Richmond will permit marijuana dispensaries despite a court ruling in Southern California that cities cannot require such permits and a federal ban on the drug.

The City Council on Tuesday chose three medical marijuana collectives to operate in the city, capping a months-long process that has been interrupted by state and federal rulings.

A state appeals court in October struck down a Long Beach law regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, finding it conflicts with a federal ban on the drug.

This fall, California's top federal prosecutors announced that they would no longer turn a blind eye to the dispensaries across the state.

The council considered amending or halting its permitting process in November but in a 4-3 vote decided to continue as planned despite the crackdown.

Council members said that canceling the permitting process would be unfair to the half-dozen dispensary owners that have been waiting to reopen their businesses for nearly a year.

Rebecca Vasquez, who operated Holistic Healing club before the city shut it down, said she has paid tens of thousands of dollars in rent and utilities over the past year to hold a property near Hilltop Mall that she hopes to turn into a dispensary.

An influx of pot clubs took officials by surprise in 2009. City attorneys sought court injunctions to shut down the eight confirmed clubs.


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In a compromise, the council agreed to allow a limited number of permitted collectives and to restrict them to regional commercial zones, such as Hilltop and the Pacific East Mall area.

Dispensaries must pay nearly $20,000 to obtain a permit and then give the city about $16,000 per quarter to cover the expense of regulations and inspections. They will also pay a 5 percent tax on gross receipts.

In November, Albany repealed its marijuana dispensary ordinance in response to the Southern California ruling.

Justice Walter Croskey wrote that Long Beach's ordinance violated the law because it conflicts with the federal Controlled Substances Act and the intent of Congress to ban recreational drug use.

Contact Hannah Dreier at 510-262-2787. Follow her at Twitter.com/hannahdreier

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