concerned about (pot), personally."

The businesses that crop up also don't have to be aimed at the stereotypical tie-dye-wearing, Hacky-Sack-playing crowd.

J.S. said her plan is to do something more upscale and boutique-like, with a wide array of products and a separate area specifically for medical users.

"My personal plan is to do something really nice, like a sort of European model," J.S. said. "Something different than the other stores out there. I want you to come in and see 100 strains of marijuana, each with its own properties. And when you come in, you can be educated and get exactly what you want."