Monday, March 4, 2013

City Targets Third Medical Marijuana Outlet for Closure

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group
First published on Dec. 11, 2012

BERKELEY -- Officials are attempting to shut down a third medical marijuana collective they say is operating outside city rules and has irritated neighbors who complain about customers hanging out in cars, littering and smoking in public. 

Greenleaf Wellness Group, located at 1515 Dwight Way near the corner of Sacramento Street, was fined $13,500 for allegedly violating rules that forbid medical marijuana collectives in commercial zones. More recently the city declared it an unsafe building, a fire hazard and a public nuisance for violating zoning laws. 

"Why folks are doing this, I have no idea," said Gregory Daniel, Berkeley's code enforcement supervisor. "None of these folks have gone to our Cannabis Commission to get any direction. In all these cases, we're strictly enforcing the law. If you are a collective and operating in a commercial district, you're breaking the law." 

Berkeley rules distinguish between collectives that can operate in residential areas out of a house or apartment, and dispensaries that can only be in commercial zones. The city currently allows only three dispensaries and the licenses are already taken. 

Greenleaf will go before the city's Zoning Adjustment Board for a hearing on the alleged rules violation Dec. 20 and then on to the City Council. A move by the owner to rezone the property to residential, which would make the collective legal, goes before the Planning Commission on Wednesday. 

The actions against Greenleaf follow a crackdown on Perfect Plants Patients Group a few blocks away on Sacramento Street. On Nov. 27, the City Council declared it a nuisance and ordered it to close. A third provider, 40 Acres, which has operated out of a building on a commercial strip of San Pablo Avenue since 2009, recently lost an eviction case brought by its landlord that went to trial. But its executive director, Chris Smith, has asked a judge for a new trial and he is being allowed to operate until a decision is made. In that case, the city warned the building owner that he would face legal action if he did not evict the medical marijuana group. 

"In the case of 40 Acres, we told the property owner if they actively pursue the eviction, we wouldn't pursue the nuisance route," Daniel said. 

Neighbors around Dwight Way and Sacramento Street have complained to the city about Greenleaf. 

In a letter to the Planning Commission, Nancy and Bruce Chamberlain, members of the Spaulding/Channing Neighborhood Association, said they do not like people "lighting joints" on the streets outside Greenleaf's building. 

"The impact is comparable to having a bar open around the corner from our house, with the members outside drinking in the streets," the two said in the letter. "We have walked our child home from dinner at local restaurants through clouds of pot smoke." 

Niema Coleman, who lives on Spaulding Avenue, wrote the Planning Commission that since Greenleaf showed up the neighborhood had changed. 

"I have seen this neighborhood go from a quiet neighborhood where we are familiar with most of the people around and about, to this hangout spot with strangers leaving trash, smoking weed and hanging out in their cars," Coleman said in the letter. "Please help us return this block into the safe, welcoming family friendly environment that it used to be." 

Neither the owner of the property nor the director who runs Greenleaf, who are both named in city documents, returned phone calls for comment on this story. 

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at

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