by Sue Ann Rybak

Councilwoman Cherelle Parker has filed an appeal challenging the proposed medical marijuana dispensary at the two-story commercial building at 8319-25 Stenton Avenue in East Mt. Airy, after residents voiced strong opposition to it at a packed public zoning meeting she held on April 25 at the Oxford Presbyterian Church.

“Over 400 people attended the meeting, and even though we learned that a fraction of them were bused in from other communities intent on disrupting the meeting, I thought the tone was respectful and people were able to voice their opinions,” she said in an email. “It was not a debate about the merits of medical marijuana – which the community and I both support – but was solely to discuss the proposed use as it relates to the location in question.”

In a telephone interview with the Local, Chris Visco, one of the partners seeking to open the marijuana dispensary said 9th District Councilwoman Cherelle Parker invited her and her business partner Adina Birnbaum to the community meeting to discuss building the Terra Vida Holistic Center’s medical marijuana dispensary and the benefits of medical marijuana.

Visco said that after Parker arrived at the meeting, however, she announced that her office was not going to allow them “to lecture them on the benefits of medical marijuana.” She said Parker told them the primary purpose of the meeting on April 25 was to discuss zoning and land use.

“We were unable to speak about the value of medical marijuana as it relates to patients and for whom in the community it would benefit the most,” Visco said. “The focus of our presentation was to be the value of the medicine, the fact that it was not ‘pot to be smoked,’ would not bring crime to the area because it has no street value and – most importantly – that much of the product has high CBD levels which do not get you ‘stoned,’ and therefore would not attract a criminal element. Crime rates have dropped around the country with the introduction of medical marijuana and opioid deaths have decreased.”

When asked about Parker’s appeal, Visco said City Council recently unanimously voted to approve the current zoning legislation – which did not include daycare centers.

Parker’s office appealed the zoning permit granted by the city because there is a daycare center within 500 feet of the proposed site, noting that “the state waiver clearly prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries within 500 feet of a public, private, or parochial school or a day-care.”

Parker added that she thought neighbors voiced “valid concerns about parking, security, public safety, and traffic” that the applicants Chris Visco and Adina Birnbaum, of Terra Vida Holistic Centers, would have to address, if they receive a license.

Solomon Leach, a spokesman for Councilwoman Cherelle Parker’s office, said Terra Vida Holistic Centers received a use permit by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections on March 13. He added that to operate the dispensary Terra Vida Holistic Centers will need to obtain a license from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Leach said in an email that the applicants did not have to go before the Zoning Board to obtain the permit because “a medical marijuana dispensary can operate by right in certain commercial properties like the one on Stenton Avenue.”

According to Leach, the Department of Health anticipates awarding the licenses in late June. The hearing for the appeal will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, at 1515 Arch St. on the 18th floor.