Berkeley orders 2 cannabis collectives to shut down

The Perfect Plants Patients Group on Sacramento Street in Berkeley has been ordered to move out

The city of Berkeley has issued “cease and desist” orders to two medical cannabis collectives, leading one to shut its doors.

The Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective at 1820 San Pablo Avenue stopped operations in late January after Berkeley Code Enforcement sent it a letter informing the group it was operating in violation of the city’s municipal code.

The Perfect Plants Patients Group, or 3PGs, at 2840B Sacramento St., is still in business.

“It has come to the City of Berkeley’s attention that you are operating a medical marijuana establishment that is dispensing medical marijuana in a non-residential zoning district,” Gregory Daniel, the code enforcement supervisor, wrote to the two collectives on Dec. 8. “The establishment is in violation of the Berkeley Municipal Code … and must therefore cease and desist.”

Daniel also told 3PGs that it is operating less than 600 feet from Longfellow Middle School, which is the minimum distance any cannabis entity can be from a school.

Forty Acres believes it has the right to do business on the second floor of 1820 San Pablo Avenue because it was operating there before voters passed Measure T in November 2010, which set out new guidelines for dispensaries and collectives, according to Toya Groves, one of the co-founders of the collective. It should be grandfathered in, she argues.

However, in inspecting Forty Acres, the city of Berkeley also determined that the Soe family, the owners of the building, had illegally converted a permitted dance studio into 11 unpermitted living units and ordered them vacated. So Forty Acres had to close down, she said.

Toya Groves: no longer closely connected to Forty Acres

“We haven’t left the space,” said Groves, who said she is no longer closely connected to Forty Acres but is familiar with its situation. “We didn’t move, close down, or cease our collective because we felt we were illegal. We were not an illegal entity… we moved because there were some other liability issues.”

If the landlords or Forty Acres had not stopped operations at 1820 San Pablo Avenue, they, like 3PGs, faced $500 a day in fines, wrote Daniel.

The city of Berkeley has known since February 2011 that Forty Acres was operating in a commercial rather than a residential district, which is required by law. Only Berkeley’s three permitted dispensaries are allowed to operate in commercial zones. Collectives must operate in residential areas and only be “incidental” to a residence.

Forty Acres was using a number of the 11 residential units at 1820 San Pablo Avenue. It had grown to 7,000 members and 21 staff members and sold medical cannabis on consignment. Fory Acres offered pipes and bongs for sale, held regular parties, and advertised its services at cannabis fairs, through its website, and briefly, in the East Bay Express. For these reasons, many city officials determined that Forty Acres was operating as a dispensary rather than a cannabis collective.

Groves disagrees with that assessment.

“We were not a dispensary,” she said. “We weren’t in a commercial store front. Under California state law you are able to pool your resources any way we saw fit. So advertising, passing out flyers, it’s pooling our resources.”

Berkeleyside wrote about the situation in September 2011 and the coverage prompted the Medical Cannabis Commission to take up the matter. (Groves was vice-chair of the commission, but has since stepped down.)

Numerous people in the Bay Area’s cannabis community testified before the commission. Representatives from the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley and Patients Care Collective said they objected to Forty Acres and 3PGs since they were acting like dispensaries but did not have to pay dispensary-like taxes. Both collectives had offered to pay city taxes, but, until January 2012, Berkeley was not equipped to give a collectives a business license, which would let them pay taxes.

Despite numerous requests from Berkeleyside and other media for interviews about the situation, and complaints by residents in south Berkeley, city officials did not appear to take any official action until City Council members Jesse Arreguín and Max Anderson asked Acting Manager Christine Daniel on Dec. 6 to look into the matter. The code enforcement officer sent a letter two days later.

Groves said she does not think Chris Smith, the head of Forty Acres, plans to reopen anywhere else, although he has a business license on file with the state to operate a non-profit collective on Ashby Avenue. Calls to G. Whitney Leigh, a San Francisco attorney retained by Forty Acres, were not returned.

Groves said the past few months have been difficult for her and Forty Acres. The sudden closure meant that 21 people lost their jobs. Many of these are people with employment issues who had been trained in bud cultivation and business techniques by Forty Acres.

“In these economic times it’s tragic,” said Groves, who estimated that 80% of the staff were Berkeley residents. “That’s what breaks my heart.”

Groves also said that she felt unsafe after what she considered personal attacks in some of the comments left on Berkeleyside. Even though she uses medical cannabis to help the pain in her right arm, which was severely disabled in a car accident, she does not feel comfortable now seeking out medicine at any Berkeley dispensary because of the controversy.

Before Groves resigned from the Medical Cannabis Commission (she still serves on the Zoning Adjustments Board), she sent a letter suggesting that Measure T be amended to include a new category of collectives, ones like Forty Acres. The Medical Cannabis Commission subcommittee on dispensaries is taking a look at the idea of a two-tier collective system, said Charlie Pappas, a commissioner, who operated the Divinity Tree dispensary in San Francisco until the federal government forced it to shut down.

The fact that two collectives popped up and were operating more like retail dispensaries than small residential-based collectives is a reflection of the weakness of Berkeley’s marijuana laws, said Pappas. And now there are reports that a third large-scale collective has opened up at 1515 Dwight. It is the Greenleaf Wellness Group, which calls itself a dispensary.

“I said to the City Council (a few years ago) that there’s a need for more than three dispensaries,” said Pappas. “That’s why this is happening.”

The situation may get worse. There have been news reports that the federal government has sent a warning letter to Berkeley Patients’ Group on San Pablo Avenue warning it that it must shut down. Officials from BPG have not confirmed this.

“With them and Forty Acres closed that’s literally over 50% of the medicine sold in Berkeley,” said Pappas. “The other two dispensaries are really small.”

Related:
Councilmember: Look at unauthorized cannabis collectives [12.06.11]
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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  • Completely_Serious

    Great news.  Congrats to the bureaucracy on the lightening fast response. 

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    AWESOME!

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    There is also a state law on the books that states the dispensary cant be within 1000 ft. of any school or can anyone possess over 28 oz. within 1000 ft of a school

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     i stand corrected it’s 28.5 grams within 1000ft of a K-12 school

  • Berkeley Resident

    I don’t know much about this topic and I’m curious what the logic is in having collectives in residential areas and not commercial.  Why is it better to have them in residential areas?

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    I’m with you.  I don’t want one in my neighborhood.

  • punaise

    My business is located about two blocks from CBCB, and we’ve never had any problems or concerns about that operation. 

  • EBGuy

    Exactly.  They’re not supposed to be large scale operations.

  • Completely_Serious

    Really?  Wasn’t there a murder there a few weeks ago, and again about a year ago?  Now, we don’t know if they were related to the presence of the collective drug dealers

    , but maybe . . . .

  • Tor

    “Collectives” are intended to be small-scale cooperative arrangements, sort of like tupperware parties or independent Avon distributors (showing my age there). Or maybe a neighborhood based crop-swap. So they’re supposed to be run out of somebody’s home.

    “Dispensaries” are larger-scale retail operations. Berkeley law currently allows only three dispensaries (or is it four, now?). These are supposed to be located in commercial or manufacturing zones because they generate a lot of traffic.

    Since we already have three, you can’t start up new retail medical marijuana dispensary in Berkeley. The City is arguing that these “collectives” are actually “dispensaries.” 

  • The Sharkey

    It’s high time the city took action on this.

    Glad to hear the city government is finally moving forward on this issue.

  • love_berkeley

    bud cultivation + “business techniques” = “training” for people with “employment issues.”

    Spin at its finest.

  • Cosmo69

    Yeah, we can’t have any dispensary close to a school, that space is reserved for the liquor stores and junk food restaurants.

  • John Holland

    I say it was leprechauns.

  • The Sharkey

     One wrong does not excuse another.

  • punaise

     Yes, really. Correlation is not causation. I’ve heard of no concrete evidence (there was plenty of irresponsible speculation at the time) linking the brutal murder a block away with the CBCB operation. 

  • EBGuy

    The City is arguing that these “collectives” are actually
    “dispensaries.”

    No they’re not.  That would take a bit of effort and legal maneuvering.  They’re taking them at their word that they are indeed collectives.  As collectives they must operate in a residential zoning district.  Instead, they are operating in commercial zones, so they are in violation of BMC.

  • John Holland

    Groves also said that she felt unsafe after what she considered personal attacks in some of the comments left on Berkeleyside.

    De rigueur.

  • Bruce Love

    This bit is not accurate:

    “Collectives” are intended to be small-scale cooperative arrangements,
    sort of like tupperware parties or independent Avon distributors
    (showing my age there). Or maybe a neighborhood based crop-swap. So
    they’re supposed to be run out of somebody’s home.

    A “cooperative” is a specific corporate form that exists under CA state law.

    A “collective” is not any specific kind of entity — it is a broad category of any kind of organization that facilitates collaboration (including resource pooling) among patients and caregivers.   Incidentally, the categories “cooperative” and “collective” are not mutually exclusive.

    State law authorizes cooperatives and collectives.   There is no “scale of operation” limitation on collectives (or cooperatives).  The author of Prop 215 has stated that he included the broad language about “collectives” precisely to create as open-ended an authorization as possible.   Anecdotally, prior to 215, key parts of the compassionate care movement were organized as collectives, some quite large.  215 began to codify this practice.   This is why it’s not accurate to assert they are supposed to be small operations run out of a home (but see below about residential cultivation).

    A “dispensary” is roughly what it sounds like.   Any collective or cooperative may operate a dispensary, subject to local regulations like Berkeley’s.  That’s why it’s confused to say that “The City is arguing that these ‘collectives’ are actually ‘dispensaries’.”   There is nothing wrong per se with a dispensary being a collective if that dispensary is licensed.   It would be more accurate to say “The city is arguing that these collectives are operating unlicensed dispensaries.”

    Berkeley ordinances allow for cultivation in residences up to certain size and quantity limits per residence.  These aren’t limits on the size of a collective or the total quantity that it handles: they are limits on how much can be grown at a particular residence and under what conditions.   For example, a collective with a large number of patients could grow in several residences, or grow somewhere else entirely.

    So: There’s no size limit on collectives, only on the amount that can be grown within a particular residence.  “Collective” is not the opposite of “dispensary”.  The cease and desist is based on the argument that these two are operating unlicensed dispensaries.

    “Dispensary” is defined less than helpfully (if clarity is the goal) at 12.26.030 (from the Health and Safety code):

    E.    ”Medical cannabis dispensary” shall mean any medical cannabis collective that is allowed under Section 12.26.130 to dispense medical cannabis at a non-residential location. Such a
    dispensary may also provide other services to its members, cultivate,
    acquire, bake, store, process, test, and transport medical cannabis. In
    dispensing medical cannabis to its qualified patients or their primary
    caregivers, a dispensary may be reimbursed for the cost of its services
    and materials.

    The definition is used in 12.26.130 thus:

    12.26.130 Medical cannabis organizations.
    A.    Four
    medical cannabis dispensaries shall be allowed within the limits of the
    City of Berkeley, in locations and subject to the requirements
    specified in Title 23.

    B.    All
    medical cannabis facilities and organizations shall maintain
    contemporaneous financial and operational records sufficient to show
    compliance with this Chapter and state law governing medical cannabis,
    which shall be subject to inspection by the City. Such records shall
    protect the confidentiality of their members.

    C.    The
    City Manager may issue regulations to implement this Section. (Ord.
    7161-NS § 4, 2010: Ord. 7068-NS § 3 (part), 12/08/08: Ord. 6826-NS § 2
    (part), 2004)

    “Dispensary” is vaguely defined but the city is presumably relying on 12.26.130(C) for clarity:  a dispensary is whatever the city manager says is a dispensary (within reason).   The suggestion in Grove’s comments is that 40 Acres may not agree the city manager is defining “dispensary” reasonably, but at this time isn’t itching for that fight.   No word on what PPG is thinking.

  • Danekehm

    So if somebody gets murdered outside of a middle school it’s obviously the children’s fault??? You make no sense sir.

  • Completely_Serious

    Did you and punaise miss the “maybe” in my post?  If so, here it is: MAYBE.

    As you were.

  • EBGuy

    I disagree Bruce.  They key word is in the cease and desist is operating
    in a non-residential zoning district.   As a
    collective they cannot operate in a C- zoned district.  If you are privy
    to some other part of the cease and desist, please post.

  • Tor

    “For these reasons, many city officials determined that 40 Acres was operating as a dispensary rather than a cannabis collective.”

  • Tor

    Right, but collectives ARE defined in Berkeley’s municipal code:

    D. “Medical cannabis collective” shall mean a cooperative, affiliation, association, or collective of persons comprised exclusively and entirely of qualified patients and the primary caregivers of those patients, the purpose of which is to provide education, referral, or network services to qualified patients, and to facilitate or assist in the cultivation and manufacture or acquisition of medical cannabis for qualified patients. Except as permitted by Section 12.26.130 or Title 23, medical cannabis collectives shall not be located in commercial or manufacturing districts, and shall only be allowed as incidental to residential use.And while there is no explicit mention of the size of a collective, by limiting it patients and primary caregivers, the implication is that these are relatively small, localized networks. Also, Measure JJ lifted virtually all restrictions on the amount of medical cannabis that could  be cultivated by qualified patients and caregivers. The only remaining restriction is that if your neighbors can see it, you can only grow 10 plants. If it’s, say, in your basement, Berkeley places no restrictions on the amount that you can grow.

  • Bruce Love

    It’s not clear to me with what you disagree, exactly.   Here is what we know about the C&D:

    ‘It has come to the City of Berkeley’s attention that you are operating a medical marijuana establishment that is dispensing medical marijuana in a non-residential zoning district,‘ Gregory Daniel, the code enforcement supervisor, wrote to the two collectives on Dec. 8. ΄The establishment is in violation of the Berkeley Municipal Code … and must therefore cease and desist.‘

    Presumably this is a “business violation” if the code enforcement officer is involved.   Title 12.26.130 cited above specifies room for four dispensaries subject to the regulations of 23E.16.070.    In turn, 23E.16.070(A)(3) references (though not by name) Title 9 (Business Licenses and Regulations) where-in the licensing and tax specific are laid out.

  • http://twitter.com/captfuzzbucket CaptFuzz

    I’m sorry Toya feels threatened by public commentary.  If you hang your name out to lead a controversial business enterprise such as a marijuana collective and you can’t handle the PR troubles that stem from that, you don’t deserve to lead such an enterprise.  From what I have read and seen with my own eyes on San Pablo Ave near the 40 Acres location, this was not a tightly run business at all.  Do it right, or go home.  Thank you, city officials, for doing what small government oversight is supposed to do.

  • Bruce Love

    I think you’re over-reading that. You are quoting a series of definitions, not normative code. In other words this bit:

    Except as permitted by Section 12.26.130 or Title 23 medical cannabis collectives shall not be located in commercial or manufacturing districts, and shall only be allowed as incidental to residential use.

    Taken in context, that doesn’t impose any restriction on collectives other than what I already cited. It doesn’t prevent collectives from running dispensaries in commercial zones. It doesn’t prevent them having non-dispensary operations in commercial zones (something which Title 23 explicitly permits). It doesn’t confine collectives to residential areas. It doesn’t mean that there is no overlap between coops and collectives.

    Rather, the definition itself is there mainly in service of 12.26.040 which, as far as I can tell, is the only place that “collectives” are exclusively addressed. There, collectives are given additional right to operate in residential zones. You are trying to read this as if Berkeley law imposes extra restrictions on collectives when, in fact, it gives additional rights to collectives.

    On the subject of “intent” you write:

    And while there is no explicit mention of the size of a collective, by limiting it patients and primary caregivers, the implication is that these are relatively small, localized networks.

    Well, no. From 12.26.040 (“Medical cannabis collectives”) with some emphasis added:

    Accordingly, this section recognizes that qualified patients may join together with or without their primary caregivers to form medical cannabis collectives for the purpose of acquiring or cultivating and manufacturing medical cannabis solely for the personal medical use of the members who are qualified patients. The City recognizes that not all members of a medical cannabis collective will perform the same tasks or contribute to the collective in an equal manner. Accordingly, medical cannabis collectives are free to decide how to best pool their resources and divide responsibilities in cultivating medical cannabis for the personal medical use of their members who are qualified patients.

    Berkeley is not there bestowing any rights: it is recognizing rights that exist under state law. And under state law, indeed, caregivers and patients may collaborate as described. That doesn’t limit a collective’s size. It doesn’t mean that a collective may not hire employees. It doesn’t mean that a collective may not advertise for new members.

  • hard to fool

    There is much more to 40 Acres closing then the city finally sending a cease and desist order.

    From the website legalmarijuanadispensary.com :

    beware of chris smith

    Kooldaddylongjon Reviewed by Kooldaddylongjon

    January 30, 2012

    This club is closed down now supposedly switching to deleivery while

    the director, Chris Smith, is making himself out of contact and

    unavailable to settling his outstanding debt. I have always had a hard

    time getting paid from him, but now after several days of no

    communication after a scheduled apointment to collect it feels like

    straight robbery. I would advise anyone to avoid doing any business

    with Chris Smith if 40acres continues under any model. Disrespectful

    and unreliable. The staff was all good, always a pleasure.

  • The Sharkey

    40 Acres was a mess.
    Since they started operation I have seem what appear to be multiple hand-to-hand drug sales on the corner of San Pablo and Delaware.

    Hopefully with their closure this activity will stop.

  • punaise

     you can’t have your brownie and eat it, too.

  • John Holland

    The Sharkey (whoever she is) wrote:

     I have seem what appear to be multiple hand-to-hand drug sales on the corner of San Pablo and Delaware.

    This makes no economic sense, but I’m sure you knew that already. As one reader pointed out earlier, the product sold at dispensaries/collectives is marked up ABOVE street value. Do these buyers appear to be particularly wealthy? Please help me understand how the math works here, because stories of street resale don’t sound credible.

    I find it amusing that, on the one hand, the anti-compassion crowd will complain that anyone can easily become a registered cannabis patient, and then on the other hand, will claim that there is a thriving underground resale market of over-priced product being even further marked up, and then resold on the street from dispensaries. Tall tales.

    Isn’t there a liquor store right there at San Pablo and Delaware? Drug dealing is not uncommon around liquor stores. Maybe that is the source of the problem.

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    goo.gl/iYjPn  goo.gl/Jfs61

  • Chris

    The dealers buy in quantity from the clubs, then sell nickel and dime bags at a profit on the street.

    The liquor store is also a large part of the problem – as are the liquor stores on San Pablo at Allston and also at Bancroft.

  • John Holland

    On what scale do you believe this to be happening? 2 serious dealers? 5? 10?

    Just curious. Then we can do some math.

  • EBGuy

    That is Frances’ summary.  It would be a lot harder for the city to prove they are a dispensary (when the operations assert they are a non-dispensary collective) than for the city to shut them down because they are a non-dispensary collective operating in a commercial zone.  That said, I’m realizing the cease and desist (well, the couple sentences published with the article) could be read either way if you get creative and say “dispensing”=dispensary.  BS, is it possible to link the entire cease and desist letter.

  • The Sharkey

     Let’s see… I could speculate wildly and then have you attack me for speculating, or I could just ignore you… Hmmm…

    You need to pick your targets more carefully, John. I don’t like 40 Acres because they were being a bad neighbor, but I *do* support medical marijuana and marijuana legalization.

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  • John Holland

    Sparky wrote:

    I could speculate wildly and then have you attack me for speculating, or I could just ignore you.

    Or, there’s a third option: you could stick to your guns, and back up your claim. I’d be surprised, but it ~could~ happen.

    Let’s say there were 4 “dealers” in Berkeley, each striving to earn $2,000 /month selling “nickel bags”. A whopping $8,000 a month total in unregulated medical cannabis sales.

    Collectively, they’d have to push about 10,000 nickel bags a month… in a city with 110,000 people… working 8 hours a day, 7 days a week to make the equivalent of $8/hour.

    Does that math sound right to you? Does that sound credible?

    Sparky wrote:

    I don’t like 40 Acres because they were being a bad neighbor

    I don’t doubt you on that. I just doubt they were fueling rampant street dealing, because the economics don’t make sense.

    I guess you can expect those dealers to disappear from the neighborhood now, anyway.

  • John Holland

    Really? Please see my response to the Sharkey.

  • John Holland

    And, if you could make 3 nickel bags a minute, it would take 50 hours to make those 10,000 nickel bags.

    Tall, tall, tales indeed.

  • The Sharkey

    So now asking me to speculate – something you’ve attacked others for doing in the past – isn’t good enough? You’re going to start attributing statements I didn’t make to me?

     Go troll someone else, John.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Was there another article on Berkeleyside?  The comments on that one looked relatively tame – no ad hom attacks, no threats.  It was challenging her actions (or non-actions) to be sure, but it didn’t look really “personal”.  Reading between the lines of the articles and comments (and having recent experience  with another Berkeley board meeting), it seems like the MMC meetings were a lot … um … zestier. 

    I’m sorry that Ms. Groves feels unsafe but I am not seeing where it came from on Berkeleyside. 

  • Berkeleyfarm

    1515 Dwight isn’t much further away from Longfellow Middle School.  Has anyone done a measure on it?

  • Berkeleyfarm

    “she does not feel comfortable now seeking out medicine at any Berkeley dispensary because of the controversy.”

    Berkeley *is* a small town in a lot of ways.  Fortunately for Ms. Groves, Oaksterdam is right next door. 

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     one dealer selling to kids is too many!

  • BerkeleyBeat

    1515 Dwight to 1500 Derby st. is 0.4 miles, over 1000 feet away. They are also in a residence.

  • Musica_y_amor

    Anyone notice that 40 Acres has already reopened at the same location, only a few weeks after the City supposedly shut them down?

  • The Sharkey

    Are you sure?

    EDIT: Website makes it look like they’re still open.
    http://www.40acresmedicalmarijuana.org/

  • bgal4

    Vallejo marijuana dispensary hit in armed robbery
    Times-Herald staff report/
    04/09/2012
     
    04/09/2012

    A Vallejo marijuana dispensary was robbed Friday night, police said Sunday.At about 8 p.m., police responded to an armed robbery at Perfect Plants Patients Group “3PG’s,” 1988 Broadway.Two
    armed men entered the dispensary and demanded money from the store
    owner, police said. The owner gave them an undisclosed amount of money,
    before being pistol whipped by one suspect, police added.Before
    fleeing, the suspects also took an undisclosed amount of marijuana that
    the owner just brought in from his Berkeley dispensary, police added.The owner sustained facial injuries, but declined medical attention, police said.The
    suspects were described as black men, between 18 and 20, 5 feet, 10
    inches tall, about 225 pounds. They were seen driving off in a black
    S500 Mercedes Benz.

  • Flip_czech

    And about the liquor store adjacent to 3PG’s?  What about the kids?  The hypocrisy is stunning– I have no health insurance and have chronic back pain, 3PG’s always worked with my scant funds, always very generous, which is more than can be said for the $20 aspirin culture that is health care in the US today.