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Jars of medical marijuana on display at a Richmond dispensary. (photo by Natalie Jones)

Medical marijuana collectives seek to expand in Richmond, face community opposition

on October 14, 2014

Amid a growing debate about the location of medical marijuana collectives in Richmond, the City Council plans to hold talks on expanding zones where dispensaries are allowed to operate.

The city granted permits to three medical marijuana collectives in 2010 and doubled that number in 2012.

But since then, some dispensary owners have struggled to open their doors in the face of community opposition.

Councilman Jael Myrick said “there is a lot of concern” about the number of liquor stores, smoke shops and methadone clinics in low-income African American and Latino neighborhoods.

“That’s not a good place to have a marijuana dispensary,” Myrick said in a telephone interview.

California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medicinal use in 1996.

The state allows local governments to decide how they want to implement the medical marijuana law. In Richmond, the city government permits medical marijuana shops, but has established rules collecting fees and governs where they can operate.

Collectives face several hurdles before opening, including community opposition at public meetings and zoning regulations that require the storefronts to be a certain distance from schools and homes.

The conflict is simple: The communities zoned for marijuana dispensaries are often the same communities with socioeconomic disadvantages, and residents take umbrage with the idea of a pot shop opening up in their neighborhood.

“When you’re looking out for sick people you want to find a location close to where they are,” said Richard Mitchell, Richmond’s Director of Planning and Building Services.

The Richmond Compassionate Care Collective is a victim of circumstance. It’s been searching for a home for nearly three years, despite already being permitted to operate. Following a public outcry last year, the collective was forced to scuttle a plan to move to a location near the Santa Fe neighborhood.

“It wasn’t one or two people who were upset, it was the entire neighborhood,” Myrick said.

The collective is now looking at other options, including opening up a shop this spring in a light industrial area in North Richmond, according to James Anthony, an attorney representing the dispensary.

To do so would require modifying the city ordinance that established zoning rules governing medical marijuana collectives.

But before that takes place, city officials say they want additional feedback from residents.

Some residents have already expressed skepticism.

“My main concern is (a dispensary) going to promote more crime?” said Carol Jones, outside of her senior living center apartment in North Richmond.

Willie Roberts, a Richmond resident for 64 years, said he opposes any change to the current zoning.

“I feel Richmond has enough drugs,” Roberts said. “(Dispensaries) should be on the outskirts of Richmond where it’s not to close to the school districts and the children.”

Other residents have argued in support of the proposed changes.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Sandy Hill, while shopping near a Walgreens on Macdonald Avenue. “I use medical marijuana for my back, anxiety and insomnia.”

At recent public safety meeting, Doctors Medical Center Dr. Desmond Carson said, “These facilities act as a dispensary for a medicine, which means they act more as a pharmacy.”

The collective owners holding permits pay substantial fees to do business in Richmond, whether they are in business or not.

At a recent public safety meeting, John Valdez, owner of Richmond Compassionate Care Collective, said he has already paid the city $300,000 in fees.

According to Richmond police Sgt. Michael Rood, three medical marijuana collectives are currently operating in Richmond. Each permit holder has to pay more than $65,000 a year in addition to a five percent tax of all revenue and startup fees.

Two permits have been surrendered, according to Rood, and are not currently open.

“It’s pretty restrictive as far as what you can and can’t do,” Rood said.

Each collective is required to provide its own security. Police conduct quarterly inspections and employees must pass criminal background checks.

Although the item to expand zoning was scrapped from last Tuesday’s council meeting following extensive discussions over the future of Doctors Medical Center, the debate over medical marijuana is likely to intensify in the weeks ahead.

“Until I know those neighborhoods are comfortable with a marijuana dispensary there, I’m not voting to expand anything,” Myrick said.


  1. […] Medical marijuana collectives seek to expand in Richmond, face … […]

  2. James Anthony on October 18, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful and well-balanced article.

    I would just add that all the neighborhood groups I have worked with the past few months for Richmond Compassionate Care Collective (RCCC)–Iron Triangle, Shields-Reid, NR MAC, and Council of Industries–all support safe access to medicinal cannabis for patients in need. Their concern is just that the location be appropriate.

    Sgt. Rood and Officer Oliver, of the RPD Regulatory Unit that oversees dispensary operations, have said at these meetings that there is no extra crime associated with any of Richmond’s city-licensed dispensaries.

    The community groups are doing their job asking RCCC questions about the location and operation; RCCC is responding to community concerns. A walking tour of the proposed location is coming up next.

    Grassroots politics works, communication works, regulation works. Richmond is a model of medical marijuana regulation for other local governments.

    James Anthony
    Counselor & Attorney at Law

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