Local medical cannabis dispensaries are frustrated by what they see as punishing requirements and charges imposed by the City of Salem.

“I do have an issue with these fees,” says Mark Cusick, owner of Herbal Grasslands LLC on Commercial and President of the Salem Cannabis Industry Association.  “We’re charged $220 for a license fee, $481 for a semi-annual police inspection, and $160 for a background check for each employee, investor or volunteer.  The city just required another background check for me, even though I was checked by the State in March 2014 and will be checked again next March when we go through the license renewal process.  That’s a lot of money for a legitimate, law-abiding business to throw away.”

A city council vote on October 27th established a City regulatory program for medical marijuana facilities and meant that every medical dispensary in town had until November 7 to pay for a structural plans review, a Fire Department review and a building permit for an exchange/filtration system.  Cusick chafes at the costly HVAC inspection, which was intended to make sure no slight odor from the sealed, contained product, will waft outside.   He and other dispensary owners feel that in practical terms, the requirement means a double standard that penalizes a legal business.  “The Mexican restaurant next door didn’t have to have an HVAC inspection,” Cusick says, “and they’re in there actually cooking all day.”

Loren Kruesi of 2nd Step Dispensary of Salem chafes at being asked to pay $575 for his own HVAC inspection as well as the additional $718 registration charge.  He says the architect expense the City required is costing him a daunting amount as well.  “I heard we needed a site review,” Kruesi says.  “I didn’t know what a site review was.  I come to find out that it takes an architect, and might cost my business $1,400.  These city officials seem to think people who run clinics have golden horseshoes dropping out.  But the majority are in business to help people who need a medicine that doesn’t have the horrible side effects of major pharmaceutical products.”

Though medical marijuana dispensary owners praise the city staff that help them thread their way through regulations, they feel that if they ran another business – a restaurant, a grocery store, even a bar – the regulations themselves would be much different.

“Take this $160 per-person background check,” Kruesi says.  “It doesn’t cost that much to get a background check to get a gun.  We have eleven employees here; what am I supposed to do, lay some people off so I can pay that fee?”

“The form they have us fill out,” says Amy Zimmerman, owner of 1st Choice Cannabis of Salem, “for our employees and even our volunteers, is extremely detailed, and stronger than what our teachers, who teach our children, go through.”

As part of the new regulations the Salem Police Department is required to perform administration and enforcement.  The $481 fee dispensaries must pay twice a year for police inspections are meant to help cover this.

“Yeah, we are told that all these fees pay for a police presence,” Kruesi says, “but I’m really confused about ‘police presence.’  I’ve never heard of any incidents with medical dispensaries in Salem at all.  I know we’ve had none.  Whereas, all these taverns and bars have drunken brawls on Saturday nights – how many times do you think the police are called to them in a year?  You type ‘bar fight, Salem OR’ in a search engine, and a lot will come up.  But none of those bars are asked to pay this business fee.”

“I get that the city is struggling,” Cusick says, “and this is a way for the city to add to the coffers.  But to tax a specific industry when you don’t tax others is wrong.  The more fees you levy on a legitimate industry, the higher the cost is to end-users.  And the greater those costs, the more likely it is that the black market will thrive.”