The building at 1515 Dwight Way where Greenleaf was operating a medical cannabis collective. Photo: Greenleaf
The building at 1515 Dwight Way where Greenleaf was operating a medical cannabis collective. Photo: Greenleaf

Greenleaf Wellness Group, which had been operating a medical cannabis collective at 1515 Dwight Way since Jan. 2012, was declared a public nuisance and in violation of various city statutes by Berkeley City Council at its meeting last night.

Cannabis collectives are allowed in Berkeley in residential areas provided that the collective is incidental to residential use. At a public hearing in Dec. 2012, the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) determined in a unanimous vote that Greenleaf was operating in a commercial building and that the collective use was primary, not incidental. The council on Tuesday night concurred with the ZAB decision and approved a staff recommendation to enjoin and terminate Greenleaf’s use of the building. Councilmember Kriss Worthington was the only dissenting vote on the council.

“Not only is this not allowed to be a collective, because it’s not entirely in a residential zone, but even if it was in a residential zone, it’s not a residential use,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguín. “That just right off the bat clearly prohibits it from being a collective. 

“We have 37 pages that make a very compelling case that this is a dispensary trying to call itself a collective in a residential neighborhood,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “I think the staff made a very compelling case that this is an illegal use and it is a public nuisance. I apologize to neighbors for it going on for so long because it shouldn’t happen.”

A number of neighbors provided public testimony about the problems caused by Greenleaf.

“We are primarily concerned about the safety issues and the mixed messages to kids,” said Holly Scheider, who lives on Spaulding. “This whole thing has not been fair to the neighbors. It appeared without warning or discussion with the neighbors… They don’t care. We care. We care about people wandering around the neighborhood stoned. We care about young people coming into the neighborhood looking to buy pot.”

Debby Goldsberry, a co-founder of Berkeley Patients Group (although no longer involved with BPG), said at the council meeting that the increased activity at Greenleaf had been caused by the forced closure of BPG in May 2012. Since BPG reopened in December, problems had diminished.

“I think Ruben Salvatierra (owner of Greenleaf) is a very hardworking and kind person,” Goldsberry said. “If there were any problems with nuisance, they have been cured.”

In testimony before the council vote, lawyers for Greenleaf argued both that 1515 Dwight Way was primarily residential and that it was a well-run business and not a nuisance to the neighborhood. James Anthony, who described himself as a medical marijuana land use attorney, emphasized as well  what he described as the “confusion and vagueness” of Berkeley’s regulations on collectives.

“Berkeley has no hard number where a collective becomes a dispensary,” Anthony said. “The confusion and the vagueness that we’re still working on in the ordinance is not fair. It’s not fair to neighbors. It’s not fair to staff who have to figure out what law they are enforcing. It’s hard also on a collective that is trying to comply because they get no guidance.”

That argument did get support from Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

“Berkeley’s laws are really quite a mess in the sense that, while most of us would rather have taxation and regulation of all of this, what we have done is made an artificially low number of dispensaries that are allowed, forcing people to go to collectives,” Worthington said. “We have created this morass ourselves as a city council by not having the right policies… It seems to me it’s unfair to punish this place.”

But Worthington’s position attracted no support from other councilmembers.

“This particular operator, they have not operated out of respect for the neighborhood,” Arreguín said. “There is overwhelming testimony of loitering, smoking, drug dealing, erratic driving, all of which has affected the neighborhood.”

“The inspectors found only the very slightest thread of residential use in that building,” said Councilmember Linda Maio. “It seems like it’s just a real sham all the way around.”

The City Council is scheduled to consider revisions to the medical marijuana ordinance and dispensary selection criteria at its meeting next week.

Officials oppose Feds’ suit to shut pot dispensary [05.08.13]
Berkeley Patients Group finds new home on San Pablo [09.13.12]
Berkeley Patients Group earned $15m in 2009
Sadness surrounds closing of Berkeley Patients Group [05.01.12]
Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary to close May 1 
Berkeley cannabis lawsuit reveals bitter infighting [7.18.11]
Berkeley Patients Group owes $6.4 million in back taxes [2.24.11]

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...