The exterior of Perfect Plants Patients Group shortly after it opened in September 2011. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Despite pleas that Perfect Plants Patients group was a good neighbor, the Berkeley City Council Tuesday night voted that the cannabis collective was in violation of the city’s zoning laws.

The determination at the end of a public hearing paves the way for the council to vote on a resolution Nov. 27 to order the closure of the collective, located at 2840-B Sacramento Street.

The news came as a relief – if overdue – to neighbors of 3PGs, who have been pressing Berkeley for more than a year to shut down the business. Since 3PGs opened in September 2011, neighbors report they have seen increased hand-to-hand drug sales along Sacramento Street, spotted people smoking pot in their cars, and noticed more drug paraphernalia on the streets.

“We applaud the City Council for the doing the right thing and making a valid determination on the facts before them,” said Ryan Kerian, who lives in the area. “What we’re really concerned about now is what the city attorney’s office and the city manager will do given the mandate they have just been given by the city council. I have always been concerned the city will drag its heels after the symbolic vote and public hearing. I hope they take swift action.”

Eric Thomas, who runs Perfect Plants Patient’s Group, at the collective in 2011.
Eric Thomas, who runs Perfect Plants Patient’s Group, at the collective in 2011.

Once the City Council votes on a resolution to close 3PGs, a number of things could happen, said City Attorney Zach Cowan. The owner of the collective, Eric Thomas, could voluntarily close the business. The owner of the property, Lian Rui  Tan, could evict him. Or the city can go to court to get an injunction to shut it down, he said.

The first two seem unlikely, as Thomas maintains – as he did Tuesday night – that he sees nothing wrong with operating his business on Sacramento Street, even though it is in a commercial area and collectives can only be in residential areas, according to Berkeley law. (Thomas also contends that his business is more than 600 feet away from a middle school – the minimum distance according to city law – even though officials say it is not.) The owner of the Sacramento Street property has never responded to a single letter from Berkeley, even though he has been fined $12,500.

The City Council finding puts Berkeley in a good position to ask for injunctive relief, said Cowan.

“If you are going to shut a business down you want to put your best foot forward,” said Cowan.

The public hearing presented two separate views of Perfect Plants Patients Group, with advocates insisting it was a good community partner that provided medical cannabis to low-income patients. Considering the current federal crackdown on cannabis facilities, which forced Berkeley Patients Group to close its doors, 3PGs should be allowed to remain open, argued some speakers. Without it, patients would have difficulty finding safe and affordable medicine.

Neighbors and those who send their children to nearby Longfellow Middle School differed with that assessment and said 3PGs had made the Sacramento Street corridor feel unsafe.

The discussion got very heated when City Councilman Max Anderson questioned the motives behind the neighbors seeking 3PGs closure. He seemed to suggest that many of those complaining were relative newcomers to the neighborhood and didn’t fully understand the history of the area. Anderson also suggested there might be some racial motive since most of those seeking redress were white.

That infuriated City Councilman Darryl Moore, who represents the district.

“I think it’s a shame that from this council dais we try to race bait,” said Moore. “The fact that you’re white shouldn’t make a difference. For us to race bait from this dais is sickening. It is disgusting and we need to stop it.”

Anderson said he was not race baiting but said he felt it was important to point out that those leading the city’s three permitted dispensaries are white and that people of color have been underrepresented in the industry.

“If we want to have social peace in this community, there is going to have to be some recognition of a few things,” said Anderson.

There was applause from the audience for both councilmen’s points of view.

City Councilman Kriss Worthington said the crackdown of Perfect Plants Patients Group is a reflection of Berkeley’s overly-restrictive zoning laws. The city’s Medical Cannabis Commission is currently discussing this issue and may recommend that the city develop a two-tier permitting system that would allow large cannabis collectives like 3PGs or Forty Acres to more easily operate legally.

City Councilman Gordon Wozniak also commented on the city’s laws.

“This is an illegal super-collective acting as a dispensary without a license,” he said.  “We need to take a look at the medical marijuana laws.”

Berkeley moves to shut down cannabis operation [09.26.12]
Berkeley orders two cannabis collectives to shut down [02.22.12]
Rapid growth of cannabis collective raises concerns [11.29.11]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...