Councilman: Look at unauthorized collectives

A sign warning against drug dealing near the location of a new medical cannabis collective.

City Councilman Jesse Arreguín will ask the city manager tonight to investigate whether two medical cannabis collectives are operating in violation of Berkeley’s zoning laws.

Arreguín’s announced his intent after a contentious meeting of the Medical Cannabis Commission on Thursday, Dec. 1. The MCC spent a large part of its meeting debating whether to send a letter to city officials drawing attention to the proliferation of collectives in commercial districts, but could not agree on the wording. The MCC will take up the matter again in January.

“I don’t think this should be swept under the rug,” said Arreguín. “It is an important issue. Some action needs to be taken. The city is trying to be sensitive to these particular collectives, which provide medicine to patients. At the same time, they are clearly violating the city’s zoning laws and medical marijuana ordinances.”

A group of neighbors who live near the Perfect Plants Patients Group on Sacramento Street near Oregon has sent a letter to the City Council expressing concern about the unauthorized cannabis collective, which is operating in a commercial district, contrary to Berkeley’s zoning ordinances. Arreguín said he would ask City Manager Christine Daniel at the council meeting to investigate the claims in the letter.

The city has been aware of 3PGs for months, as well as the fact that another cannabis collective, Forty Acres, is operating in a commercial district. Wendy Cosin, now the interim planning director, wrote an email to Forty Acres in February 2011 expressing concern that the organization was “illegally operating a dispensary,” but the city has taken no steps to correct the situation, despite articles in Berkeleyside and letters from residents.

“I am also troubled by the fact that no action has been taken on this issue,” said Arreguín.

The MCC voted at its November meeting to send a letter to city officials drawing attention to the two collectives operating in a commercial district. Law requires that collectives only operate in a residential zone. Only the city’s three licensed dispensaries can operate in a commercial area.

When a draft of the letter was presented at the MCC’s Dec 1. meeting, a number of people, mostly connected with Forty Acres, expressed concern.

Chris Smith, one of the co-founders of Forty Acres, said the letter was based on unproven information and a hidden agenda – the desire of the city’s three dispensaries to preserve their profits.

“You are trying to send off a letter that has no basis at all,” said Smith. “It’s a distraction. You guys need to be focusing on the issues – which are patients’ rights.”

Smith’s father, Scott B. Smith, reiterated that point.

“It’s all about money,” said the elder Smith. “It’s all about race. It’s all about position. Unless the people who were in the community before do not change their tactics and their ways, hell is going to be paid in one way or another.”

Representatives of the dispensaries took issue with the idea that they were in the medical cannabis business for money rather than helping patients.

Aundre Speciale, the director of Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley, or CBCB, said her organization is concerned about the rise of unauthorized collectives not because she wants to shut them down, but because she wants a level playing field. It is not fair that CBCB has to pay taxes to the city and has to shut by 9 pm and the collectives do not, she said.

“If I could change the name of our nonprofit operation from a dispensary to a collective, do we get to stay open all hours of the night and not pay taxes?” said Speciale. “I am furious that members of the collectives are portraying us as the for-profit bad guys. We are not profiteers. We have much higher expenses because we follow the rules. To be called a profiteer over that … I find insulting.”

MCC Commissioner Toya Groves, who is also one of the co-founders of Forty Acres, objected to many aspects of the proposed letter. She thought it was not right to lump Forty Acres together with 3PGs because Forty Acres was operating from its San Pablo location before the passage of Measure T in November 2010. That measure was the first time Berkeley set zoning regulations for collectives, so Forty Acres should be grandfathered in, she said.

Groves also said that by calling the collectives “unauthorized dispensaries” in the letter, it was casting them in a negative light.  The letter seemed to want to shut them down, said Groves.

Groves also expressed concern that singling out these two collectives, which are run by people of color, might be racially motivated.

“The grouping of these collectives, which are very different, is a very high concern to me,” said Groves. “I am going to play the race card here. The only two similarities is who they are organizationally and the demographics of the patients they serve. It appears to be racially biased.”

Commissioner Stewart Jones, who was one of the co-authors of the letter under discussion, took umbrage at this assertion.

“I would appreciate it if you ceased raising the race issue,” said Jones. “There is no race motivation behind it.”

The commission started to wordsmith the letter but when it became clear that would be contentious, Commissioner David Stoloff made a motion to indefinitely table the letter. That motion failed and the commission then decided to try and finesse the letter in the next few weeks and bring it back before the commission.

In a separate matter, the city will start issuing business licenses to cannabis collectives in 2012, announced Elizabeth Greene, the city planner who staffs the commission. This will allow collectives to pay taxes to the city.

Rapid growth of cannabis collective raises concerns [9.20.11]
Concerns raised about new medical cannabis collective [10.27.11]
Commission ponders growth of unlicensed pot clubs [11.4.11]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • deirdre

    I take issue with the alleged racial motivations of those attempting to shut down the collectives.  Longfellow Middle School is right around the corner from Perfect Plants Patients Group.  Longfellow’s student demographic is about one-third African American students and an additional one-quarter Latino students.  Shouldn’t we be looking out for the best interests of these kids?

  • Laura

    The Longfellow PTA and administrators have discussed the matter and are clearly concerned.
    The Berkeley PTA council president is writing a letter in support of enforcing existing laws to balance public health and safety issues with patients rights.

    We have heard from one of the commissioner so far, Charlie Pappas,  who seems both sensible and ethical. He runs a collective in SF and understands the importance of  dispensaries/ collectives being good neighbors and conforming to local laws and regulations.

  • What the eff does this have to do with race?  Sorry… I have to call BS.  How about you just follow the law?

  • Bruce Love

    re: “What the eff does this have to do with race? “

    Groves explains part of it pretty well, as mentioned in the article.

  • Mudman

    I wish the city council would not be hypocritical. If the laws are being broken the places should not be allowed to exist. Shut ’em down.

  • Bruce Love

    Should the city seek a court order, in your view, or just march in and padlock the places?

  • Greg

     “I am going to play the race card here. The only two similarities is who they are organizationally and the demographics of the patients they serve. It appears to be racially biased.”
    Without any reference to similar ‘collectives’ that differ only in race of the ‘organization’ and/or the ‘demographics’ this seems more accusation than explanation.

    Now, I’m not saying this is isn’t accurate, but that seems like something easily verified:

    Are there other ‘collectives’ in Berkeley operating under similar circumstances (size, cash exchanges, locations, etc)?  If yes, are there other plausible explanations for why there were left unnamed, or just race of the ‘organization’ and/or ‘demographics’?

  • Greg

    ‘They’ were left unnamed, not ‘there’.

  • Anonymous

    The Compassionate Usage act does permit qualified patients to use
    marijuana and lets both those patients and their qualified caregivers
    legally purchase, possess and transport marijuana without prosecution.
    However, the California Department of Justice has issued guidelines for
    the use of medical marijuana, and these guidelines do prohibit the use
    of marijuana at or within 1,000 feet of a school, recreation center or
    youth center unless within a home.Read more: California Law for Drugs Near Schools |

  • Bruce Love

    See Health and Safety code at 111362.768   (looks like it’s actually a 600′ limit at the state level, same as it is in Berkeley).

  • Lawrencebonner1972

    i am not able to accept the lawful status of cannabis because in my opinion it does not have a noticeable detrimental effect on people or there property. 

  • Laura

    Federal law trumps state and local law. Berkeley would have been wise to have align to the federal  standard from the start.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Love did you read the article it states ” the California Department of Justice has issued guidelines for
    the use of medical marijuana, and these guidelines do prohibit the use
    of marijuana at or within 1,000 feet of a school, recreation center or
    youth center unless within a home” the CALIFORNIA DOJ NOT THE FED issued this.

  • Bruce Love

    3rdGen:  Yes, I read it and I’m familiar with it and the legal code and the attorney general’s office guidelines that inform it.  I’m slightly familiar with how the court views those guidelines.

    (a) Those “guidelines” are just that — guidelines.  They do not prohibit anything at all.  They are a legal opinion from the State AG’s office.  They are not binding on the court.

    (b) The guideline in question is from a section about enforcement against individuals — considered separate and distinct from enforcement against collectives and cooperatives and the activities that take place within their places of business.   To bust people inside a collective or cooperative’s place of business on the basis of the guideline you cite would not be supported by the guidelines document (link to the actual guidelines is given below).

    (c) The state law that leads to the 1000′ guideline says only that a particular section of the law does not in and of itself authorize individuals to use in the 1000′ radius outside of a residence.   That’s importantly different from prohibiting use in that radius.  Other parts of the law can still authorize additional use within the 1000′ radius.

    (d) Collective and cooperative places of business customarily involve on-site consumption.   Their location relative to schools is governed by the state code I cited (Health and Safety 111362.768) and by Berkeley ordinance.  Both of those set a 600′ limit.

    Oh… I see that the “ehow” article you cited doesn’t seem to link to the actual guidelines it tries to summarize.  They are here:

  • Laura

    Groves:“I am going to play the race card here.”

    This is not the first time Groves has as she says PLAYED loose. See newstories regarding Kandy’s Carwash and B-Town Dollar Store.  She lost both times, seems evidence trumps fabrication and race baiting tactics.

  • Greg

    Because people seemed to be kindly ignoring it I wasn’t going to correct myself, but I did misread the quote initially.  This is (at least partially) responsible for my response being somewhat of a non-sequitur.

    That said, given both ‘collectives’ are located in commercial zones there is at least one other similarity between ’40 Acres’ and ‘3pgs’.  

    Whether ’40 Acres’ ultimately is ‘grandfathered’ in is irrelevant unless that is a mechanical process known to all parties (the councilman, the commissioners, etc).  There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that is the case, so citing ‘race’ as the motivation here seems more than a little premature.

  • Laura

    In addition to the zoning violation, both “collectives” are operating as de facto dispensaries without a permit, which is the central complaint of the local med cannabis industry. Basically 40 acres is jumping to the front of long line of applicants in an attempt to secure the remaining dispensary permit. They were warned over a year ago to stop advertizing as a dispensary.  The neighbors are concerned about operational and environmental issues both “collectives” are in violation of, such as  hours of operations, delivery services, storage of pot, loitering, security,  etc.

  • Chris

    There’s a new dispensary in town. On Dwight near SP.

  • lauram

    It might be the delivery service that the recently shut down 40 Acres collective morphed into.

    Time for another investigative piece on the licensing  and regulatory issues related to collectives and dispensaries.

    A few weeks ago I read in the papers that the state legislators will take up an agenda item recommended by the states attorney general  Harris to close some of the legilation holes in Prop 215 and 420. I hope they will also consider regulatory frameworks for delivery services.