Outside the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley at Shattuck Avenue and Essex Street, the scene is busy.
A black-clad security guard mindfully scans the street, making notes, while a colleague collects trash with a mechanical scoop from the sidewalks. After a few minutes, a black Hyundai Sonata rolls up, booming a track from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The noise prompts the manager of Café La Renaissance across the street to close the door in apparent frustration.
CBCB, at 3033 Shattuck Ave., is a popular medical cannabis dispensary, at least judging from the amount of foot traffic on a weekday afternoon. Its supporters and customers praise it, and dispensary employees make an earnest attempt to monitor the immediate vicinity of the operation — at least when reporters are lurking. But the occasionally loud and frenetic activity outside its doors has riled some in the neighborhood.
More than a dozen neighbors, many of whom would speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, expressed displeasure with a host of issues they say those hanging around outside the dispensary bring to the neighborhood. High on that list are double parking, driveway blocking and smoking pot in vehicles prior to driving off — all of which the residents Berkeleyside spoke with pointed out are illegal.
“It’s not a drug issue, it’s the people,” one neighbor told Berkeleyside outside his home. He added that he didn’t think the dispensary’s security guards spend enough time making sure CBCB’s customers leave the neighborhood after they acquire cannabis.
Another said it was “alarming” when people smoked pot in front of her house when her kids still lived at home.
Still another resident emailed Berkeleyside to complain.
“The club’s members constantly block driveways and the street and when approached and asked to leave, many become extremely belligerent,” she wrote. “The music from the members’ cars is ridiculously loud; parking is impossible during certain times of the day; the number of people smoking pot in their cars is huge, which adds to their longer stays on the street and less parking. While the club has security, very rarely is anything done about the traffic or blocking of driveways, no matter how much residents complain!”
CBCB, one of Berkeley’s four permitted cannabis dispensaries, is the only one that so closely abuts a residential neighborhood. The club acquired a former pet store that sold fish and aquarium supplies in late 2009 and completely remodeled it to better serve its 3,500 members. Berkeley Patients’ Care Collective, at 2590 Telegraph Ave., is in a commercial district, and Berkeley Patients Group, at 2366 San Pablo Ave., has gates and fencing that set it apart from the rest of the block. iCann Health Center, which will be located at 3243 Sacramento St., between Alcatraz Avenue and Harmon, has not opened yet.
But CBCB is located in the heart of South Berkeley. While Shattuck Avenue is a major thoroughfare, the streets abutting the dispensary are lined with mostly single-family homes.
One of the biggest flashpoints happened April 20, also known as 420, an annual quasi-holiday for marijuana enthusiasts. One neighbor said the line to get into CBCB was “around the block.” The neighbor said he was so frustrated with the inaction of the dispensary’s staff that he had to raise his voice.
“It’s not working on a residential street,” the source told Berkeleyside.
Aundre Speciale, director at the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley, expressed surprise at the number of complaints from neighbors. Speciale said that, since her dispensary is a private membership collective it has its own specific rules with regard to neighborhood relations, and that members who fail to adhere will be kicked out.
CBCB emphasizes the behavior it expects from its customers in the neighborhood on its website. In the “Being a Good Neighbor” section, it states that members should:
- Always drive carefully and courteously
- Keep the car stereo volume at a courteous level
- Use only the center’s parking lot or public parking
- Avoid lingering in the car or on the sidewalk
Citing letters of support, two of which Speciale forwarded to Berkeleyside, the director made the case that the cannabis dispensary has a positive relationship with the surrounding community, and that it values that relationship.
Shahin Naima, who works at the Starry Plough, an Irish pub a block from CBCB, said the dispensary has made the neighborhood safer.
“They always have a security guard or two circulating the neighborhood,” he said in a phone interview. “They’re just very chill and very nice, and no one is hanging out in the cars.”
Nicole, another neighbor, said she hasn’t seen a difference in traffic, or parking, in four years. In a telephone interview she echoed Naima’s sentiment that the dispensary’s additional security made the neighborhood safer.
“I greatly appreciate them being next door,” said Nicole, who declined to provide her last name. “I have a free security team because they have guards that walk around the neighborhood … If there was anything I needed, I could go to them for help.”
City Councilman Max Anderson, who represents the area, told Berkeleyside he wasn’t aware of any recent complaints and said he would look into it further. A staffer said there were complaints when the dispensary first opened years ago, but there haven’t been many recently. Anderson and his staffer both encouraged residents who had issues to let his office know.
There are no official records of complaints for any of Berkeley’s dispensaries. A California Public Records Act request filed by Berkeleyside did not produce any materials related to marijuana (in general) made via 311, or any other records of complaints or code violations related to the city’s dispensaries in 2015 or year-to-date in 2016.
However, when Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Collective was still operating above the Albatross Pub at 1820-1828 San Pablo Ave., numerous people living nearby complained to the City Council that people were blocking driveways with their cars and smoking cannabis outside. After years of trying, the city got Forty Acres declared a public nuisance; it shut down operations in early 2015. However, the group reopened at 1510 Ashby Ave. at a site the city contends is also illegal.
The city’s most recent report on marijuana from the Berkeley Police Department indicated there were 38 cases of marijuana enforcement from January through June 30, the majority of which (19) were for possession of under 1 ounce, which would, in most circumstances, result in a ticket. The remaining offenses ranged from pot cultivation to possession of hash or marijuana with intent to sell — but it was unclear from the report if any were tied to the city’s four permitted dispensaries.
Speciale said she is “saddened” neighbors aren’t contacting the dispensary directly, and that she and her staff work “hard” to create a good relationship with the community. But, for some neighbors, those words remain hollow.
“This is not a business neighborhood,” said one resident. “And it’s getting worse and worse.”
The article was updated Aug. 29 to remove reference to the Halcyon Neighborhood Association. Its president did not directly respond to Berkeleyside questions because she was too busy.
Cannabis dispensaries display a stylish flair (08.09.11)