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.
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