The Columbian / Associated Press

Uptown Village neighbors frustrated with marijuana store patrons

If Mike Gilles were to knock back a bottle of Jack Daniels on the front porch of a stranger’s home, he wouldn’t be surprised if the cops were called.

“I could or should expect to experience consequences,” Gilles said. “Those are the cultural norms.”

But people smoke marijuana on the front porch of his Vancouver townhouse, which is across the street from Main Street Marijuana. They light up in his backyard, too, which is technically a park. Around here, neighbors say, be warned before opening the windows to enjoy the spring air.

“Recreational use of marijuana is new to our community and across the country,” Gilles told members of the Vancouver City Council recently.

It’s time, he said, to develop the cultural norms around marijuana, just like the nation did with alcohol use generations ago.

The members of the Uptown Village Residential Homeowners Association board, made up of mainly townhouses and a handful of condominiums, located across the street from the highest-grossing pot shops in the state said the business is decreasing the livability of their neighborhood. They aren’t against people using marijuana or businesses making a living selling the product. Some moved in knowing the marijuana shop existed. But the hours are long, stretching to 11 p.m. And the pot shop promotes a lot of big sales, where hordes of people flock to the store. There’s limited parking, so cars are often left on, radio blasting, engines revving while customers run inside the store to make their purchase.

The neighbors pleaded with councilors to boost police patrolling and add clearer signs with a reduced speed limit.

Renee Soasey said the crowd gets rowdier the later it gets in the evening. After 10 p.m., there’s an influx of customers from Oregon, since marijuana stores there have closed, she testified. The city’s noise ordinances aren’t considered. Speed limits aren’t followed.

Please, Soasey, told the city councilors, “We need relief.”

The city does have the authority to regulate the hours of operation, but they could not single out a particular business.

Ramsey Hamide, the owner of Main Street Marijuana, said he’s always willing to engage in a “good faith” negotiation with community members and wants to be a good neighbor.

He recently hired a janitor to help pick up litter around the store, he said.

“We always have an open-door policy where we’re willing to discuss anything anytime with pretty much anybody that is willing to approach us in a fair manner, wanting to work toward a resolution,” Hamide said. “We’ve seen a small, vocal minority that has made the same arguments for the past three years.”

Hamide pointed out his business is located on Main Street.

“Main Street on any street in America is a street for commerce,” he said.

Since the marijuana store has moved into the area, the entire street has come alive, Hamide said. There is the city’s first food cart anchored pod across the street, there are new bars, and his customers and 50 employees frequent the other stores. He’s hoping the city starts regulating the parking more, he said, which would help the neighbors and his customers. He’s also open to closing earlier, if it’s a uniform policy so other stores across town can’t stay open later. His stores in other parts of the state are open until midnight.

In the past three years, Hamide said, his store has brought in more than $15 million in tax revenue for the area. They have never had a violation and operate according to the rules and regulations set by the city and state.

But he would be willing to move locations.

“I do have a realistic solution,” he said. “The state has recently reduced the buffer for what is required (between marijuana stores) and restricted entities, such as schools and parks. It was originally 1,000 feet and the city has kept it at 1,000 feet, they could take it down to the 300-foot buffer.”

That would enable Hamide to buy property elsewhere, move down the street a couple of blocks to a place with a parking lot.

“I would be 100 percent willing to buy some property and relocate the store in a reasonable timeframe if the city works with us,” Hamide said.

Eric Hovee, one of the Uptown Village residents, said he was one of the original residents of the village.

“Just three doors down the street, Main Street Marijuana has contributed to the economic vitality of the uptown area — but with increasing problems that are now beginning to undermine both the vitality and livability of our street,” Hovee wrote in a letter to the councilors.