Berkeley Council declares Greenleaf public nuisance

The building at 1515 Dwight Way where Greenleaf was operating a medical cannabis collective. Photo: Greenleaf

The building at 1515 Dwight Way where Greenleaf was operating a medical cannabis collective. Photo: Greenleaf

Greenleaf Wellness Group, which had been operating a medical cannabis collective at 1515 Dwight Way since Jan. 2012, was declared a public nuisance and in violation of various city statutes by Berkeley City Council at its meeting last night.

Cannabis collectives are allowed in Berkeley in residential areas provided that the collective is incidental to residential use. At a public hearing in Dec. 2012, the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) determined in a unanimous vote that Greenleaf was operating in a commercial building and that the collective use was primary, not incidental. The council on Tuesday night concurred with the ZAB decision and approved a staff recommendation to enjoin and terminate Greenleaf’s use of the building. Councilmember Kriss Worthington was the only dissenting vote on the council.

“Not only is this not allowed to be a collective, because it’s not entirely in a residential zone, but even if it was in a residential zone, it’s not a residential use,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguín. “That just right off the bat clearly prohibits it from being a collective. 

“We have 37 pages that make a very compelling case that this is a dispensary trying to call itself a collective in a residential neighborhood,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “I think the staff made a very compelling case that this is an illegal use and it is a public nuisance. I apologize to neighbors for it going on for so long because it shouldn’t happen.”

A number of neighbors provided public testimony about the problems caused by Greenleaf.

“We are primarily concerned about the safety issues and the mixed messages to kids,” said Holly Scheider, who lives on Spaulding. “This whole thing has not been fair to the neighbors. It appeared without warning or discussion with the neighbors… They don’t care. We care. We care about people wandering around the neighborhood stoned. We care about young people coming into the neighborhood looking to buy pot.”

Debby Goldsberry, a co-founder of Berkeley Patients Group (although no longer involved with BPG), said at the council meeting that the increased activity at Greenleaf had been caused by the forced closure of BPG in May 2012. Since BPG reopened in December, problems had diminished.

“I think Ruben Salvatierra (owner of Greenleaf) is a very hardworking and kind person,” Goldsberry said. “If there were any problems with nuisance, they have been cured.”

In testimony before the council vote, lawyers for Greenleaf argued both that 1515 Dwight Way was primarily residential and that it was a well-run business and not a nuisance to the neighborhood. James Anthony, who described himself as a medical marijuana land use attorney, emphasized as well  what he described as the “confusion and vagueness” of Berkeley’s regulations on collectives.

“Berkeley has no hard number where a collective becomes a dispensary,” Anthony said. “The confusion and the vagueness that we’re still working on in the ordinance is not fair. It’s not fair to neighbors. It’s not fair to staff who have to figure out what law they are enforcing. It’s hard also on a collective that is trying to comply because they get no guidance.”

That argument did get support from Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

“Berkeley’s laws are really quite a mess in the sense that, while most of us would rather have taxation and regulation of all of this, what we have done is made an artificially low number of dispensaries that are allowed, forcing people to go to collectives,” Worthington said. “We have created this morass ourselves as a city council by not having the right policies… It seems to me it’s unfair to punish this place.”

But Worthington’s position attracted no support from other councilmembers.

“This particular operator, they have not operated out of respect for the neighborhood,” Arreguín said. “There is overwhelming testimony of loitering, smoking, drug dealing, erratic driving, all of which has affected the neighborhood.”

“The inspectors found only the very slightest thread of residential use in that building,” said Councilmember Linda Maio. “It seems like it’s just a real sham all the way around.”

The City Council is scheduled to consider revisions to the medical marijuana ordinance and dispensary selection criteria at its meeting next week.

Officials oppose Feds’ suit to shut pot dispensary [05.08.13]
Berkeley Patients Group finds new home on San Pablo [09.13.12]
Berkeley Patients Group earned $15m in 2009
Sadness surrounds closing of Berkeley Patients Group [05.01.12]
Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary to close May 1 
Berkeley cannabis lawsuit reveals bitter infighting [7.18.11]
Berkeley Patients Group owes $6.4 million in back taxes [2.24.11]

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  • The_Sharkey

    Didn’t they declare 40 Acres a public nuisance?
    Isn’t 40 Acres still operational?

    I think it’s time to get rid of the “collective” classification altogether.
    They’re just too likely to be abused to skirt laws for commercial marijuana operations.

  • said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “I think the staff made a very compelling case that this is an illegal use and it is a public nuisance. I apologize to neighbors for it going on for so long because it shouldn’t happen.”

    OK, I’ll bite….Why can’t the council do things in a prompt & timely fashion for the benefit of the community that elects them to office?

    If you can’t answer that, answer this —

    What would the city of Berkeley do if I decided to open up a liquor store in my house & flipped the city the bird when it came to liquor licensing & zoning?

    Or we could stay with the medicinal line of reasoning…

    How fast would the city of Berkeley shut me down if I opened a pharmacy without a license on my street corner to sell mind altering medications that were “prescribed” by a Dr. at Alta Bates or Kaiser Permanente?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Exactly the questions I was going to ask, though you put them far better. I’d love to know the answer. What the hell took them so long that Wozniak has to apologize?

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

    I think hell has frozen over. I agree with Arreguin.

  • The peev

    Debbie Goldsberry is to marijuana as WalMart is to retail, as Pfizer is to medicine, as Wells Fargo is to banking…and so on

  • Truth Sayer

    What they really want to do

    Councilmember Gordon Wozniak: Hello, is this the DEA?
    Drug Enforcement Agent: Yes it is, may I help you?
    Gordon Wozniak: Are you recording this call?
    DEA agent: Calls are monitored for quality assurance sir, why are you asking?
    Gordon Wozniak: Never mind, do you remember the little problem we had in Berkeley?
    DEA Agent: I believe so……., but please, refresh my memory.
    Wozniak: As you know, we [City of Berkeley] sanction Cannabis collectives in Berkeley in residential areas.
    DEA Agent: You mean in violation of Federal law, you allow mara….
    Wozniask: (interrupting): Don’t use that word! We call it “Cannabis.” It’s a more pleasing description.
    DEA Agent: well what’s the problem?
    Wozniask: Well, the collective was supposed to be incidental to residential use. And, they are using a commercial building. And, our zoning board said the use was primary, not incidental. So they can’t stay, and we are having trouble shutting them down.
    DEA Agent: In other words, they are selling a lot of weed where you don’t want it. if I can us that word…weed?
    Wozniask: “weed” is ok. And, yep, that’s about what’s happening, and the neighborhood is complaining.
    DEA Agent: Now what is it that you want us to do?
    Wozniask: Well we screwed up the whole process, and getting rid of the company, Greenleaf,
    has been problematic. DEA Agent: And you want us to….
    Wozniask: Raid Greenleaf’. But can you do it when I am out of town next week so they won’t suspect that I informed on them?
    DEA Agent: ….Silent
    Wozniask: Can you erase the recording now?

  • guest

    God love ‘Krisis’ Worthington! (Putting the ‘K’ in ‘crisis’ since 1996!).

    The neighborhood agrees, even the council agrees this dope dealing enterprise is a nuisance. Only ‘Krisis’ Worthington can see the ‘crisis’: Dope dealers are forced to play by rules!

    Will ‘Krisis’ avert the ‘crisis’ or compound it! Tune in next city council meeting…he may sing, he may dance! Give ‘Krisis’ a chance!!!

  • Shona Levana Gochenaur

    I agree with James athony, there needs to workable bright clear lines when does a collectives become a public retial business, SF has a similar problem, nine patients triggers a need for a retial permit regardless if your open to the public for retial business or not, and because you have huge targets due to only a small permits? For the feds, It’s easy to knock out east bay, had a fair process of permitting that includes proving true comunity benefit, and reasonable permitting costs, you simply would have allot more compliance. And not such huge targets for feds

  • Truth Sayer

    Setting up collectives in residential neighborhoods for the sale and distribution of marijuana is one of the most despicable acts of Berkeley City Council. What in Tarnation did they think would happen? Residential areas with families and children containing a Collective (Call it what you want, but it’s a drug house) will only result in what occurred. Truth be told, the dysfunctional city government is more interested in pleasing and kissing up to those who sell marijuana than the families who want a quite safe neighborhood to raise their children.

  • guest


  • Completely_Serious

    If you search the archives, you’ll find that it was Krisis Worthington who recommended to PPPG that they open an illegal dispensary in an illegal location on Sacramento, now since closed.

    I guess it’s okay to encourage illegal pot selling in Berkeley when you liv somewhere else.

  • I need to take some responsibility for putting forward this myth. In an Oct. 2011 article I wrote about Perfect Patients Plant Group, or 3PGS, the owner, Eric Thomas, told me when he was looking for a new spot he called Worthington’s office to ask about medical cannabis outlets. He never said that Worthington’s office reviewed his plans and told him it would be okay to open what essentially was an illegal dispensary. He just felt encouraged by the response from Worthington’s office and the fact that Berkeley was more “organized” than other cities. Here is a link to the original story.

  • EBGuy

    I urge everyone to look at the last link in the article: the city council is “scheduled to consider revisions to the medical marijuana ordinance”. The best hope for reigning in collectives (and maybe dispensaries?) is to force them into a governance/business structure that is appropriate for the collective designation (coop, mutual benefit corp…). Not sure if the reforms accomplish this (notice use of May versus Must). Can anyone else comment?

  • Thanks.

    I couldn’t help voicing my frustration regarding the surreal bubble surrounding the city council chambers where time and reality have been in suspended for ~40yrs.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    it seems like this is just more posturing by council they don’t actually plan to do anything as proven in their past exercises they just hope it will go away on its own. i sure hope you all make deep considerations next time you mark your ballets for council member…

  • 2ndGenBerkeleyan

    If you understand that city governments mostly function now as a form of organized crime meant to maximize revenue intake (not serve the “public interest”), then one only has to follow the tax revenue trail to figure out which businesses buy “protectsia” and which get shut down.

    The reason these particular collectives are on the radar screen of the city council is that they are either paying no local business taxes or very few direct ones at least to buy/insure protection from the police and local authorities.

  • mj

    > “The best hope for reigning in collectives (and maybe dispensaries?) is
    to force them into a governance/business structure that is appropriate
    for the collective designation (coop, mutual benefit corp…).”

    That can not be done without a state-wide ballot referendum (but don’t fret, read on).

    Long story short: it is beyond Berkeley’s legal authority to prohibit people from associating to collectively exercise their medical marijuana rights in California.

    Berkeley doesn’t have the legal authority to force all such associations of people into any governance or business structure, or even to require them to register with the city.

    Berkeley doesn’t have the legal authority to prohibit such associations from operating in residential zones, although Berkeley probably can legally do what they have done and impose reasonable limitations like those on the number and locations of plants at a given residence.

    The legal issue is one of a hierarchy of authorities.

    Prop 215 gave narrow but potent rights that can not be removed except at the ballot box or by a finding of unconstitutionality in the courts.

    When Prop 215 is interpreted in the context of the state and federal constitutions, it is clear that the freedom of association allows people to collectively exercise their medical marijuana rights. If I have the right to do something under 215 and so do you, we are free to work together and help each other exercise those rights.

    The word “collective” came to prominence thanks to legislation called SB 420 which explicitly acknowledged the freedom of people to associate in order to collectively exercise their broad Prop 215 rights. SB 420 does not define what “a collective” is because it doesn’t use the word that way. SB 420 uses the word collective once as an adjective (“collective … cultivation projects”) and once as an adverb (“associate … in order to collectively … cultivate”). If you wanted to define “a collective” in this context it would mean something like “people freely associating to collectively accomplish a project”.

    Be aware that reporters, legislators, and activists often use the word “collective” in very confused, nonsense ways. For example, the state supreme court recently upheld Riverside’s ban on dispensaries. Some sources call this a “ban on collectives”. Those sources are subtly wrong. To be very clear, though, this does not mean that dispensaries or large grow-ops are permitted by right in residential areas. People can collectively operate in residential areas but they may or may not be able to create such high impact facilities depending on local ordinance.

    Think of it this way. Even before Prop 215 some Berkeleyans probably had neighbors that were quietly running an underground supply network of medical marijuana, largely in response to the AIDS crisis. Maybe the neighbors had an inkling, maybe not. Municipalities like Berkeley basically can’t legally touch that kind of activity, even though they can crack down on higher impact activities like those alleged of 3PG and this Greenleaf outfit.

  • guest

    Shoo, Tom.

  • Chris

    If memory serves me, the city was supposedly waiting upon the owner of the property to evict the 40 acres. Is this still happening?!?!

  • The_Sharkey

    Last I heard they were still operating as a home-delivery “collective,” driving pot to houses. Still see their bouncer out front every once in a while and they have very recent new reviews on Yelp, so I assume they’re still in business.

  • guest

    If you don’t like our progressive utopia, why don’t you move to Walnut Creek!

  • 4eenie

    I won’t reference the obvious Princess Bride quote here, but you may want to look up the meaning of the word utopia.

  • Chris

    Oh, I know they’re there and open. I’m wondering what’s happening with the eviction proceedings, if anything at all.

  • guest

    Nice to see Jesse speak without Krisis’s lips moving!

  • 2ndGenBerkeleyan

    Berkeley! Love it or leave it!

    Spat out not with a “redneck” accent and a wad of chew in the cud, but blown out with some medical marijuana smoke ringsin a stoner’s voice

  • bgal4

    In his appeal to the city’s notice of violation Thomas wrote that Kris Worthington advised him he did not need a permit as a collective. A copy of the appeal is available in the staff report.

  • The Princess Bride, an all time favorite for many of us! Come on, reference the quote :-)

  • guest

    bgal4…forgive him…Kriss can’t help it, he just LOVES crisis.

    If he isn’t starting them…”Eric…you don’t no stinking permits to start your own joint!…”

    He’s crashing other districts to stir one up!…Krisis Worthington, say “sorry” to Council Member Moore.

  • EBGuy

    At the next meeting, the city council will be considering changes to the existing medical cannabis code, including adding Chapter 12.27. The section 12.27.120 Limitations on Collective operations includes a number of ways to enforce the “incidental to residential use” clause. The big one I see is: “A. A Collective may not generate more than 10 Member trips per day, excluding trips by residents of the Collective location.” There are also limitations to the amount of cash on hand ($1000) and amount of product that is stored (10lbs). Hopefully this will be enough to keep people from coming to town and setting up shop. I couldn’t spot anything that says collectives must be licensed by the city (it does appear, though, they have to issue the same reports as dispensaries). Did I miss anything?

  • Greenleaf Wellness

    Here are the facts:

    1. Ruben (myself) does reside at 1515 Dwight Way, Other then the three neighbors that are in opposition of the collective and seem to continually turn a blind eye. All of the other neighbors see me (Ruben) every morning and every night at the house especially the neighbors across the street (whom I all know by name), and one neighbor had even stated “you are better neighbors then the previous tenants. There were frat girls that would party every night throwing up in their front lawn, arguing, fighting and being a real nuisance”

    2. The neighbor next door (Pete) claimed that when Greenleaf moved in (jan 2012) his house “mysteriously burned down” Although his home was burned over a year before Greenleaf moved in! (

    3. The City of Berkeley has conducted its “inspections” unlawfully. Gregory Daniel (code enforcement) conducted an inspection of my home. I had recorded that entire inspection on video in which Mr. Daniel requested that the inspection not be recorded but I was within my legal right to do so and continued. I also had the inspection transcribed and the Chief Fire Marshall stated “looks like there is evidence of residency”. Mr. Daniel turned a blind eye to all my personal belongings, fridge containing food, closets containing clothing, toothbrush in the bathroom and other personal belonging’s throughout the home. I have still frame photo’s of the inspection with Mr. Daniel looking directly at said personal items. So how was there no evidence of residency when the fire marshall himself stated there was? Now I understand why Daniel did not want the inspection recorded. Furthermore Mr. Daniel set up a secret meeting with neighbors, a council member, and two BPD officers in complete violation of the brown act! When I entered the room he stated “Ruben has entered the building and I am going to have to limit my answers to your questions” He coached the neighbors to make as many complaint calls to himself and BPD in order to start a public nuisance claim. The final unlawful act conducted by Daniel was his unlawful entry when he stated to my security that he was a “returning patient” and forcefully entered my home, when he was asked to leave he stated “don’t tell me how to do my job!”

    4. Berkeley law does not distinguish the difference between collectives and dispensaries. They both carry out the same activities with no membership limits but a Dispensary can only be located in a commercial district and a collective can only be incidental to a residence. In which only 16.9% of the home is used for the collective. Mr Daniel’s 42% claim was including the lounge in the living room that has been removed.

    5. 1515 Dwight Way has always been used as a residence. All the neighbors including the City of Berkeley had always known it to be a residence. I asked a neighbor “have you ever known 1515 Dwight Way to have a commercial business?” to which he said “No” How does the city claim that it is commercial when it has conducted “housing inspections” year after year for 30+ years. I like how the city attorney could not answer how a commercial business was restricted from opening at 1515 Dwight way somewhere around 2008 and the Zoning Planner at the time stated “1515 Dwight Way must maintain consistent with an R-2 Residential District” 2443 Sacramento is a home right at the corner of Sacramento and Dwight that is zoned the same as 1515 Dwight as a split (C-2/R-2) as is so many other homes on Sacramento. But how is my home the only “illegal” one?

    6. Nuisance. While I admit when Berkeley Patients Group closed down in May of 2012 we had in extreme increase in traffic. We were seeing 100 BPG patients per day! Flooding Greenleaf and causing a parking problem. Which begs the question if BPG’s patients are being a nuisance at 1515 Dwight that means they were used to being a nuisance at BPG’s San Pablo location. Although my guess is the public smoking, urination, etc is conducted in their own parking lot?

    BPG reopened off of San Pablo & Dwight, Greenleaf closed it’s lounge, and the traffic and nuisance abated. Even Holly and Dan (neighbors) who testified against us had said they have seen a major improvement in the neighborhood. Public urination caused by the drunks that leave the liquor store in which Holly claimed that “she does not see empty alcohol containers on her lawn but does see greenleaf baggies” Well that is mainly because we pick up the empty 40 ounce bottles for you!!! Your Welcome!!

    So what does this come down to? Out of 15 Doors I knocked on last week, 11 neighbors were still supportive of Greenleaf, one neighbor didn’t even know it existed! 3 stated that they had seen an improvement (Pete,Holly,Dan) but would rather it be located somewhere else (N.I.M.B.Y. not in my back yard) But if you take a look at the City of Berkeley’s 1000 foot zoning map other then Sac & Dwight and San Pablo & Dwight (where BPG is located) where else can another collective/dispensary be located in Berkeley? Especially given the fact that most landlords are scared to rent to Dispensaries in light of the federal forfeiture actions against BPG (twice!) Furthermore when I pulled all the phone call records made to BPD surrounding 1515 Dwight and 3033 Shattuck Ave (CBCB Dispensary) which both have an adjacent neighborhood. Service calls BPD received were very similar. So if we are a “nuisance” then so is CBCB….oh but wait they are a licensed Dispensary and we are not….This all sounds like reefer madness to me….

    Thank You Kriss Worthington for standing up for us and for our rights as Medical Cannabis Patients. As for Jesse and the rest of the council I wish you had a more open mind, I dont know where you expect the new 4th Dispensary to be located if the only 1000 foot zones are already taken….

  • guest

    Do you plan to take the city to court?

  • 4eenie
  • guest

    Ending with thanx to Krisis Worthington says more about your operation than the rest of your entire letter.

    Go talk to the neighbors on Telegraph or those up Dwight across from the park. That’s Krisis territory. They could scream for days about their pain.

    Worthington’s; “It’s only a crime if you’re caught” philosophy isn’t welcome where your are.

  • Chris J

    To the best of my memory, when I worked practically two doors away for several months (The Spanish Table), there was never any sort of problem or hubbub. We’d smell dope smoke periodically, there was traffic, but nothing unseemly.

    I was always amused by how many young African Americans seemed to require the medical benefits of weed–they all seemed pretty healthy, cancer free, etc. weird that.