Medical marijuana dispensary blues in Park Hill

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Officials charged with regulating the booming medical marijuana business -- like members of Denver City Council, who approved an ordinance last night -- are feeling heat from more than just weed advocates like attorney Rob Corry, who's considering legal action to stop the council's rules from going into effect.

Also bending their ears are folks worried about medical marijuana operations setting up in their neighborhood. Prime example: Residents of Park Hill, who turned out in force at a meeting last week to express concern about Oak Tree Alternative Care, a dispensary looking to open at East 28th Avenue and Fairfax, near a residential area.

Typical is Denon Moore, who lives a hundred feet from Oak Hill's trunk. As Moore puts it, "What I dislike about a dispensary in my neighborhood is the unknown. Is it going to draw in more crime?"

This isn't an academic question for Moore. She's the mother of two children, ages six and eight. "We're a young family," she notes. "We like to be out walking dogs, riding bikes, washing the cars -- just the average things you do with your family."

Besides, there's already what Moore sees as a magnet for problems in the vicinity: Fairfax Liquors, at 2801 Fairfax Street. Since the nearby Holly Center burned down a couple of years ago, the activity around the liquor store has gotten increasingly "sketchy," in Moore's opinion, and while the store is currently working with Greater Park Hill on a so-called good-neighbor plan, these efforts haven't magically cured all ills. "There's gang-related, gang-oriented activity here already," she says. "And we don't want any more."

She's not alone. According to Greg Rasheed, executive director of the Greater Park Hill neighborhood group, a meeting about the dispensary was originally scheduled to take place at the organization's offices. But when he learned the size of the anticipated crowd, which wound up numbering around eighty, by his estimate, the get-together was moved to the District 2 police station.

Why the enormous turnout? Rasheed chalks it up in part to issues involving the two previous tenants of Oak Hill's building, who previously generated the type of neighborhood concern the dispensary is now attracting. But a bigger factor, he concedes, was the murder of Douglass Singleton, a man slain on the 2600 block of North Leyden, not far from Oak Tree; the Denver Police Department has characterized the homicide as a medical marijuana transaction gone wrong. And reports of other problems at dispensaries in Denver metro didn't settle nerves, either.

"There have been a lot of burglaries and crimes going on at these clinics," Rasheed says. "And that's caused a lot of fear."

So, too, has the lack of information about Oak Tree. Rasheed says he didn't know anything about the owners of the dispensary (among them, Art Moreno) or their background (they're from California) until seeing a Channel 4 report after the meeting. "When you're changing something, you need to let the neighborhood know," he maintains. "And the neighborhood was not alerted to this. All we had to go by were rumors."

Today, Moore has a much firmer sense of what's happening -- but that doesn't mean she's happy about it.

"I'm not against dispensaries, by any means," she stresses. "And I'm not against anybody using medical marijuana, or even smoking it recreationally. But what I'm against is having one so close to a residential neighborhood. I'm really outraged with the city and the state, outraged with the zoning."

Moore sees one potential obstacle for the dispensary: "Our only little bit of hope is, there's a day-care center just down the street, and it's possible it's within a thousand feet" -- the distance set up as a buffer by last night's Denver City Council action. If it proves to be further away than that, however, she will have to live in the shadow of Oak Tree, whether she likes it or not.

"They are cleaning up the property, which is a dump," she concedes. "And I've heard they'll have a security guard on site, so I'm sure they're not going to allow people to loiter. But from my understanding, people are producing a better quality of marijuana, which may have a higher street value than most people can buy, and that could attract crime.

"Maybe they'll come after the money, maybe they'll come after the marijuana. Who knows? But if they're desperate, there's the potential they could carry out crimes and benefit from them. So that frightens me. And I don't want to have to listen to any more gunshots."

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