Despite pleas from the owners and patrons of Richmond’s medical marijuana dispensaries, the city council decided Monday during a special, closed session to continue with court cases aimed at shutting down the city’s pot clubs.
Each of the city’s eight dispensaries have been faced with cease-and-desist orders from city prosecutors, who say that because Richmond doesn’t currently have rules on the books to govern or properly zone pot dispensaries, the shops are operating without permits, and therefore illegally.
The city council passed a first draft of an ordinance last week that will eventually set the framework for legally obtaining a license to sell medical marijuana within city limits; however that likely won’t be finalized until September at the earliest, and wouldn’t go into effect until November or December.
Once the city’s new ordinance takes effect, Richmond will be limited to only three dispensaries. New shops can only be opened in commercially zoned parts of town, and managers and shopkeepers will have to submit to a criminal background check before the city can issue them a marijuana business license. Berkeley and Oakland already have similar limits on medical cannabis shops in place.
Dispensary managers and owners had asked for the council to put off its litigation against them until the new laws go into effect. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin suggested during last week’s last regular council meeting that city prosecutors could ease off the dispensaries until the new marijuana ordinance becomes law. The council’s special meeting Monday was solely devoted to discussing whether to drop the court cases. However it appears McLaughlin didn’t have enough support on the council Monday to officially change the city’s stance.
When reached for comment, Councilman Jim Rogers, who has pushed for stricter oversight of the dispensaries, declined to elaborate on the council’s decision, citing that the conversation took place in closed session.
But the council’s unchanged position came as no surprise to Rebecca Vasquez, the director of the marijuana dispensary Holistic Healing Collective in Point Richmond. “Everybody knew the answer already,” Vasquez said of the special closed-session meeting. “It was a waste of time. [The council] should have just taken their vacation already.”
Vasquez, who came to Richmond from Sacramento to start her shop, said she is shutting down the collective, but plans to re-open elsewhere. “I wouldn’t want to be in this city,” she said. “It’s not good for a business. People told me not to go to Richmond, and that’s what I get for coming here. I thought it would be different.”
The legality of Richmond’s medical marijuana dispensaries has come under fire over the last year or so, as the city witnessed a sudden influx in new pot businesses. Of the eight dispensaries that have been served with the cease-and-desist orders, at least five opened within the last 12 months.
Last December, the city issued a moratorium on new dispensaries. Sometime this spring, dispensary owners say, the city began issuing the cease-and-desist orders, while the council began pondering official regulations on the cash-heavy businesses.
At one point, the council agreed on a draft of a pot ordinance that would allow for an unlimited number of dispensaries in town, with fewer restrictions on where they could operate. However a backlash of opposition to the ordinance—including a widely circulated e-mail from Police Chief Chris Magnus that was critical of the draft ordinance—led to a dramatic revision of the rules, with the three-dispensary cap inserted along with a host of other changes.
The revised draft will undergo a second vote, scheduled for the third week of September, before going into effect. City residents will also vote on a ballot measure this November asking whether the city should impose a 5 percent sales tax on all marijuana sales.