Berkeley officials contend that 40 Acres is operating an illegal cannabis operation on the top floor of this building at 1820-1828 San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Google Street View
Berkeley officials contend that Forty Acres is operating an illegal cannabis operation on the top floor of this building at 1820-1828 San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Google Street View

The city of Berkeley has declared the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Growers’ Collective a public nuisance and ordered it to cease and desist all its cannabis operations by Monday Oct. 28.

Gregory Daniel, Berkeley’s code enforcement supervisor, sent Forty Acres and its co-founder, Chris Smith, a letter on Oct 21 detailing the results of the city’s surprise Oct. 8 inspection of 1820 San Pablo Avenue. Daniel said that Smith’s four apartments are clearly being used for cannabis operations and there is no sign of residential use. That is a violation of Berkeley law since collectives are only allowed in residential areas and must be “incidental” to the use of the building, according to the letter. Not only does Smith not live at 1820 San Pablo Ave., but Forty Acres is operating in a commercial zone, which is illegal, according to city officials.

“Currently all rooms used by Mr. Smith are fully devoted to the operation of 40 Acres dispensary,” Daniel wrote in the cease and desist letter. “The October inspection … found no evidence of residential use. None of the units occupied by Mr. Smith and 40 Acres contained household items, living room furniture, bedroom furniture, kitchen or bathroom furnishings. There were no closets or clothing. None of the units contained a bathroom. Unit Two contained a kitchen sink and gas stove. However, there were no cooking or dining utensils or any other item common to a residential kitchen. Unit Eleven contained a counter and a sink, but no cooking facilities.”

But Smith’s attorney said there is no cannabis operation happening at 1820 San Pablo Avenue so there is nothing to “cease and desist.”

“The letter is erroneous,” said G. Whitney Leigh. “The letter makes numerous assertions. They say they saw this and they saw this and are going to conclude Mr. Smith is not living there. None of these assumptions are true.”

Chris Smith, co-founder of the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Collective. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Chris Smith, co-founder of the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Collective. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Smith and Forty Acres have until Nov. 5 to appeal the order.  If Smith and Forty Acres do not stop the cannabis operations by Oct. 28, however, they can be fined $2,500 or up to $10,000 if there are injuries, according to the letter.

The city of Berkeley has been trying to shut down Forty Acres for a number of years since officials believe it is a collective operating in a commercial district. Only three dispensaries are allowed to operate in commercial zones: Berkeley Patients Group, Berkeley Patients Care Collective, and the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley, or CBCB.

Voters approved a fourth medical cannabis dispensary in November 2010 but the City Council has not yet approved a law on how to pick that dispensary.

Berkeley has already shut two other collectives operating in commercial districts: Perfect Plant Patients Group and Greenleaf Collective.

Smith has filed a lawsuit against Berkeley claiming the city has discriminated against him because he is African-American and has denied him due process. Smith and Forty Acres have stated publicly they want to get the fourth dispensary license.

Smith has also filed a lawsuit against Clarence Soe, the owner of the property, to stop his eviction.

Daniel’s letter said one unit of Smith’s is being used as Forty Acres’ smoking lounge and dab bar. (At a dab bar a user inhales a puff of highly concentrated cannabis.) Unit Two is being used as Forty Acres’ office. Unit Three is being used as a supply, room, according to the letter. Unit 11 is being used as Forty Acres’ staff and reception room and the place where people register.

(To see the letter detailing Daniel’s findings, click here.)

Neighbors have also complained about Forty Acres’ operation. They told the city there is a heavy smell of cannabis, that people frequently double park and block traffic, that people sometimes park in front of driveways and refuse to move,  that people smoke cannabis outside in a smoke-free zone. Neighbors also told the city that the Forty Acres’ security guards do very little to discourage these violations.

Apparently a number of businesses are thinking about moving from the area because of Forty Acres, according to the letter. Others are reluctant to invest in the area.

Berkeley forcibly enters Forty Acres Cannabis Collective (10.09.13)
Court orders eviction of Forty Acres cannabis collective (11.09.12)
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)

Would you like a digest of the day’s Berkeley news in your inbox at the end of your working day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

Avatar photo

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...