Alpha Alternative Solutions, Keizer's first medical marijuana dispensary, opened on River Road on Dec. 20. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Alpha Alternative Solutions, Keizer’s first medical marijuana dispensary, opened on River Road on Dec. 20. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Ben Robison recently opened Keizer’s first medical marijuana facility.

The way he sees it, there won’t be much competition in the future in Keizer.

Robison opened Alpha Alternative Solutions at 3700 River Road on Dec. 20, nearly a year after he hoped to open.

Figuring out how to regulate such facilities was a hot topic for the Keizer City Council throughout 2014. A task force was set up early in the year in response to new state laws that went into effect. A moratorium ended up being set up, in essence buying city officials time to implement a plan.

Robison noted he was three days short of being grandfathered in before the moratorium went into effect, leading to a long delay.

“I’ve been renting for a good five months,” Robison said this week. “I’ve been trying to open since February.”

Robison noted he’s had a number of obstacles to overcome, starting with the stigma attached to medical marijuana dispensaries and how far away such facilities have to be from specific types of buildings.

State laws include the stipulation that a facility has to be at least 1,000 feet away from a school. In Keizer, the rule is 1,500 feet, in addition to being 1,000 feet from any public building and 1,000 feet away from any other dispensary.

“It’s extremely hard to find a location within those parameters, and to then find an owner willing to let you in,” Robison said. “We’re in one of the only locations available in Keizer. We were able to talk with the building owner here and talk about the science of medical marijuana so he had more of an understanding what we’re doing. There’s a stigma people (in such places) are just getting high.”

Nate Brown, director of Community Development for Keizer, noted during the Dec. 15 council meeting the facility would be opening soon.

“We processed our first medical marijuana dispensary application and are in the process of issuing that license,” Brown said at the time. “We don’t know how long until they open. It’s up to them. It’s their first one and our first one.”

Sam Litke, senior planner for Keizer, noted Robison submitted his application “just before Thanksgiving.”

Robison studied horticulture in high school in North Carolina and later at Chemeketa Community College after moving to Keizer seven years ago, with intentions to open a nursery. But plans changed when he saw his father die from leukemia.

“He took dozens of pills in the morning and dozens more at night,” Robison said. “He had five rounds of chemo in 90 days. He took an extreme amount of pills. Most of them were to counteract the side effects of other pills. From that, I saw the severe need for medical marijuana.”

After that, Robison started looking at the health benefits of various types of medical marijuana. One of his main goals with his own facility is to educate others about those health benefits.

“We try to educate people, not just sell,” he said. “We inform people what each drug does. To me, this is a pharmacy.”

Robison emphasizes he is not a doctor and that someone cannot just come in to get medical marijuana.

“They have to have a prescription from a doctor to come into the back room,” he said. “They have to have been approved by OMP (Oregon Medical Plan). People have to go to their doctor for approved ailments. They have to be continued ailments. We haven’t had anyone come in that has abused the system. That’s not the medical marijuana community.”

Robison only sells organically grown marijuana that has been tested at a lab in Albany. The testing shows the makeup of each plant, information Robison shows patients to help them decide which is correct for their particular needs.

The marijuana Robison sells is done on a consignment basis.

“If a grower has excess, they can bring them to a dispensary and get reimbursed,” Robison said. “We don’t make much profit. This is not as profitable as some people think.”

Robison and his staff keep a close eye on trends in their ever-changing industry. He has an attorney who tracks law changes pertaining to marijuana.

All employees at Alpha Alternative Solutions had to undergo background checks and fingerprinting at the Keizer Police Department. Though he’s had his battles with the city, Robison has nothing but praise for members of the KPD.

“The Keizer Police Department has been good to work with,” he said. “They have been very fair. Everyone there has been respectful and fair. We jumped through all the city’s hoops and are glad to be here. We have many patients who are glad they don’t have to travel as far now.”

Robison noted his dispensary is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, including Christmas. That goes back to his dad’s struggles.

“My dad had so many medicines, sometimes he would forget to refill and would have to wait two or three days for the pharmacy to open again,” Robison said. “I always want to be available to our patients.”