E-Mail Forum
  Richmond Drafting Ordinance for Marijuana Dispensaries
July 16, 2010

Under intense pressure from the existing eight known marijuana dispensaries and an onslaught of emails and phone calls from alleged medical marijuana patients, a majority of the Richmond City Council appears determined to either pass an ordinance next Tuesday allowing and regulating retail marijuana sales in Richmond or allow the existing ones to continue selling illegally without permits.

The several times this has been discussed at City Council meetings, the City Council has largely heard only from people with financial stakes in the lucrative businesses, including out-of-town owners and paid consultants.

In a City where people routinely clamor to be heard, the rest of Richmond is strangely silent. Unlike many controversial proposals, this issue has never been heard by neighborhood councils, the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council, the Public Safety Committee, the West County Alcohol Task Force or the Planning Commission. Based on a decision made by the City Council only weeks ago, many people continue to believe it was postponed until after the November election.

Maybe this silence signifies widespread consent, or maybe people just aren’t paying attention.

The Police Department notes that while there is clearly a need for medical marijuana for legitimate patients, many of the patrons of the existing illegal outlets:

Hang out in and around the premises, treating the establishments more like social clubs or entertainment venues, as opposed to places to receive medication.  This creates concerns from other businesses nearby as well as neighborhood residents.

Smoke and/or otherwise use marijuana on the premises.  This raises concerns about the establishments’ compliance with State law.  It also raises concerns about patrons’ ability to drive safely to and from the establishments.  A reality-check suggests that a lot of the behavior we do see is more consistent with dispensaries functioning as social clubs versus being primary care-givers or medical providers.

Seem to be almost exclusively “patients” between 20-30 years of age.  While we continue to see a more diverse group of individuals at Council meetings and other public gatherings who insist these establishments are treating a wide swath of patients with serious illnesses and medical conditions, our surveillance around these establishments suggests a much different story:  Patrons are primarily quite young and many are individuals with whom our department has come to know through arrests, hanging out at problem locations, etc.

In addition, we have been provided with anecdotal information that robberies involving suppliers, employees, and patrons of these establishments are significantly under-reported to police.  We have been told the reason for this is that employees and patrons are actively discouraged from reporting these crimes to the police (for fear it would jeopardize the status of these businesses).

Under Prop. 215, the use of marijuana on the premises of these establishments is not permitted, yet is common at all the establishments we have inspected in Richmond.

If you have an opinion on this, it would be a good idea to come down and be heard at the City Council meeting on July 20. The proposed ordinance is K-3, INTRODUCE an ordinance (first reading) adding Chapter 7.102 (Medical Marijuana Collectives) to the Richmond Municipal Code - City Attorney's Office (Randy Riddle 620-6509).


Richmond drafting ordinance for marijuana dispensaries

By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 07/16/2010 01:03:17 PM PDT
Updated: 07/16/2010 01:05:59 PM PDT
Richmond city leaders will not wait until November after all to decide how to regulate marijuana dispensaries.
City attorneys are drafting an ordinance that would determine the number and locations of permitted pot clubs, among other provisions. It is scheduled to reach the City Council on Tuesday night.
That is earlier than planned. Officials initially wanted to hold off until after the November election to see if California voters will approve an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use for people 21 and older. But the council has now decided not to wait, in part because Richmond is dealing with uses other than for recreation.
"The November ballot measure isn't really anything to do with medical use," Vice Mayor Jeff Ritterman said. "And there's been a real outcry from patients and managers and owners of existing dispensaries, which are in the process of being shut down by the city."
The city attorney's office issued cease-and-desist orders and is following up with court proceedings. Contra Costa Superior Court granted an injunction July 6 to shut down Pacific Alternative Health Center in Point Richmond. The city also is seeking court injunctions to close other dispensaries.
Pot clubs are not a permitted use in the municipal code, said Trisha Aljoe, city prosecutor.
Richmond has as many as 10 dispensaries, most of which opened within the last year. John Clay, owner of Pacific Alternative Health Center, and other dispensary operators say they want the council to pass regulations soon so they can stay open or reopen for patients.
"This development is extremely disappointing, though not totally unexpected," Clay said of the court injunction. "We've closed the dispensary and we will abide by the order, but we are hoping the City Council will create a licensing process before they go on vacation."
If the council passes an ordinance Tuesday, the regulations would likely come back for final approval July 27 before the council recesses for the month of August.
Marijuana is prohibited under federal law, but California voters passed a medical marijuana measure in 1996 legalizing its use with a doctor's recommendation.
The council has been wrestling with how to allow marijuana for patients with a medical reason but ensure it does not wind up in the hands of people who are not legally allowed to have it. Officials nixed the idea of an outright ban earlier.
Council members on July 6 weighed a proposal that would involve grandfathering in some existing dispensaries based on a case-by-case evaluation. Ritterman, a cardiologist who supports the proposal because he thought it would be an easier transition for patients, said it failed in a 4-3 closed session vote. He could not say how individual council members voted.
Richmond city staff are studying what other cities do, paying special attention to Long Beach. The Southern California city passed a law in May that requires medical marijuana collectives to be nonprofit, located in nonresidential areas and a certain distance from schools and other dispensaries. The law also includes restrictions on the hours of operation and marijuana cultivation.
Long Beach is planning a hearing next month on whether to ask voters in November to approve a 5 percent tax on collectives.
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.