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Council says no more pot clubs

on December 2, 2009

The Richmond City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to prohibit new medical marijuana dispensaries until the city can develop regulations for them. Current city regulation does not address dispensaries at all, putting the four that already exist in Richmond in a legal limbo and preventing the city from monitoring or regulating their activities.

“Like most other cities, we have dispensaries coming into Richmond,” said Councilmember Tom Butt, who introduced the legislation in the form of a 45-day moratorium. “Basically what we want to do is get control of the situation and figure out what we want to do about it.”

Butt said he introduced the ordinance after hearing complaints from residents about the recent openings. A dispensary called Holistic Healing Collective opened on Nov. 23 in Point Richmond, and one called East Bay Patients Association opened across from the Pacific East Mall in the Richmond Annex area about ten months ago. Richmond has at least two other dispensaries – one more in the Pacific East Mall and a fourth at Hilltop Mall. At some dispensaries patients are allowed to use marijuana on the premises, and at some they are not. The existing dispensaries will not be affected by the moratorium.

The ban on new clubs went into effect immediately, and will last at least until January 15. After that, the council could extend it for another 22-and-a-half months if the city needs more time to put together regulation.

It’s possible that tightening regulation in other Bay Area cities is part of what’s driving people to open dispensaries in Richmond. Oakland only allows four pot clubs to operate in the city, and passed a ballot measure over the summer to become the first city to levy a separate tax on medical marijuana. San Francisco requires annual reviews and implemented a permit fee in 2005 that’s now up to $8,459, driving some operators out.

Rebecca Vasquez operates the newly-opened Holistic Healing Collective in Pt. Richmond, but lives in Sacramento, where there is currently a moratorium on new dispensaries.

“Because there’s no moratorium yet, my attorney told me to open up here,” said Vasquez, referring to Richmond. Now that she’s in business, however, Vasquez supports a moratorium on future dispensaries in the city. “I think once you get a lot of these, issues start coming about.”

The City Council’s vote echoes a move it made in July 2005 to enact a moratorium on dispensaries and examine the policy surrounding medical marijuana providers. The council referred the process of developing regulations to the city staff members tasked with creating an updated general plan for Richmond. Butt says the initiative subsequently fell by the wayside, the council lost track of the issue and regulations were never put in place.

“I’ve been operating for four years with the belief that the moratorium I voted in in 2005 has been in force,” said Councilmember Maria Viramontes, expressing shock and disappointment that any dispensaries had opened recently.

As nonprofit organizations, medical marijuana retailers are not required to apply for business licenses, and Richmond doesn’t stipulate any other specific processes the clubs must follow to open for business. The city does not always know when a dispensary opens, because there is nothing in the process to distinguish it from any other building occupant or nonprofit.

The new ordinance requires the city Planning Department to work with the City Attorney’s office and the Police Department to create options to fit two scenarios: one in which dispensaries would be entirely banned from operating within Richmond, and one in which they would be allowed but have their locations and operating procedures regulated. City staff will examine issues of crime and safety around dispensaries, revenue, and compliance with Proposition 215, the 1996 voter-approved initiative that legalized medical marijuana.

Councilmember Jim Rogers also indicated that he plans to introduce an additional motion at the next City Council meeting that would make dispensaries illegal in Richmond.

It’s not clear how the city will enforce the moratorium. Deputy Police Chief Ed Medina told the council that his department can only shut down dispensaries that are shown to be acting criminally; otherwise they aren’t breaking any laws.

“They’ve given no findings that any of the dispensaries in Richmond have caused any sort of hazard to the public or public safety,” said Armando Soto, director of the East Bay Patients Association. Soto is primarily concerned that the process creating regulation for dispensaries include input from those who operate and use them.

State proposition 215 allowed California residents to legally seek marijuana treatment for medical purposes. The proposition also defined collectives and cooperatives as legal avenues for patients to obtain marijuana, paving the way for dispensaries.


  1. Josh Wolf on December 2, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Good job on the story Natalie.

    I think it’s hilarious that the owner of a dispensary would advocate for a moratorium. I mean, almost every business wants as close to a monopoly as possible. But somehow reading it in “print” puts it into focus for me.

  2. Ronin on December 2, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    She’s from Sac but opens Pot store in Richmond. Now favors a prohibition on new store fronts.
    “I think once you get a lot of these, issues start coming about.”
    No, woman when you open lots of stores you get competition, a better product and fair exchange.
    Once again “Business” ruins health care on the national and local levels and the politicians are along-for-the-ride.
    How about Richmond begins with you must be a resident of CCC or East Bay to open Pot store. Or an application a question explaining why “you” should be able to open store. Your link to community and such. Like a gaming license in Nevada.
    Thank you for the story Ms. Jones

  3. Tom Butt on December 3, 2009 at 8:21 am

    I keep reading that there are only four outlets in Oakland.

    there are at least nine outlets in Oakland and seven according to

    Oakland Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

    1. Ananda Collective Blue Sky Coffee Shop submit review
    2. Blue Sky Coffee Shop Oakland
    3. California Collective Alliance
    4. CARE Oakland Cannabis Club
    5. EBAC
    6. Harborside Health Center submit review
    7. Mrs Herbs
    8. Oakland Compassionate Caregivers
    9. Purple Heart Center

  4. Mark on December 22, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I think that it is ridiculous. In these economic times, any revenue to a local municipality, or any business that brings legal revenue to the state is an important asset. Its not like Richmond has some sort of established good name to uphold. This place is a company town. They don’t mind Chevron, who makes hundreds of millions of dollars and who has had to pay millions of dollars in settlements for harm on top of wanting to bring more highly toxic materials in during their redevelopment projects, operating here and bringing potential health risks to the citizens, but they want to ban pot clubs with no harmful effects to deny legal patients their rights under state law. Absurd!!

  5. Jason M on May 2, 2010 at 10:58 am

    not everyone believes in God, but everyone can agree that cannibis has the same natural source as human life itself.

    granted we humans are a pretty stupid lot and therefor have to navigate around reputation concerns and social stigma.

    i think rebecca is saying that the moratorium may be a good idea until they make some final decisions?

    richmond is FULL of smokers. listen to richmond music, shoot just drive AROUND richmond. its a town full of smokers, and the few with loud voices are not representing the silent masses who are to busy working and being productive to find the time to complain.

    yeah, i know smokers supposedly arent supposed to be able to get anything done, but hey if we got 215 and 420 passed, been handling court and appeals courts for years, opened stores and dispensaries to generate revenue, etc…. we must be able to get some things done.

    now, if the city of richmond could just quit worrying what the neighbors are going to think of us while we get our money,,,,, maybe we could improve our community enough so that it wouldnt MATTER what they thought.

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