Court orders eviction of Forty Acres cannabis collective

A cannabis grow room in the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective in September 2011. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The landlord of the San Pablo Avenue building that houses Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Growers’ Collective won a court judgement last week to evict the cannabis business.

An Alameda County jury voted 12-0 on Nov. 2 that the collective was a nuisance and an unlawful use of the property, according to Michael McLaughlin, attorney for Clarence Soe, who owns the building with his two sisters. The sheriff’s department is scheduled to evict Chris Smith, the collective’s top executive, the collective, and other tenants the week of Nov. 26, he said.

But the eviction might be stayed if Smith’s attorney convinces a court that Soe rented the premises to Smith under false pretenses, said Clifford Fried, Smith’s attorney. He has filed for an injunction against the eviction as well as a separate lawsuit charging Soe with fraud and asking for $50,000 in damages.

The eviction is only the latest twist in the saga of Forty Acres, which began operation in 2009 on the second floor of 1820 San Pablo Ave. and soon grew to an organization of 7,000 members.

Founded by Smith and Toya Groves, a Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board official, Forty Acres was owned and operated by African Americans and aimed to break the stranglehold of Berkeley’s three cannabis dispensaries, all operated by whites. Smith and Groves wanted to create a collective that taught African-Americans entrepreneurial skills in the burgeoning cannabis industry. Ultimately, they hoped to apply for the permit for Berkeley’s fourth dispensary, which was authorized by voters with Measure T in November 2010.

Chris Smith, co-founder of the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Collective. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

But Forty Acres immediately came up against Berkeley’s zoning laws, which require that cannabis collectives only operate in residential districts and that their use be “incidental.” Starting in February 2011, Berkeley officials informed Smith that Forty Acres was out of zoning compliance since it was a collective operating in a commercial rather than residential district. Smith and Groves argued that, since Forty Acres started before the passage of Measure T, it should be grandfathered in.

After Berkeleyside ran stories about Forty Acres and Perfect Plants Patients Group, another collective operating in a commercial area, the city issued cease and desist orders to the two collectives in February 2012, and threatened them with fines of $500 a day. While inspecting the San Pablo property, city officials also discovered that Soe had illegally converted a permitted dance studio into 11 unpermitted living units and ordered them vacated.

Forty Acres closed briefly but then reopened. (Groves left the collective in early 2012.)

Once Soe found out that Berkeley considered Forty Acres to be operating illegally, he asked Smith to shut it down, said McLaughlin. When he didn’t comply, Soe filed an eviction suit in March.

“Chris was operating his club up there and refused to leave,” said McLaughlin. “He left us no choice but to file an eviction notice.”

Soe was not opposed to the cannabis collective, just the fact that Berkeley considered it illegal, said McLaughlin. Smith applied for a business license in February but it was denied.

In October, Smith filed a counter suit against Soe, charging him with fraud and breach of contract, according to court records. Smith contends that Soe converted the space into residential units, rented them out, but never informed the tenants that Berkeley had not issued a permit. That case has not been scheduled for a hearing yet.

The City Council is scheduled to hear an appeal from a ZAB ruling on Tuesday next week that Perfect Plants Patients Group, or 3PGs, at 2840B Sacramento St., is in violation of the city’s zoning laws and is a public nuisance and should be shut down. Neighbors of 3PGs testified to ZAB in September that they had seen an increase in crime and loitering on Sacramento since 3PGs opened its doors, and frequently found discarded plastic cannabis bags around the area. Neighbors have been frustrated by the city’s slow response to shuttering the collective and have collected 112 signatures to date on Change.org asking Berkeley to shut it down immediately. Eric Thomas, the operator of 3PGs, has denied that his business is a magnet for crime. Instead, he contends, it is a positive force in the neighborhood.

Related:
Berkeley moves to shut down cannabis operation [09.26.12]
Berkeley orders two cannabis collectives to shut down [02.22.12]
Rapid growth of cannabis collective raises concerns [11.29.11]

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  • http://berkeleyside.com Tracey Taylor

    John: You’re right. We have changed the text to read: “Neighbors have been frustrated by the city’s slow response to shuttering the collective and have collected 112 signatures to date on Change.org asking Berkeley to shut it down immediately.”

  • John Holland

    Thanks! You guys are pretty on top of things.

  • The Sharkey

    I don’t know much about PPPG, but 40 Acres is a bad neighbor and has been operating illegally, John.

    Wanting an illegal business shut down isn’t “anti-compassion,” it’s wanting to see our currently existing laws upheld.

    If you don’t like the laws surrounding marijuana in the State of California, then lobby to change them.

  • Anonymizrrr

    The first rule about John Holland: do not engage John Holland.

  • John Holland

    Especially if you make stuff up!

  • bgal4

     Like you with your false labels of anti-compassion activists.

  • The Sharkey

    He does tend to be a bit Rovian when it comes to medical marijuana activism.

  • John Holland

    I know even less about 40 Acres, and did not express an opinion on them, did I? The neighbors may very well be correct.

    As you know, my concern is accuracy in the debate, which is why I strive to only talk about what I know.

    1. 112 ≠ “hundreds”. Agreed?
    2. OK, scratch “anti-compaasion” (just for you, The Sharkey!) Neighbors opposed to 3PG and 40 acres have been spreading falsehoods online about shootings in medical cannabis dispensaries and research around medical cannabis users. Agreed?

  • John Holland

    That makes me an utter failure and an evil person. :-(

  • John Holland

    By “anti-compassion” I do not mean devoid of personal compassion, and I apologize if it has been received that way, as I’ve used the term repeatedly.

    I should say “anti-Compassion” (note the upper case), because I am referring specifically to the “Compassion” movement that strives to make medical cannabis more available to cannabis patients.

    Also, I don’t consider those that argue that the current system is not really compassionate, and laws should be stricter, as part of the “Compassion” movement.

    I use the word “activists” because they’ll say anything to limit access to medical cannabis, even if it’s not true.

    That’s been my personal experience. I would feel totally differently if they fessed up to their inaccuracies. But then they’d have to admit they were wrong. And they hate that.

  • The Sharkey

    1.) Agreed!
    2.) Maybe? Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of reliable information about the medical marijuana industry in California and in its absence people rely on anecdotes. The problem is when people try to pass off anecdotes as facts. Something that’s all too common in Berkeley politics.

  • The Sharkey

    Interesting!

    I wasn’t aware that Medical Marijuana advocates had rebranded themselves as the “Compassion” movement.

    I think that’s super tacky (similar to anti-choice advocates calling themselves “pro-life”) but it makes your comments seem a lot more understandable. Thanks for clarifying!

    http://www.compassionatecoalition.org/category/category/medical-marijuana

    It’s a bummer that Washington beat us to recreational legalization. We might not have needed to pass regressive sales tax increases (Prop 30) if we had just legalized and taxed marijuana like alcohol or tobacco.

  • John Holland

    “The Shakey” wrote:

    The problem is when people try to pass off anecdotes as facts.

    My point exactly. And people who do this are lobbying the city hoping no one will catch on.

  • bgal4

     evil fits

  • John Holland

    “The Sharkey” wrote:

    “Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of reliable information about the medical marijuana industry in California and in its absence people rely on anecdotes”

    Really? I’ve heard neighbors opposed to 3PG say there are “plenty of national studies.”

    Which is it?!!!

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Having been through the ZAB and City Council process recently for a project … that’s standard operating procedure.

    Hell it doesn’t even have to be anecdotes.  It can be straight-up untruths.  There’s no real sanction for lying or misrepresenting your case in, say, a council meeting. 

  • The Sharkey

    Quit being such an asshole, John.

    It’s been a year already. Let it go.

  • John Holland

    “The Sharkey” wrote:

    It’s been a year since Laura made those comments. Let it go.

    And stands by them! Hence, I stand by mine.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Although in some ways I am pleased that it wasn’t California because then the story would be “OH THOSE WACKY CALIFORNIANS LOL”. 

  • bgal4

    He can’t. Recently published study using data from national surveys.

    http://www.annalsofepidemiology.org/article/S1047-2797%2811%2900372-3/abstract

    Purpose
    To replicate a prior study that found greater adolescent marijuana use in states that have passed medical marijuana
    laws (MMLs), and extend this analysis by accounting for confounding by unmeasured state characteristics and measurement error.

    Methods
    We obtained state-level estimates of marijuana use from the 2002 through
    2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. We used 2-sample t-tests and random-effects regression to replicate previous results. We used difference-in-differences regression models to estimate the causal effect of MMLs on marijuana use, and simulations to account for measurement error.

  • John Holland

    Unsurprising, nor would I disagree with this study. What is the point?

    That shootings in dispensaries are not uncommon? Or that there are plenty of national studies about the composition of medical cannabis users?

    Because you’re wrong about those two points. Even a year later.

  • Completely_Serious

    Is selling pot really a race thing?  I don’t see the relevance of the race of the owners of any pot shop, when the issue is violation of zoning laws.  Does one race get a pass on violation of zoning laws?

  • John Holland

    While I favor medical cannabis, I, too, question the relevance of the racial element to the 40 Acres situation.

    Sadly, medical cannabis carries a stigma, due in no small part by lies about gun violence and non-existent research spread by anti-compassion-movement activists.

    I wish it were different, but it doesn’t seem to me that training in cannabis horticulture and business is the best path for minorities to learn business skills. There are lots of aspects of business management that eschewed due to the underground nature and unique market dynamics of medical cannabis. And, I can’t imagine a resume with only cannabis industry experience as a “best foot forward” vehicle in entering the job market for a “mainstream” career. For better or worse, such a candidate would get passed over all the time.

    This is too bad, because I agree with the spirit of what 40 Acres intends.

    And, as completely_serious points out, even if 40 acres is doing a great job with the minority training track, that seems irrelevant to the zoning concern specifically.

    I hope they find a way to stay in business at a proper location as good neighbors. (I don’t have any evidence that they are bad neighbors, BTW). But I think the very important issue of empowering minorities is not central to the zoning dispute.

  • guest

     This caught my attention as well.  It’s almost too pathetic for inclusion or comment.

    “Founded by Smith and Toya Groves, a Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board official, 40 Acres was owned and operated by African Americans
    and aimed to break the stranglehold of Berkeley’s three cannabis
    dispensaries, all operated by whites. Smith and Groves wanted to create a
    collective that taught African-Americans entrepreneurial skills in the
    burgeoning cannabis industry.”

  • bgal4

     http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/articles/pot-clinic-guard-shot-during-robbery-near-downtown#photo-10691711

    even a limited 2012 search brings up numerous news stories about armed robberies resulting in shootings at dispensaries and grow houses

  • John Holland

    You said “shootings.” This is not a shooting.

    Once again: shootings are extremely uncommon in dispensaries.

    Am I lying?

  • bgal4

     Invite Thomas to open his shop on College Ave near your compassionate self.

  • John Holland

    Huh?

  • guest

    “…40 Acres was owned and operated by African Americans and aimed to break the stranglehold of Berkeley’s three cannabis dispensaries, all operated by whites.”

    If I had any AA kids, I would go way out of my way to avoid having them taught this ‘lesson.’

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Well, we do teach children that it’s OK to lie about where you live if you want to attend BUSD, so this is not surprising.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Could you please go back to being Berkeley Deer?

  • Forpatientsnotprofit

    This is interesting.

    “After Berkeleyside ran stories about Forty Acres and Perfect Plants Patients Group, another collective operating in a commercial area, the city issued cease and desist orders to the two collectives in February 2012, and threatened them with fines of $500 a day.”

    So 40 acres had been operating pretty much fine until the article?

    Seems like if the interview to expose 40 acres inner workings never took place, could this been handled properly between the city, owner of building and operator of 40 acres?

    also

    Seems like people are more concerned with “zoning laws” than patients aquiring their medicine.

    Bottomline..no 40 acres=more money for competing dispensaries.  

    If it was about medicine, you would think the medical marijuana industry in Berkeley mainly the dispensaries would help include 3pgs and 40 acres on standards.

    “The competition is so fierce that at least two Berkeley dispensaries sent some of its members to surreptitiously join 40 Acres and scope out their activities, according to a source.”

    Say what you say or think, but this IS also a business and 40 acres as a collective was in DIRECT competition with the other dispensaries.

    So instead of trying to help the collective gain some foothold of understanding within the community, it seems the 3 other dispensaries and other un-named sources would rather point fingers and speak about regulations rather than the procurement of medicine for needy patients.

  • John Holland

    Totally.

  • The Sharkey

    Nope. Making things nice and easy for people who set up illegal businesses of any kind just encourages more illegal activity.

    If you want to start a business, learn the laws and procedures first.

  • BerkeleyDeer

    I’m staying out of this! Shooting of deer in the Berkeley Hills is not uncommon. In fact, it’s more common than shootings in medical cannabis dispensaries in this city!
    Best to lay low.

  • John Holland

    Holland / Sharkey tangent: I think we sort of agree on this point, and I am just curious about how you think such an industry would ultimately operate legitimately. I’m not BSing as I meticulously use the word “medical”, which implies that it carries with it the responsibility to be handled properly such that the negative aspects (as with any substance, such as nicotine, alcohol or oxycontin) are minimized.

    This is not a “gotcha” question. I actually haven’t thought or read about it much, and I thought you would have ideas/opinions.

    Doesn’t this imply a pretty big regulatory operation?

    Also, how do you think it would play out culturally? Sure, maybe many people in the bay area are what you would call “420 friendly”. But how does this play out in public? Around children? I’m actually quite prudish about this, and believe that a kid in a park should not (edit) have to be exposed to someone chugging a night train, smoking a cigarette, or tokin’ up, or hittin’ the pipe.

    For better or worse, admitedly I think these are all big unanswered questions. I’m asking because I think you are a creative thinker and I value your opinion.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Right, and regular readers will require similar positions being advanced around here about Rogue Cafe, which was (briefly) an illegal restaurant skirting health inspectors and other laws and procedures.  So it’s not some anti-pot crusade.

  • The Sharkey

    It’s tough on a State level. A substance like marijuana probably ought to be regulated on a Federal level, and folded into the ATF. We don’t even have an adequate system in place to regulate medical marijuana, let alone recreational stuff.

    Consumption of marijuana ought to be regulated the same way that the consumption of alcohol is – you can do it in a bar, you can do it in your house, but if  you get caught doing it in public you get busted. Unfortunately we can’t regulate it like that as long as medical marijuana proponents keep insisting that it’s just about “medicine” and not about getting high. You can get public support for the regulation of recreational drugs like alcohol and tobacco, but it’s more difficult for a substance that people have been fighting to have classified as medicine for decades.

  • The Sharkey

    Yeah. I think the City should make it a lot easier for people to get information about how to set up businesses legally, but playing softball with people who skirt the rules just encourages more of it.

  • bgal4

    All three of the largest NON- PERMITTED MM shops know full well they are violating Berkeley’s MM regulatory ordinances. They are doing so because they can, and vying for the potential 4th permit.

    The troubled with j…. like Holland is he is conflating the issues and trying to paint those of us who want the regulations ( operating standards) enforced with  MM prohibitionists.

    Oakland city admin can explain in less than 10 minutes how to apply for and obtain a MMD permit, they can also explain in 10 minutes the administrative law procedures to shut down illegal storefronts without permit. No problem

    Here is Berkeley, you can ask code enforcement, City Manager, Med Marijuana Commission and the city attorney office and never get clear or complete answer to what is the procedure to regulate NON-Permitted pot clubs that open up without approval. And the answers they give are bs. The city attorney has all the legal authority required to force the landlord to evict an illegal tenant.

    Berkeley also adopted a quota regulatory system for the very purpose of controlling the numbers and operating conditions of pot club.

    Berkeley and Oakland did so to avoid what is going on in L.A.

    Soe was motivated by the fines to evict Smith and Groves.  Tan and Wong landlords of Thomas 3PG are thumbing their noses at the city enforcement action.

    The only question city council members should be asking on Nov 13 during the public hearing is what legal actions will the city take on Nov 14 against the property owners forcing the eviction of the illegal tenant.

  • John Holland

    “bgal4″ wrote:

    The troubled with j…. like Holland is he is conflating the issues and trying to paint those of us who want the regulations (operating standards) enforced with  MM prohibitionists.

    No I’m not. You make it sound like I want the wild west.

    Once again, as I’ve said it on Berkeleyside, many times. I want the standards enforced, too. I’m ~in favor~ of the standards to be enforced. Please try to hold this in your mind.

    You may have missed it, but several months ago, in a reply to a user called “Holland Blows” (classy!) I wrote:

    “I just believe sick people should have safe and *legal* access to medicine that helps them.” -John Holland

    You may also have missed what I previously said about 3PG and 40 Acres:

    “It seems like the first thing to do would be to work with 40 Acres and 3PG to help get them legal pronto.” – John Holland

    Sometimes I print out quotes and tape them to my mirror if I have trouble remembering them.

    The truth is: I’ve never painted “standards bearers” as prohibitionists.

    I have pointed out that neighbors who want to close these 3PG and 40 acres are spreading falsehoods online that stigmatize sick people who use medical cannabis by associating them with shootings and fraud. Personally, I believe the willingness to do this suggests a deep prejudice against sick people who use medical cannabis.

    Regardless, it erodes the credibility of those that express these views that are proven incorrect.

  • Howie Mencken

    The answer to all this is simple:

    Native Americans run local casinos, in part as reparations for the theft of their land. Let African Americans operate “leisure drug centers” as reparations for their history of slavery, which stole (and continues to steal) their future. A reasonable fee is paid to operate the facility, there’s taxes of course, and the rest goes into African American small business loans, professional schools, college funds etc. 

    The Feds and lobbyists can work out the details, but the end result would be: You could rent a room, snort pharmaceutical grade coke and pay for it with your American Express card. And be supporting social justice at the same time!

  • bonne_sante

    I live across the street from 40 Acres on Hearst Ave and have no idea what this talk is about them being bad neighbors. They’re not any worse a neighbor than Albatross Pub, except that buzzed AP patrons sometimes talk really loud late at night near their cars, which happen to be parked in front of my home. Regardless, people go in, go out, and maybe walk around the neighborhood to get something to eat. I’ve never observed any loitering or anything else that would constitute being a nuisance.

  • Nick Taylor

    Agreed. And letting people skirt the zoning or permits laws just because they think they are serving some “higher” calling (no pun intended,) is just wrong. Didn’t we learn that 40 Acres is a $9 million dollar operation? 

  • berkeleykev

     “Consumption of marijuana ought to be regulated the same way that the
    consumption of alcohol is – you can do it in a bar, you can do it in
    your house, but if  you get caught doing it in public you get busted.”

     Huh?  I can (legally) drink beer at the beach, the ball park, Tilden, Golden Gate Park, The SF Marina, (you do need a permit if you want to have a big kegger) and numerous other public places.

  • guest

     I sure hope this is your idea of humor.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Since I’m in a good mood, I’ll go over things that have been discussed in the Bside comments before to break this down.   These illegal dispensaries, like the legal-but-currently-shuttered BPG, operate in West Berkeley.  Laura lives near 3PGS, which is on Sacramento a bit north of Ashby.  I live a little north of there (walking distance from 3PGS, 40 Acres, and the proposed BPG site), travel through regularly, and get my drycleaning done nearby.  From what I have gathered there is a leakage of the medical supply especially from 3PGS onto the street supply, which has had bad effects on the neighborhood – which wasn’t in great shape to start with.   (To put it mildly;  I started reading B’side after a daytime drive-by murder on Sacramento, a couple of blocks from 3PGS.)   3PGS,  as noted, is also fairly close to a middle school. 

    West Berkeley has been holding the bag (all puns intended) for MM.  It’s in our backyard.   Sometimes it’s being dealt in our front yards.  (Laura’s more than mine.)  Feel free to advocate for having it in your backyard.  I’m sure the street dealers would be really popular (*coff coff*) with your College Avenue neighbors.

    For the record, I support the closing of 40 Acres and 3PGS because I think they’re both operating illegally and are not particularly good neighbors.   I support the move of BPG to Really-Close-To-My-Backyard;  they have the permit and they seem to be interested in being responsible neighbors.   

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Yeah, the ~~~JOB CREATORS~~~ argument pales IMO when the jobs are “bud cultivators”.  Not a lot of transferrable skills there. 

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Some people would like to make you think so. 

  • PragmaticProgressive

    John, every time this comes up, you trot out the “sick people” argument.  It’s just not credible.  

    I was at a concert down in the South Bay with some friends a few weeks back and it was an older (40+) crowd.  As the smoke started to waft around us — can people really not enjoy music without drugs? — I turned to my friend and observed, “you know, this might actually be the first rock concert I can recall attending where the people lighting up around might actually be glaucoma sufferers.

    I get it — you want to smoke dope and are in a bind because being “sick” is the only way to do it, quasi-legally.  But please don’t expect the rest of us to buy into that fiction.  It’s a legal ruse, and much like the one in which corporations are “people,” it’s laughable on its face.  Yes, there are some sick people who benefit from MJ, but there are far more “sick” people abusing the system.