Last week, an alarmed Portland father wrote City Commissioner Amanda Fritz to complain about a cannabis dispensary opening next door to his daughter's private kindergarten. Fritz was not receptive.
In her Aug. 12 reply to Sellwood resident Gregory Hemmen, Fritz correctly notes that the shop's plans are legal. But she goes further, comparing cannabis to alcohol and offering unsolicited parenting advice.
"Do you avoid taking your children to restaurants where alcohol is served?" Fritz asks. "Why do you consider cannabis more harmful than alcohol?
"Cannabis sales are legal in Oregon," Fritz concludes. "If you don't want your children to buy cannabis once they are of age to be carded and buy it, I recommend you take this opportunity to instill your values into your family while they still believe every word you say is true."
Fritz's email comes amid a flurry of opposition from parents in the Southeast Portland neighborhood of Sellwood. They object to Electric Lettuce, a chain of cannabis dispensaries that advertises with psychedelic neon designs, opening a new store on Southeast 13th Avenue next to a preschool and kindergarten.
Oregon law says those plans are fine. The state only bars cannabis shops from opening within 1,000 feet of "a public elementary or secondary school for which attendance is compulsory" or "a private or parochial elementary or secondary school" that teaches kindergarten through 12th grade.
It doesn't mention preschools.
Electric Lettuce's plans were first reported by WW's news partner, KATU-TV. Since then, Sellwood residents have been grousing about the proposed dispensary's proximity to the Creative Minds Learning Center and a toy store called Oodles for Kids.
An Oregon Liquor Control Commission spokesman confirms to WW that state law doesn't prevent cannabis businesses from operating next to day cares and preschools. Parents would need to lobby state lawmakers for a bill—or seek tighter city regulations.
Groundworks Industries, Electric Lettuce's parent company, did not respond to a request for comment.
Some of the parents appealing to local officials say they do not oppose the legal cannabis industry, but they do not want dispensaries—and their advertising—right next to their kids' schools.
"We have an opportunity to really enforce these sensible barriers between young, impressionable kids and cannabis," says Hemmen, who emailed Fritz. "Nobody is arguing against the industry. If we continue to go down this path, Oregon is going to become a case study in how not to legalize the cannabis industry."
Some other cities, like Gresham, have decided to add day cares and preschools to the list of properties shielded from new dispensaries opening within 1,000 feet of them.
Mayor Ted Wheeler's office says he appreciates parents raising concerns. "It's commendable any time parents care for their children enough to motivate them to seek a revision of current code," says spokesman Tim Becker.
City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the city's cannabis licensing program, did not reply to a request for comment.
Fritz told WW she did not wish to elaborate on her email. She has long engaged in detailed personal correspondence with constituents—and may be feeling more free than ever to contradict them, since she isn't seeking re-election next year.
She offers a personal anecdote of how to handle childish curiosity about adult habits.
"My three children grew up in an area of Southwest Portland where there were seven sex businesses in 2 miles, including an 'Adult Superstore' near their elementary school," she writes. "When asked, 'Mommy, why are the windows of that store painted white?', I answered, 'It sells stuff some grown-ups like to buy, but our family doesn't.' End of inquisitiveness for my children."
Correction: This story misspelled Gregory Hemmen's name.