Last week, Philly420 blogger and marijuana advocate Chris Goldstein wrote a column titled “Bombastic opposition to Mt. Airy cannabis dispensary is unjustified” regarding a dispensary proposed at 8319 Stenton Ave. in the heart of East Mount Airy. He essentially touted the same argument from supporters of the dispensary: NIMBYism.
First, I applaud and respect Mr. Goldstein’s work as an advocate for access to medicinal marijuana and decriminalization. I must reiterate that I, too, have used my platform to advocate on behalf of the mothers and children whom I personally sat with in Harrisburg to listen to their struggles and how their lives would be better if they simply had access.
Where I differ from Mr. Goldstein is the perpetuation from supporters of this dispensary that this is an issue of NIMBYism.
On April 25, my office held a community meeting with more than 300 Mount Airy residents at a location within two blocks of the proposed site. During that meeting, multiple people who live within walking distance of that site suggested alternative locations in the area. Residents didn’t simply say “No” and put their fingers in their ears. They offered constructive feedback and nearby potential locations because this community and I support medical marijuana. That is not NIMBYism.
Additionally, Act 16, passed by the General Assembly legalizing and regulating medical marijuana, prohibits a dispensary from being located “within 1,000 feet of the property line of a public, private or parochial school or a daycare center.” Given the density in Philadelphia, Mayor Kenney requested a waiver from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to reduce the restriction to 500 feet, which was granted. Despite day care explicitly being mentioned in the waiver, the city Department of Licenses and Inspections issued a zoning permit for the Stenton Avenue site even though there’s a day-care facility less than 500 feet away. Again, this is not some far-fetched claim, but rather a very serious concern, among others, specific to this site.
Next, Goldstein and the president/CEO of TerraVida, Chris Visco, said this opposition arose because Visco had run campaigns for elected officials in this area. That is simply not the case. What it does prove, however, is that Visco and her team know how to access our people and those who represent them, which – as her attorney admitted during the Aug. 15 zoning appeal hearing – TerraVida did not do when it came to this location in Philadelphia. What it did do was contact multiple people and elected officials in Montgomery and Bucks Counties to garner their support for the application. Why wasn’t the same opportunity afforded the people of East Mount Airy, who have lived in this community for decades?
Also offered in his piece is that “relocating the dispensary is impractical under the new law.” However, Section 1141.40 of the regulations for Act 16 clearly spells out how to do so. It states:
“A medical marijuana organization wishing to change the location of a site or facility authorized under a permit issued to the medical marijuana organization shall submit an application for approval of a change in location to the Department together with the fee required under Section 1141.28 (relating to fees).”
TerraVida also has the option to walk away from this location and open its two other approved sites, in Abington and Sellersville. Yet, it continues to fight its community.
Our people are not the bad guys. Claiming that our community’s opposition to this one location could derail medical marijuana implementation in the commonwealth is completely bombastic. As the media have reported, there are challenges statewide. Furthermore, people appealed casino licenses, but that didn’t stop the state from moving forward with gaming. This is no different.
As noted in the piece written by the people who live in this community, “this is not a narrow-minded response, as we are one of the most progressive communities in Philadelphia. Our track record of advocacy bears this out. 8319 Stenton Avenue is simply the wrong location. Of the four state-approved sites for our city, this is the only one in a densely residential neighborhood.”
As I have repeatedly stated, I and the community are wholly supportive of medical marijuana and want it to be accessible to those who can benefit. This is simply the wrong location, and the legitimate concerns of longtime homeowners about this location must not be dismissed as NIMBYism.
Cherelle Parker is a Philadelphia councilwoman representing the Ninth District.