Commission ponders growth of unlicensed pot groups

The Medical Cannabis Commission at its September meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission agreed on Thursday to send a letter to the city manager expressing concern about the proliferation of cannabis collectives in areas that are not zoned for them.

The commission noted that two collectives — Forty Acres and Perfect Patient’s Plant Group — were operating much like dispensaries without having to comply with the numerous laws that regulate them, including getting licensed and paying taxes

“It is really important that we watch out for the interests of those people who are abiding by what is asked of them by the City of Berkeley,” said Commissioner Stewart Jones, referring to the three dispensaries currently permitted by the city. “I am concerned about an influx of (groups) coming into Berkeley. There are two now. Next week there could be two more.”

Commissioner Charley Pappas pointed out that he had predicted years ago that Berkeley might see an influx of medical cannabis collectives trying to operate below the radar. When the City Council was pondering allowing a fourth licensed dispensary, Pappas said he told members that was too few. Since many nearby counties, including Contra Costa, seemed to be banning medical cannabis outlets, patients would be turning to Berkeley for their medicine since the city supports the industry.

“I told the City Council three or four years ago that three dispensaries were not enough for Berkeley,” said Pappas, who is president of the Divinity Tree Wellness Cooperative in San Francisco, which has been targeted recently by the federal government and will probably soon shut its doors. “People come from areas where they can’t get medicine. That’s why you have these other dispensaries and delivery services popping up.”

Berkeleyside reported in late September that Forty Acres, which calls itself a medical cannabis collective, was operating in a commercial district, which is not allowed under Berkeley zoning laws. Forty Acres, which has 7,000 members, also operates late hours, sells bongs and pipes, holds parties, and exchanges money for medical cannabis. Measure T, passed by Berkeley voters in November 2010, allows the city’s three permitted dispensaries to engage in those activities, but requires collectives to only operate in residential areas in an “incidental” manner. Wendy Cosin, now acting planning director, wrote to Forty Acres in February 2011 stating that the city was “concerned that you are illegally operating a dispensary.”

Berkeleyside also reported in late October that another collective, Perfect Plants Patient’s Group or 3PGs, opened along a commercial section of Sacramento Street.

The commission decided to send a letter to the city manager that “expresses our concern and our awareness” of the collectives operating in areas that are not zoned for them and ask what the city manager is planning to do about it. Jones will draft a letter to that effect and the commission will vote on it at its December meeting.

The directors of two of Berkeley’s dispensaries also voiced concern about the collectives.

“We have to pay so many significant taxes,” said Aundre Speciale, the director of Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Berkeley, or CBCB, located on Telegraph Avenue Shattuck Avenue. “We have to pay an extra tax to the city. We had to pay extra expenses on our building for a year while we jumped through the hoops to get a permit…. I am not suggesting the places should get shut down. I am just asking for a level playing field. If we are called one thing I would ask that people not get special privileges because they are called something else.”

Erik Miller, the director of the Patients Care Collective, said that the two collectives were calling themselves collectives but were acting as dispensaries. If the city does not pay attention to this sleight of hand, it will attract even more collectives who do not operate within the confines of the law, he said.

“If you have a cash register and are doing sales then you are a dispensary, according to the language of Measure T,” said Miller. “We have two dispensaries who are not calling themselves dispensaries and are not paying 2.5% tax and who are under no regulation… You are going to have an influx of people coming in and opening up as dispensaries and not calling themselves a dispensary.”

No one from either Forty Acres or 3PGs addressed the commission. Toya Groves, the vice-president of the commission and a co-founder of Forty Acres, was not able to attend the meeting.

Under Measure T, all cannabis groups in Berkeley, including collectives, are required to pay a 2.5% sales tax on cannabis transactions. The city estimates the tax will bring in $300,000 a year. But Berkeley has not yet granted any business licenses to collectives, and that step is required in order to gather taxes.

Elizabeth Greene, a city planner who staffs the Medical Cannabis Commission, said the city is still working on a process on how to issue business licenses to collectives. She did not give a timetable about when that might be completed.

The commission, which is still getting its bearings after just four meetings, is also hoping that city staff can give clarification about the difference between dispensaries and collectives. It asked Greene to draw up a chart for the December meeting outlining what dispensaries can do, what collectives can do, where they overlap, and where they don’t.

The commission also voted to ask to meet with Mayor Tom Bates to help him craft a letter to the federal government expressing outrage and concern about the recent crackdown by federal officials on medical cannabis operations in California. While no dispensaries in Berkeley have gotten a letter from a U.S. Attorney threatening them with closure, Pappas has been affected and many commissioners are concerned about the situation.

“It is a scary state of affairs out there,” said Dan Rush, who serves as chair of the commission and is an organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, which unionized workers in Oakland’s dispensaries. “The US Attorney has declared war on us… roll up your sleeves and fight.”

Related:
Rapid growth of cannabis collective raises concern [09.29.11]
Concerns raised about new cannabis collective [10.27.11] 

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  • Ryan Kerian

    “Erik Miller, the director of the Patients Care Collective, said that the two collectives were calling themselves collectives but were acting as dispensaries. If the city does not pay attention to this sleight of hand, it will attract even more collectives who do not operate within the confines of the law, he said.”
    Glad to see that more attention is being shed on this matter. Looking forward to the city’s response.

  • Guest

    “No one from either 40 Acres or 3pgs addressed the commission. Toya
    Groves, the vice-president of the commission and a co-founder of 40
    Acres, was not able to attend the meeting.”

    that is pretty odd that the co-founder is the VP of the Commission. No conflict there?

  • Ryan Kerian

    It’s interesting to say the least. Though, the argument in favor is that the medical cannabis industry should have representation on the board. I don’t have an opinion on the issue yet as I don’t quite understand the powers and purposes of the commission.

  • Actual215Reader

    They’re acting like “dispensaries” but without following the rules?  So they’re drug dealers?  But if they follow the City’s rules (not the State or Fed rules) then they are Okey Dokey.

  • laura

    Well, DUH!

    Berkeley is one of the only cities in the state that funds its own public health dept. Yet rarely do we see the public health dept “experts” develop prevention based policy, nor do we benefit from sound planning methods with a multi-agency approach.

    The county of Santa Barbara has done an excellent job of assessing dispensary needs to best serve medical marijuana patients. We have local experts in the field of AOD prevention and planning capable of advising the city and MM commission on best practices.

    Why not break with the Berkeley traditional of provincial thinking and develop sound policies/ practices that ACTUALLY do balance the needs of neighborhood and Med Marijuana patients. It can be done.

    As for the cronyism practiced by politician Max Anderson in his appointing  Groves to both the ZAB and MM commission, knowing full well that 40 Acres  was in violation of local and state laws,  which of the electeds or city officials will do their job and treat this community fairly.

  • John Holland

    I’m not sure, but I think what Eric Miller meant was that although the word “Collective” was in their name, that legally, they are defined as a dispensary, and are following the all associated laws.

    If that’s the case, I agree with the article that it’s awkward and causes confusion.

  • John Holland

    I agree that their names should reflect their legal or illegal status, if it attracting nuisance collectives to the city.

  • Chris

    My neighbors go to 40 acres. They tell em I should go – because it’s like a club/cool place to hang out.  Fridays is Ladies Night, they’re passing around joints/blunts all the time, DJs spinnin music. Shut em down please.

  • Chris

    Edit – they tell ME I should go.

  • Mudman

    If the pot selling is going on under the pretense of being legal institutions then they should be obeying the laws. The City of Berkeley is setting themselves up for problems with the uneven application of the law. I am for the fully legalization of marijuana, but come on now.

  • John Holland

    Great to see the city working on this. It’s important to stay positive, because legal, well run outlets for medical cannabis enhance the community. Many of these patients are legitimate patients and deserve a safe outlet for their medicine. And of course, shootings at medical cannabis dispensaries are extremely uncommon.

    It seems like the first thing to do would be to work with 40 Acres and 3PG to help get them legal pronto. I don’t know what this would entail, but it sounds like they either need to move, get approved as a dispensary, or leave the city. Another option would be to create a legal path for them in their current location, but that sounds hard.

    It also might mean working with the existing dispensaries that incorrectly use the word “collective” in their name, and helping them to change it.

    I’m sympathetic for both the Sacramento St. community, as well as Eric Thomas. It sure sounds like the community has valid concerns. It seems to me that if Mr. Thomas reaches out to the community, well-intentioned neighborhood activists will step up to the plate and meet him half-way, and work together to solve the problem.

  • Guest

    Not a witch hunt, eh John? You are setting a new bar for pathetic personal attacks on Berkeleyside.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Under Measure T, all cannabis groups in Berkeley, including collectives,
    are required to pay a 2.5% sales tax on cannabis transactions. The city
    estimates the tax will bring in $300,000 a year. But Berkeley has not
    yet granted any business licenses to collectives, and that step is
    required in order to gather taxes.

    Elizabeth Greene, a city planner who staffs the Medical Cannabis
    Commission, said the city is still working on a process on how to issue
    business licenses to collectives. She did not give a timetable about
    when that might be completed.

    So, 1 year after measure T is passed, despite a city fiscal crisis, there is no timetable from the city on issuing business licenses so that sales tax can be collected?

    The person(s) responsible for this need to be given the the option of fixing this before December 31 or looking for a job somewhere else.

    This is negligent city management any way you look at it. The city itself supported Measure T, so to hear that there is no timetable to collect an estimated $300K in taxes makes me think that someone’s career should be in jeopardy.

  • laura

    Low bar, that fits!

    He is also lowering the bar for “collectives” to abide by the lenient regulations the industry wrote for themselves. John is arguing that “GRASSroots capitalists”  be allowed to be exempt from whatever interferes with  profits.

    Entitlement at its best…..

  • Bruce Love

    You can’t back up a single one of those personal attacks with a single fact.

  • Heather W.

    Thanks to John Holland and Thomas Lord/Bruce Love for hi-jacking the thread and tirelessly lambasting Laura Menard, who most people would agree honestly cares about South Berkeley. While no one follows her lead like a lamb, most of us probably agree that she is willing to put herself in the firing line to defend the public safety of the neighborhood and is not going after anyone or any business maliciously. 

    Although I cannot defend Laura, for making declarative statements without definitive citations is indeed up for  academic challenge, no where in this thread do I see either John Holland or Bruce Love supporting their own attacks against Laura’s statements with citations and references either. Both merely “demand” explanation from her. Surely, if they are so slick, they could come up with some counter-arguments that would support their accusations of her “lying.”  Maybe I missed something, but given the number and length of the postings of each, it is difficult to parse out exactly what their point is. 

    I’d pose a few questions for the audience: Do we know that marijuana dispensaries enhance a neighborhood or community? Do they possibly lure ne’er-do-wells? Do we want our City Management to enforce their own rules, and the rules that were voted in by the citizens? Does the City of Berkeley need more than 3 – 4 dispensaries… and if so, why? 

    How is it that Berkeley, with a population density of approximately 112,000, has that many people needing more than three dispensaries? How is it that we have that many people requiring marijuana?   

    Can we get back to fundamental discussion?

  • John Holland

    Laura wrote:

    John is arguing that “GRASSroots capitalists”  be allowed to be exempt from whatever interferes with  profits. 

    I never said that either; it’s the opposite of what I said:

    It seems like the first thing to do would be to work with 40 Acres and 3PG to help get them legal pronto.It seems like the first thing to do would be to work with 40 Acres and 3PG to help get them legal pronto. I don’t know what this would entail, but it sounds like they either need to move, get approved as a dispensary, or leave the city. – John Holland

    In case it wasn’t clear, I’ll try to speak more plainly:

    It is my opinion that all collectives and dispensaries in Berkeley need to work within the law. I believe they should NOT be exempt from laws or regulations. If 3PG is outside of the law, something has to be done.

    Do we disagree? Because I’m under the impression that you and I are in violent agreement on this point.

    Also, I fear I may have been misconstrued at some point. Would you please link me to the post where I said, “that ‘GRASSroots capitalists’  be allowed to be exempt from whatever interferes with  profits.”? Because I don’t even remember suggesting such a thing, and I believe it is made up. But, if I said it, I’d like to apologize for it, because I believe it’s a ridiculous for the city to tolerate cannabis collectives and dispensaries operating outside the law.

  • laura

    Thanks Heather,

    but I did provide references that address the two assertions.

    I paste a section here:

     

    http://medicalmarijuana.com/medical-marijuana-news/title.cfm?artID=261

    For instance, the demographics of California medical marijuana users –
    mostly young, healthy males with long histories of marijuana use – resemble
    those of recreational marijuana users, not of people receiving traditional
    health-care services. In one study of 4,117 individuals, the typical person
    seeking medical marijuana was a 32-year-old male who started using marijuana as
    a teenager.

    A similar study obtained data from medical charts and physician interviews
    for 1,655 consecutive applicants. Fewer than 5 percent were diagnosed with the
    diseases that motivate voters to support medical marijuana programs (HIV/AIDS,
    cancer, or glaucoma). Applicants most commonly reported seeking marijuana to
    relieve pain, improve sleep, or relax. Yet because California allows medical
    marijuana for any “illness for which marijuana provides relief,” the
    denial rate was less than 2 percent.

    It is hard to move beyond anecdotes in California because the state does not
    require patients to register. Montana is more instructive. Until recently, when
    Senate Bill 423 dramatically revised the state’s 2004 Medical Marijuana Act,
    Montana had both a mandatory registry and lax criteria for determining who was
    eligible.

    Under the original law, almost half of all marijuana users in Montana had
    obtained medical authorization (30,036 registered users out of an estimated
    66,000 past-month users of all kinds). If the nation as a whole had the same
    number of patients per capita as Montana, that would be 9.5 million medical
    marijuana users, compared with 16.7 million people using marijuana in the past
    month for any reason.

    It is no mystery how so many recreational users could obtain medical
    recommendations in Montana and elsewhere. The statutes are written to enable
    it, sometimes with subtle word changes like replacing “and” with
    “or.”

    Montana’s old law, for instance, had defined qualifying patients as those
    who had a specified disease or any one of a range of symptoms, including
    pain that is severe or chronic. Michigan, Rhode Island, and Arizona, by
    contrast, require that the pain be both severe and chronic.

    In Canada, patients generally must not only have the symptom, but that
    symptom also has to arise from one of a set of specifically listed diseases.
    (Exceptions are made for end-of-life care and conditions that a specialist
    verifies have been resistant to conventional treatments.)

  • laura

    Medical
    Marijuana Dispensaries and Associated Issues

    Presented
    to the California Chiefs of Police Association
    This report is
    respectfully presented to you with the following disclaimers;

    * This
    report does not attempt to address the merits of Medical Marijuana or the

    concept of its use as
    an alternative medicine as discussed or proposed in Proposition 215.

    * This
    report contains compilations of data collected by others in Law Enforcement

    as well as media
    coverage and this data is identified as such.

    This report contains
    information on three topics;

    * Reported
    Crimes Associated with Medical Marijuana

    * Doctor’s
    Involvement in the Medical Marijuana Equation

    * One
    Example of a Medical Marijuana Entrepreneur

    Areas that currently
    act as a hindrance to a true study of this topic are;

    Under Reporting: With
    few exceptions, agencies contacted stated that they felt that the

    crimes related to
    Medical Marijuana Dispensaries were under reported, if reported at all.

    Confidential
    Informants have provided information that these additional crimes

    (Robberies, Assaults
    and Burglaries involving Marijuana or large amounts of cash) are

    not reported so as to
    not draw additional Law Enforcement and Media scrutiny to this

    very lucrative trade.
    This is not unlike the thought processes employed by Organized

    Crime as well as
    street gangs here in California.

    Crime Classification:
    Another barrier to collection of this data is the lack of classification

    of this data as
    Medical Marijuana related. In years past, statistical analysis of domestic

    violence and hate
    crimes was difficult. These crimes now receive their own classification

    so tracking them is
    much easier. However until such time as Medical Marijuana crimes

    receive their own
    classification, separating these crimes from non Medical Marijuana

    related crimes is
    very difficult.

    Over Reliance on
    Typical Statistical Data: Gathering statistical data on this topic would

    appear to be a simple
    task. One would imagine that you would look at crime in a given

    location prior to the
    arrival of a Medical Marijuana Dispensary and then look at crime

    after its arrival.
    This presents several difficulties. First, based on Internet research, there

    appears to be
    approximately 240 publicized Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

    (www.canorml.org)
    located in almost as many jurisdictions. No one agency can access

    data from all these
    locations and not all agencies compile this data. I spoke with several

    agency
    representatives and each had information regarding this issue, however few had

    specific crime
    statistics. Secondly, not all crimes related to Medical Marijuana take place

    in or around a
    dispensary. Some take place at the homes of the owners, employees or

    patrons. Lastly, not
    all the “secondary issues” related to Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

    are crimes.

     

    BERKELEY

    March 30, 2000: Two males armed
    with sawed off shotguns forced entry into a residence

    and forced the occupant at gun
    point to turn over a safe. A subsequent investigation

    revealed that a second resident
    who was not home at the time was a former director of a

    Medical Marijuana Dispensary and
    was the intended target of the robbery.

    October 2001, December 2001 and
    June 2002: The Medical Marijuana Dispensary on

    University was robbed. Larges
    sums of money and Marijuana taken.

    March 2003: A home invasion
    robbery over marijuana cultivation escalated into a

    homicide.

    December 2003: The Medical
    Marijuana Dispensary on Telegraph was robbed. (No

    further info provided)

    April 2004: A home invasion
    robbery investigation resulted in the seizure of $69,000.00,

    ten pounds of Marijuana and a “Tech
    9” machine pistol.

    “While recognizing the medical
    needs of the cannabis using patients, staff is concerned

    about the potential for crime and
    violence associated with the distribution and cultivation

    of Marijuana”

    (Source) City Manager’s report to
    the Berkeley City Council 7

    Pot club robbed
    for third time in a year (Excerpts from the Article)

    By David
    Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff (06-07-02)

    Club had
    promised to limit amount of cash, marijuana stashed there

    Four men stole $1,500 and $3,500
    worth of marijuana from the Berkeley Medical Herbs

    pot club yesterday after two of
    them were allowed on site without proper identification.

    The afternoon heist renewed
    concerns about the integrity of the club’s security and

    reignited some anger in the
    neighborhood. This incident marks the third time in a year

    robbers have stormed the
    medicinal marijuana club, located in a small brick building at

    1627 University Avenue. The last
    robbery, in December, prompted a rash of concern

    from city officials about
    security at the club. “The guys who robbed it ran out with a big

    satchel,” the neighbor said,
    adding that he disapproves of the marijuana club. “This is a

    very attractive place for other
    drug dealers to rob. It’s not something we want in our

    neighborhood.” Geshuri
    acknowledged that a few neighbors are opposed to the club, but

    said most of the residents
    support Medical Herbs in its mission. The club had pledged

    after the December robbery to
    keep no more than $1,000 and one pound of marijuana on

    site. But Geshuri said the
    robbers on Wednesday made off with $500 more than that and

    as much as a pound-and-a-half of
    marijuana. The witness opposed to the club said theft

    proves that management is not
    keeping its pledge to prevent robberies and ensure safety.

    Berkeley

    * Has had three to
    four facilities operating in the City. (Over the last 3-4 years).

    * There have been
    several take over robberies of the dispensaries.

    * There have been
    arrests where legitimate purchasers have resold marijuana on the

    street to well individuals.

    * Obvious young
    people entering and purchasing marijuana from the dispensary.

    * Recommended that
    if we did not currently have the dispensaries, we should not

    allow them.

    * Police
    department has been given explicit instructions by their City Council not to

    take any kind of enforcement
    action against the dispensaries or people going in or

    out of the facility.

    * Facilities will
    accept any Health Department cards, even those obviously forged

    or faked.

    (Source Staff Report to Davis
    City Council: Medical Marijuana June 13, 2005)

  • Actual215Reader

    FYI to all the readers.  Marijuana Dispensaries often cite “reduced” crime statistics as proof that these marijuana storefronts reduce crime.  The fact of the matter is that police departments (specifically Oakland) are told to reduce proactive enforcement near dispensaries.  This in turn reduces crime statistics.  I personally know of one OPD officer who was working near an Oakland Dispensary and citing blatant vehicle code and traffic violations.  The dispensary promptly contacted OPD and reported this “harassment” and the officer was ordered to stop doing traffic enforcement in that area.  The dispensary owners use a good portion of their profits to donate to City Council members campaigns and projects, buying their loyalty and support.  The City Councils run the Police Departments, hence their ineffectiveness on many fronts.

  • laura

    johnholland @the3PGs420 you may be interested in my tumblog post. sorry to hear people using made up facts against you. : ( johnfromberkeley.tumblr.com/post/123079942…
    23 hours ago
    This is getting weird,  John Holland is not only twitting and blogging debating whether I am a liar or just confused, but he is sending  messages to the 3pgs collective lamenting the injustice I have done against them. Since I have been the target of retaliation several times  I  do not appreciate John singling me out.

    His actions are  irresponsible and twisted.

    Please stop.

  • Heather W.

    Why should 40 Acres or 3PG be helped to do anything other than closed? The City already has three legally functioning dispensaries. How many more does a city with a population of 112K need? 

  • Heather W.

    Good job, Laura! I retract my assertion that you haven’t provided information and data!

  • Heather W.

    John Holland, who apparently lives in his mother’s basement and probably smokes marijuana (I can only assume this, based upon his posts) is close to being a Stalker. Getting pretty creepy.

  • http://berkeleyside.com Tracey Taylor

    We are closing comments on this story because we feel the thread has run its course and we don’t believe that the exchange between two commenters in particular should continue to be aired here.

  • Guest

    John Holland is behaving like an asshole.

  • laura

    that’ s an understatement