Ashland looks at buffer zones for pot dispensries

The Ashland Planning Commission Tuesday discussed the possibility of requiring 100-foot buffer zones between medical marijuana dispensaries and residential areas, parks and libraries.

The commission is discussing possible regulations to recommend to the City Council as it moves forward with a city ordinance on dispensaries.

Only five people — three adults and two children — attended the evening study session.

"It's imperative to have good planning in place," said William Clary, a neighbor of the proposed Top Shelf Meds dispensary on Williamson Way, which is in a business zone adjacent to a neighborhood.

Though the commission asked Clary to refrain from talking about specific dispensaries, he urged members to consider buffer zones around areas with lots of children, such as North Mountain Park, near where Top Shelf Meds would be.

With six applications for dispensaries received so far, the Ashland City Council is considering a moratorium on dispensaries while it crafts city regulations for how the new businesses will be approved.

The council has proposed banning dispensaries from the downtown area, considering conditional use permits for dispensaries in employment zones and permitting dispensaries in commercial and industrial zones.

With state regulations governing where and how dispensaries will be run, the Planning Commission and City Council are working quickly to decide how Ashland will handle the newly legal businesses.

"There's a sense of urgency," said planning manager Maria Harris.

The commission discussed enacting buffer zones around houses, parks and libraries, and then granting special permits on a case-by-case basis depending on where dispensaries might be located.

Commissioners also discussed whether hours of operation would be regulated and how much security would be required for dispensaries.

Because dispensaries must be in commercial, industrial or employment zoned areas and at least 1,000 feet from schools and from each other, there are only a few main areas where a dispensary could be established, according to commissioner Michael Dawkins.

Dawkins described the areas as the railroad district from A Street to Hersey Street, business areas south of Southern Oregon University and in complexes near Clover Lane by the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

Dawkins said he thought it would be best if dispensaries were located in areas with a lot of traffic.

"I think it's important to have high traffic, where we have lots of eyes, rather than being tucked away," he said.

One dispensary in Ashland is already in operation inside the long-running Puff's Smoke Shop, at 1908 Ashland St.

One woman at Tuesday's meeting said that rather than consider regulating the dispensaries, the city should consider banning them entirely.

"We're discussing variables on this new creature that wants to set up in town," said Julie Matthews. "I think (marijuana) can dull our wakefulness and awareness . . . eventually it becomes the norm, and everybody is stoned all the time. I'd like to set up a dispensary for raising our consciousness — it's doesn't need a prescription."

The city held a meeting Wednesday night to hear from neighbors of the proposed Williamson Way dispensary.

The commission is asking city staff to draft a map that shows 100-foot buffer zones around residences, parks and libraries to better understand the effect of buffer zones on possible dispensary locations.

The commission will hold a public hearing May 13, and then make a recommendation to the City Council on what regulations the city should implement.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at

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