Berkeley delays 4th medical cannabis dispensary


Berkeley’s mayor says a fourth medical marijuana dispensary will not be feasible in the current political climate. Photo: Flores y Plantas/CC

The Berkeley City Council has delayed discussion on opening a fourth medical cannabis dispensary since the current federal attitude toward dispensaries has made it all but impossible to site them in Berkeley.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Councilman Darryl Moore made a motion to table consideration of a measure to establish rules for opening a new dispensary. Mayor Tom Bates seconded the motion and suggested the item return at an October meeting. The delay means that Berkeley could lose from $51,000 to $860,000 in anticipated taxes.

But in the current climate, there is no way a fourth dispensary could open, Bates said in an interview on Thursday. While Berkeley laws prohibit dispensaries opening within 600 feet of any K-12 school, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag has indicated preschools should be included in that prohibition, said Bates. Haag recently filed a lawsuit against the landlord of Berkeley Patients Group, indicating that the dispensary’s new location at 2366 San Pablo Ave. was too close to two preschools.

“A fourth dispensary is extremely unlikely at this point,” said Bates. “BPG looked all over town and they found a location that fit our requirements and the federal government came around and said it didn’t meet theirs. If the federal government continues with that approach I don’t believe there is another place in Berkeley you can site a dispensary.”

Bates said it was more prudent to wait for the passage of a law that the state legislature currently is considering. The law would reiterate that California is in favor of medical cannabis facilities and that local jurisdictions have the right to set their own land use requirements.

The City Council on Tuesday also agreed to file a lawsuit against the federal government in support of BPG’s right to be situated at its current site.

Berkeley Patients Group opened its doors at 2366 San Pablo Avenue in December. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley Patients Group at 2366 San Pablo Ave. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Charley Pappas, who sits on the Medical Cannabis Commission, said he was disappointed—and surprised—by the mayor’s postponement. The commission has worked for two years to craft a selection process for a fourth dispensary and to refine some of the laws governing collectives. The council was scheduled to consider those proposals on Tuesday.

The council’s actions will be harmful to patients and ultimately make it more difficult for any cannabis operation to find a suitable site, he said.

Tom Bates “has always been status quo,” said Pappas. “The council’s actions truly do not inspire any landlord to want to rent to a dispensary.”

Pappas also said he has no confidence the state will take any action regarding medical cannabis.

“Who believes in our state legislature?” he said. “They should have done something on medical cannabis 10 years ago. Or five years ago.”

Berkeley currently has three medical cannabis dispensaries. In 2010, voters approved a measure to increase that number to four. Voters also approved the opening of three large grow operations and taxes on the sale of cannabis.

But the political climate has changed drastically since then. In 2011 and 2012, Haag and four other U.S. attorneys sent out a slew of letters to landlords telling them their property could be seized if they continued to rent to medical cannabis dispensaries. The U.S. attorneys said all those facilities were within 1,000 feet of a park or school. At least 400 dispensaries have closed in northern California since then, according to some cannabis activists.

Berkeley Patients Group was forced to move from 2747 San Pablo Ave. and it took them six months to open up again at 2366 San Pablo Ave. But a few months after the move, Haag filed a forfeiture lawsuit against BPG’s new landlord Nahia Droubi. BPG is fighting that lawsuit.

The postponement of a fourth dispensary is also a financial setback for the city. Berkeley currently taxes the dispensaries $25 for every $1,000 of gross receipts.  In Fiscal Year 2012, Berkeley garnered $746,009 in taxes from medical cannabis. In FY 2013 the city only got $479,255. (That is a reflection of BPG being closed for six months.) In FY 2014, City Manager Christine Daniel projected that the city would bring in $720,000.

A fourth dispensary could add from $51,356 to $860,317 to that number, according to a staff report.

“We’d love to have that money but it’s not practical,” said Bates.

Officials oppose Fed’s suit to shut dispensary [05.18.13]
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 

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  • EBGuy

    Does this mean the new Cannabis Ordinance Regulations were also tabled? A new Chapter 12.27 would have more clearly defined “incidental to residential use” for collectives and made enforcement much easier.

  • They won’t be considered, I believe, until October.

  • Truth Sayer

    Presently, if Council do decide to open a medical cannabis dispensary, can their actions be construed by federal officials as aiding and abetting. As “It the U.S.C., section two of title 18: states:
    (a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.
    (b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.”


  • guest

    “We’d love to have that money [from dope sales] but it’s not practical,” said Bates.” For all the aimless sucking up Bates has done, courting allies for re-election, this is one he’ll really regret.

    Rarely do dope dealers have municipal sports fields named after them. And when they do, it doesn’t stick. ‘Cesar Chavez Regional Sports Complex’ has a nice ring to it. Most of the kids play futbol (soccer) anyway.

  • John Holland

    While I disagree with Ms. Haag’s focus and approach, I’m sympathetic with her efforts. We can debate “medical cannibas” all we want, but under federal law, there’s no such thing. Ms. Haag is just doing her job, and doing it well.

    I can see how, from her perspective, she would be motivated to vigorously enforce federal laws, especially since she seemed to fall for the deceitful disinformation campaign waged by anonymous anti-compassion activists and public figures here on Berkeleyside in past years.

    You can tell Ms. Haag picked it up thes false notions at Berkeleyside, as her language in this interview closely mimics the exact language previously used here on Berkeleyside to promote these lies.

    “Armed robberies at dispensaries, armed robberies at grow operations, and people who are nearby are at risk as a result of that.”

    This isn’t true of course… You’re more likely to be struck by lightning then to be involved in a shooting at a dispensary. But I don’t blame Ms. Haag for believing these characters, who ironically present themselves as authorities, consciously promoting false information online.

    It’s pretty clear that Ms. Haag innocently picked up the false notions about gun violence here at Berkeleyside, as there are no studies that document any more than a handful of gun incidents at dispensaries in California, with only a handful of shootings over the last 10 years.

    At the time these activists tried to deceive the public, I asserted that it would be much more likely for businesses other than to be robbed at gun point. Sure enough, since then, we’ve seen armed robberies in Berkeley at a bank, a liquor store, and a gas station… but none at a dispensary. One of these robberies was just blocks from my house. This is no surprise, as shootings at banks, liquor stores, and gas stations are not uncommon.

    Blame lies elsewhere than Ms. Haag. She appears to be operating in good faith. If I believed my children were at risk from dispensary shootings, I’d do exactly the same thing.

    The worst part of this is seeing critical law enforcement resources being diverted to address an imaginary threat when we have so many other problems that are very real.

    Most people don’t know what it’s like to live in the most troubled parts of Berkeley, and they don’t understand how serious the crime issues are in west and south Berkeley, but I do. I lived just blocks from where 3PG, and there was just a robbery at gunpoint paces from my south Berkeley home just last week. Not to mention the onslaught of iphone robberies at gunpoint. It kills me to see resources diverted based on intentionally and hysterically deceitful information, instead of addressing the root issues of crime and violence in these neighborhoods.

  • John Holland

    Why take that route? Sure, the Federal government could go directly up against the state, but can you imagine the controversy?

    The DOJ has other more efficient means for closing dispensaries, mainly the IRS, and going after landlords. No need to go to battle directly with the 9th largest country in the world (California).

  • guest

    Truth Sayer, John Russo was Oakland’s City Attorney in December of 2010 when he warned the Oakland city council that their plan to permit large warehouse grow businesses might make them criminally liable.

    There was at one time a plan to permit and heavily tax warehouse-style grow businesses in Berkeley and Oakland. In February of 2011, the Department of Justice, specifically Haag, warned Oakland city council that this would be illegal under federal law. The warning was issued at the request of Mr. Russo.

    Haag said that DoJ would certainly go after anyone who tried to set up such a warehouse and that it very well might also go after their “property owners, landlords, and financiers”. The whole lot was subject to civil and criminal prosecution and property seizures. She did not explicitly threaten council itself.

    The letter does not openly threaten elected officials but it can be read as conveying a veiled threat. She warns that laws against conspiracy and money laundering might be invoked, and that there are federal laws against certain kinds of use for proceeds from illegal drug activity. If this is a veiled threat then its meaning is that the elected officials should carefully consider their campaign donations and personal finances in relation to the marijuana industry before too brazenly challenging DoJ’s will.

    By March, Russo refused to give Oakland city council further advice on the warehouse plan. In June of 2011, he resigned.

    Berkeley dropped its plan for warehouses like a hot potato and apparently still today has little stomach for pressing on with liberalization of access.

    (Haag’s letter to John Russo, who as then the Oakland City Attorney, is dated February 1, 2011, and is easy enough to find on the web.)

  • Truth Sayer

    I agree with you, mainly, because presidents receive a lot of donations from California. What you never stated is that Council’s action is not aiding and abetting in a criminal activity. How do we explain to children that Berkeley is breaking the law, but its OK? Now go out and play.

  • Truth Sayer

    Thank you, as your answer was comprehensive and on point. Though many people may think that I am against the sale of cannabis, it is not true. I am against risking my liberty participating in the sale or smoking pot. If others want it, so be it. On the other hand, I am vehemently against selling it in residential neighborhoods, as despite what the mindless City Council says, it does bring undesirables into neighborhoods.

  • The_Sharkey

    Considering all the problems we’re having with current dispensaries and collectives, perhaps we should hold off authorizing any new pot businesses until we’ve got the existing ones legally compliant.

  • The_Sharkey

    Don’t you live in Elmwood?

  • bgal4

    Do you have any idea how NUTTY your conspiracy theory sounds, a US federal attorney is influenced by neighborhood organizers and ignorant of information collected by federal law enforcement agencies she represents.

  • dsd510

    Not all laws are moral. Should we also tell our children that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married because it’s “against the law”?

  • dsd510

    It’s always been a mystery to me that this much controversy is generated by medical cannabis locations, yet liquor stores, where shootings/loitering consistently happen, are oft ignored. Shame to see the city losing that tax revenue because of bureaucracy.

  • Truth Sayer

    Your prosaic reply is indicative of your ability to reply to the discussion about City Council setting up dispensaries for the sale of cannabis. Of course, one can raise another issue that is not reverent to this topic to elicit a desired answer. Shall we stay on topic, or is that task too arduous for you? Before doing so, allow me to state why the question was asked. Firstly, the subject of drugs should be a part of our conversation with our children and young adults. Putting aside all the pros and cons related to the use of cannabis, children should be informed that many high paying careers, as well as employers require a drug test as a condition of employment. You may be aware that one of the top three reasons why teens and young adults are denied employment is due to failing the drug test. Also, to enter into many professional career programs, a drug test is required for admission. Regarding your comment, LGBT, or married is not a consideration for employment opportunities, but use of drugs are. Incidentally, informing my daughter that people should be allowed to marry whom they wish was easy. Her reply was something like “Dad, I know that, where have you been?”

  • nick mastick

    But cannabis users who have medical approval are not breaking the law and should have access

  • nick mastick

    BTW, you’re coming off pretty smug and high minded for someone who misuses the word “reverent.”

  • nick mastick

    What are “all the problems?”

  • Truth Sayer

    Your statement is not completely truthful Nick. Regardless if medically approved, cannabis is breaking federal laws, which trumps city and state laws — Regardless if sold in residential or commercial areas. You can dance around this fact, but you know it to be true. Here we have two, not too different, views. I am not against the sale of cannabis, and nor are you. I am vehemently appose to selling it in residential neighborhood, like any other commercial product. You disagree, thinking that it should be OK to sell in residential areas. Why can’t you and others who want cannabis, walk or drive down the street to a commercial area in the same manner that you do to purchase gasoline, liquor, automobiles, and other products? Can’t you meet people halfway? If a viable offer it given, its best to take it. Why do you think Federal authorities are raiding locations that sell cannabis? City Council knows. And you should too.

  • Truth Sayer

    High and mighty is not “relevant” to my statement, which is the word I intended. Because I do not agree with the commercial sales of any product, including cannabis, in a residential neighborhood makes me “smug?” Then I am in agreement with many other “smug” people who agree.

  • Truth Sayer

    Liquor stores are in commercial areas. Cannabis is being sold in residential areas. It should not be a mystery to you. Are you really concerned about the city tax revenue, or cannabis sales?

  • The_Sharkey

    Greenleaf vilating collective guidelines and being declared a public nuisance.
    The illegal dispensary 40 Acres continuing operation more than a year after they were supposedly shut down.
    That sort of thing.

  • Nick Mastick

    I DO remember you Rick, it took me a little while. OMG, It was during my Jesus freak days and I was laying so much guilt on you and expecting you to live up to my standards. You were young and wanting to sow your wild oats. Forgive me!!!!