BERKELEY -- There was unmitigated praise for the benefits of medical marijuana at the Tuesday night City Council meeting. But there was also unanimous consent that the Perfect Plants Patient Group was operating illegally and would have to shut its doors.
"Medical marijuana is not before this council," said Councilman Darryl Moore. "We enforce zoning regulations like we do for every business in Berkeley."
The city attorney will draft a resolution that will detail specific code violations and the council will vote on it Nov. 27.
Before the public hearing, code enforcement officer Gregory Daniel enumerated the various charges leveled at the Perfect Plant Patients Group, better known as 3PG: Its location near Sacramento and Oregon streets violates zoning rules requiring a minimal 600-foot distance between schools and medical marijuana distribution sites, he said.
The operation is in a commercial area, where only licensed dispensaries are permitted to sell medical marijuana; 3PG has no license, Daniel said. (There are three licensed distributors in Berkeley; new policies are being written to add a fourth. Medical marijuana collectives -- generally small -- are allowed to operate in residential zones as long as marijuana cultivation and distribution are "incidental to residential use;" 3PG calls itself a collective, but has some 4,000 members.)
The 3PG zoning certificate is for a retail clothing establishment, Daniel added.
During a public hearing that preceded the council vote, 3PG neighbors expressed frustration with the yearlong process of shutting down the business.
"I don't understand why they're allowed to continue to flagrantly violate laws," said Ryan Kerian. "Please do your duty -- find them a nuisance."
Rosemary DePerez, a nurse with a child at Longfellow Middle School, which is a block from 3PG, told the council that, "I support the right of people having pharmaceutical access to medicine. But what I don't support is that it's within 600 feet of my children's school or any school or any child care. As adults we have to be responsible for our younger members of society."
Others said they'd witnessed 3PG associates engage in street-level drug deals. And "shootings and violence are up since 3PG moved in," said Christopher Allen, who lives near the site.
But 3PG supporters argued that illegal drug dealing and violence in the area is not associated with the business and that, in fact, the 3PG security guards discourage loitering and keep the area clean.
"There is no drug dealing going on there," said Terry Carver. "Cannabis is medicine and it's being dispensed to qualified patients in accordance with state law."
Carver said 3PG has nothing to do with crime in the long-troubled neighborhood. "Cannabis patients still face a lot of prejudice and negative stereotyping as do people of color and poor people in general," she said.
The city and 3PG supporters were at odds over the question of the distance between the school and the storefront. Perfect Plant operator Eric Thomas told the council he'd hired a surveyor who said the distance between the two was 619 feet; city staff said it was 546 feet.
Tashawn Nicholas said 3PG was being signaled out unfairly, noting that "3PG is right next to a liquor store."
Councilman Kriss Worthington agreed that 3PG was violating city laws and voted with the rest of the council to shut down the operation. However, he questioned the law.
"We have to expand the number of dispensaries that are legal beyond four," he said, arguing there are hundreds of places in Berkeley where people can get medical cannabis. "We're closing our eyes, pretending it doesn't exist."
Independent journalist Judith Scherr can be reached at email@example.com.