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How Many Pot Shops are Too Many for Eugene? Yes or No to Buffer Zones

Eugene has a lot of cannabis retailers.

Since Oregon’s legalization of marijuana in 2015, pot shops have sprung up in most every corner of Eugene. 50-plus applications have been successfully filed to-date by recreational and medicinal marijuana retailers, adding quantifiable evidence for the city’s reputation as a cannabis mecca.

But some say that’s too many pot shops. On one hand, it’s hard to argue with supply-and-demand: people want cannabis, and new stores have opened to meet that demand. More stores means easier access, more choices, and cheaper bud.

Pot shops generally have a dozen or so strains “on tap” out of the 779 (as of early 2017) known varieties. So if you’re a true connoisseur, having access to more retailers seems like a good principle.

The problem, though, is that new cannabis retailers are tending to concentrate in a few small areas. Downtown, the West University neighborhood, and the Whiteaker District are the three big culprits.

Cannabis enthusiasts in Northeast Eugene, conversely, have just a single dispensary to choose from. So it really matters where you live if you want to access to cannabis. (Check out our guide to the Best and Worst Neighborhoods for Cannabis Culture in Eugene and Bend.)  

As a potential response, city officials have proposed 1,000 foot buffer zones for marijuana dispensaries. The ordinance won’t affect existing retailers, grandfathering them in so they can keep their stores.

1,000 ft. Buffer Zones: Yay or Nay?

It’s hard to argue that the proposed ordinance won’t have positive effects. New retailers will be forced to set up shop outside of the familiar comfort zones mentioned above. There won’t be the threat of national chains moving in to areas already occupied by local dispensaries and driving them out of business.

But we’re troubled by some of the rhetoric surrounding the issue. In an April 20 (yes, 4/20) editorial in the Register Guard, the newspaper’s editorial board warned against the possibility of “having marijuana stores on every corner” and that downtown might become “known as just the cannabis district.”

There’s a certain cultural shortsightedness to these arguments. Why can’t cannabis coexist with all of the other things that make Eugene’s downtown unique?

There’s a certain lingering discomfort here at odds with the reality that cannabis is already intertwined with people’s lives in the same way that alcohol is–but without many of the negatives.

Bars and alcohol stores definitely have a certain impact on neighborhoods. Yet we don’t think of Downtown as “the bar district.” And the Seattle Times reports that Eugene crime rates in areas surrounding dispensaries during a six-month span in 2017 actually decreased by 25 percent compared to six pre-dispensary months in 2014.

Downtown Eugene Inc. recently made a post on their Facebook page urging that citizens support the buffer zones to maintain a “safe and inviting downtown for everyone.” This begs the question: do pot shops somehow create a downtown that isn’t safe and inviting?

We think that this is more image than reality. Pot shops, which generally maintain a pretty discreet profile anyway, aren’t the problem.

We’d argue that the lack of public spaces for legal cannabis consumption is a much bigger issue. Creating designated smoking spaces could help move consumption out of heavily-trafficked areas and actually make for a more inviting downtown.  

Eugene’s City Council will hold a public hearing May 14 at 7:30 P.M. to receive input on the proposal from concerned citizens. We think that the ordinance is ultimately a good idea, but we hope that our community can focus less on the straw horse of discomfort with cannabis and more on the actual issues.

(Eugene, of course, is about more than just cannabis: if you’re from out of the area, check out our guide on moving to Eugene or look at Eugene’s five top neighborhoods, period.)

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