Portland Votes Down a ‘Green Light District’ in its Downtown


More and more people are considering Portland as a top destination location for their travels. The New York Times has labeled the city as the “capital of cool.” It is known for its green image and a culture of bikes, beer and great independent bookstores. The urban grown boundary ensures that it is a quaint metropolis with close proximity to natural destinations perfect for daytrips.

The favorite region of the city for out-of-towners is the city’s downtown West Side where the infamous Voodoo Doughnuts and Powell’s Books are located. According to Travel Portland, the revenue growth from tourism for the central area of the city was up by over 15 percent in 2014 and 11 percent in 2013. Some city officials are hoping to attract an even broader visitor base by amending regulations to allow for a new kind of “green tourism,” attracting visitors who want to spend their travel money in the city’s newly legalized recreational marijuana market.

In last week’s city council meeting, commissioner Dan Saltzman proposed amending legislation to create a “green light district” in the downtown region. According to HB 3400, the state’s major marijuana statute, dispensaries are currently required to keep 1,000 feet between one another and no dispensaries can be located within a 1,000 feet of a school.

Saltzman proposed an amendment that would lift the restriction on distance between dispensaries in the downtown West Side along the waterfront and in the eastside’s Lloyd District. These areas of the city are some of the most densely populated with foot traffic, but many storefronts in and around the Lloyd District are still vacant. Under these new plans, dispensaries could be located in close proximity to one another, creating a green light district that Saltzman believes could be good for business and the city as a whole.

Recreational sales were only legalized on Oct. 1, 2015 and already the state is seeing impressive turnout at shops. In the first week of legal sales, stores in Oregon made an estimated $11 million in revenue. This exceeds the turnout for the first week in Colorado and Washington. Colorado’s first week of sales made $5 million for its shops and Washington reached $2 million in its first month. Due to a rush for early sales, tax isn’t being imposed on recreational sales until Jan. 4, 2016. At that point, revenue from the 25 percent tax will be directed towards schools, mental health programs, and other public services in the cities and counties that have approved recreational sales.

Saltzman told local KOIN 6 News, “I think our downtown is about encouraging density of shopping, dining opportunities, coffee shops and we should have the same free restrictions for retail marijuana.” In his view, easing restrictions in the downtown area would allow businesses to appeal to tourists while easing the burden of having a hefty amount of dispensaries in residential areas throughout the greater city.

Marijuana tourism in Portland still faces a number of hurdles; one major hurdle regards where out-of-towners would be able to consume the product legally. Measure 91 legalized recreational marijuana in Oregon on July 1, but it prohibits smoking in public. The measure defines a public place as:

a place to which the general public has access and includes, but is not limited to, hallways, lobbies, and other parts of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence, and highways, streets, schools, places of amusement, parks, playgrounds and premises used in connection with public passenger transportation.

A smoking-ban was also put into effect on July 1 that prohibits smoking of any kind in public parks. This leaves one’s hotel room and, in the state of Oregon, no more than 25 percent of hotel rooms are able to be designated for smoking according to the state’s Indoor Clean Air act. Individual hotel and lodging owners, however, are able to bar patrons from smoking on their property if they wish.

As it stands, regulations limit the potential social aspect of the product that many recreational users enjoy. Portland City Council voted down Saltzman’s proposal to bring a green light district to the city core, for now. There is room for the proposal to be refined based on complaints brought to the table by groups like the Downtown Portland Clean and Safe Crew so that the proposal can be reconsidered.

Oregon’s recreational sales are less than a month underway, so Portland should have ample time to step up to the task of catering to newcomers seeking legal consumption.

Tori is an artist, activist, curator, and writer from Miami living in Portland.

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