In the chambers of the City Council, there are rules. There are procedures to be followed – motions, amendments, voting, establishing a quorum. These are Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, a simplified version of parliamentary procedure that governs how the Richmond City Council conducts its meetings. In the early morning hours of the council’s final meeting of the year, Rosenberg’s Rules were questioned and debated en route to approving three medical marijuana collectives to operate within the city.
Medical marijuana became a reality for Richmond in 2010, when the City Council approved an ordinance to allow medical marijuana collectives to operate in the city. Through September of this year, the city received six completed applications for four available permits. These applications were reviewed by members of the Richmond Police Department Regulatory Unit and, according to Assistant City Attorney Mary Renfro, were evaluated and rated 1-6 using a confidential “matrix,” taking into account each collective’s finances, safety precautions, proposed location, hours of operation and anticipated number of patients. Despite this, Renfro said that there was “no particular favorite” and that she “makes no recommendation” with regards to selecting one collective over the other, encouraging the City Council to “consider all of the applications independently.”
Shortly after 1 a.m., after hearing from Renfro, the collectives and the public, the council set about deciding which four collectives would receive permits. Each collective was voted on individually, with Greenleaf Natural Wellness, Green Remedy Collective and Richmond Compassionate Care Collective receiving approval. There was still one spot left, but the remaining three collectives had all been voted down already. Councilmember Nat Bates attempted to make a motion to vote on a rejected collective, 7 Stars Holistic Healing, a second time.
According to Rosenberg’s Rules, in order to vote a second time on the same measure, a “motion to reconsider” is needed. The person who makes this motion needs to have voted in the majority, the “prevailing position”, and would require a quorum of 4 votes. But in the initial vote on 7 Stars Holistic Healing, there were two no votes and two abstentions. It was unclear what the prevailing position was.
“I don’t even know what the prevailing position was because we didn’t even have a majority of ‘no’ votes,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.
Bates then made a motion to carry over the discussion of the fourth medical marijuana permit to the next meeting. McLaughlin, citing Rosenberg’s Rules, said that Bates could not make this motion. Bates insisted that McLaughlin was incorrect.
For a moment, the council appeared to be at an impasse. But resolution came in the form of Rosenberg’s Rules
“I make a substitute motion that we conditionally approve 7 Stars [Holistic Healing],” Councilmember Jeff Ritterman said.
This separate, new motion failed. The council was now back to dealing with Bates’s original motion to discuss the fourth permit at the next council meeting in January. McLaughlin said Bates could not propose this motion — as chair of the council, McLaughlin has final say over the rules.
“I have a responsibility to implement the rules,” McLaughlin said. “That is why if something comes up on the agenda that has already been voted on I will be obligated to state that it has already been voted on.”
Bates did have one option though. He could call a motion to overrule the chair, yet another Rosenberg Rule. This motion failed, too.
“Does that mean we will only have three [collectives]?” Ritterman asked.
Rosenberg’s rules didn’t have an answer for this question, and neither did the council. As the time topped the 1:30 a.m. mark, it was unclear if the fourth medical marijuana permit would be on the January agenda.
By Thursday morning, City Clerk Diane Holmes herself was still uncertain regarding the fate of the fourth permit, saying she was planning to meet with the city attorney to resolve the issue in the next few days.