Philadelphia Marijuana Dispensary is ‘Unacceptable', Councilwoman Says

“To have it here in a residential neighborhood is completely unacceptable,” Councilwoman Cindy Bass said.

Pressure to prevent a medical marijuana dispensary from moving into Philadelphia's Mount Airy neighborhood boiled into Wednesday as Councilwoman Cindy Bass announced she will ask the state Department of Health to revoke the facility's license.

The announcement was made just one day after more than 100 Mount Airy residents crammed into a Philadelphia zoning hearing to oppose the facility, which would be located at 8319-25 Stenton Ave.

"To have it here in a residential neighborhood is completely unacceptable," Bass said. "Medical marijuana ought to be placed … in a commercial corridor or, if possible, on or near a medical facility."

Councilwoman Cherelle Parker is among other local leaders calling for the repeal of TerraVida Holistic Centers’ permit to operate in Mount Airy. Parker has a history with the company’s president, Chris Visco, who is a former campaign consultant for State Rep. Chris Rabb.

Rabb represents portions of Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill. In 2016, he beat out former State Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis after Cook-Artis replaced Parker, who stepped down in 2016 to run a successful bid for Philadelphia City Council.

Rabb has since joined Parker in denouncing TerraVida’s Philadelphia location. The company also won permits for dispensaries in Montgomery and Bucks counties, but those are not under dispute.

“We don’t have a great relationship,” Visco said of Parker.

On Tuesday, Parker led a coalition of neighborhood residents into Center City for the zoning hearing. The group wore red to show solidarity and stickers that said “I live in Mount Airy and I oppose this location.” During that hearing, both Parker and Bass accused Visco of not reaching out to the community or attempting to hold meetings with the public and with its elected leaders.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health requires all operators of medical marijuana facilities to submit evidence that they will be in compliance with zoning requirements.

"All entities that were awarded permits provided this evidence,” health department spokeswoman April Hutcheson said.

Visco has said she spoke with Bass during a fundraiser for the councilwoman in February. At the time, she asked to schedule a meeting with the councilwoman to discuss the proposed dispensary, Visco said. Bass told her to speak with Parker, instead. When Visco reached out, Parker did not respond, Visco said.

But the email went to Parker’s campaign email address, which is not regularly monitored, according to a spokesman for Parker.

A series of missed opportunities continued through the winter and spring, culminating in late June when the health department issued permits for dispensaries. Both Parker and Bass said they only found out about the Stenton Avenue location through media reports.

"I feel that the application submitted was fraud. It should be repealed on that basis," Bass said. "It gives the impression that conversations were had. It really calls into question this organization and their means of operation. It’s not a good start."

All sides insist the issue is not a referendum on the medical marijuana program. Instead, Parker and Bass hope to move the location away from what is otherwise a quiet community.

“This is very much a residential neighborhood,” Bass said on Wednesday. “There are places where a dispensary can be located, but something that is untested, unproven, in the middle of a commercial corridor — we just think it’s an inappropriate location.”

Bass and State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, who represents portions of East and West Germantown, will issue a joint letter to the health department asking for the state to repeal TerraVida’s license.

Parker has also initiated a similar process. Last month, Parker sent letters to the state appealing the facility's operating permit and filed two complaints in Commonwealth Court, a spokesperson said. 

Visco, who lives in adjoining Springfield Township, Montgomery County, said she is shocked by the opposition.

“This is a great neighborhood,” Visco said. “A lot of my [political] races have been in this area. We live right next door to this neighborhood.”

The easy access to public transportation and street parking made it an attractive location, she said.

“Our hopes are that we can come to some resolution and get the opportunity to speak to residents and address their concerns,” she said.

TerraVida and the councilwomen will return to a zoning hearing on Sept. 19.

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