Berkeley City Council hears testimony regarding South Berkeley medical marijuana operation

Protestors hold signs in opposition to the closing of Perfect Plants Patient's Group at Tuesday night's Berkeley City Council meeting.
Kore Chan/Staff
Protestors hold signs in opposition to the closing of Perfect Plants Patient's Group at Tuesday night's Berkeley City Council meeting.

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Berkeley City Council voted unanimously for city staff to draft a resolution finding a local medical cannabis collective a public nuisance after a public hearing Tuesday night.

The issue over whether the collective, Perfect Plants Patient’s Group, is in violation of Berkeley zoning codes has developed into a saga that has lasted more than a year and has polarized not only many members of the Berkeley community on Sacramento Street but also the council members themselves. While the council members have taken steps to move toward the official declaration of the group, also known as 3PG, the public hearing revealed tensions within the community of Sacramento Street.

According to city Code Enforcement Officer Gregory Daniels, 3PG — which has been operating at its 2840-B Sacramento St. location since September 2011 — can be found in violation of up to four cannabis and zoning ordinances, one of which prohibits the group from operating within 600 feet of Longfellow Middle School.

Although Eric Thomas, the managing member of 3PG, contends that a surveyor licensed by the state measured his operation as 619 feet away from Longfellow — the city has assessed the distance at 546 feet — the City Council can still find 3PG in violation of operating as a cannabis collective in a commercial zone, as a cannabis dispensary operating without a license or for not operating as a retail clothing establishment despite being zoned for that purpose.

“The allegations of the neighbors seem out of character,” said Terri Carver, a medical cannabis patient at 3PG. “Everyone who works there is respectful.”
The main concern of 3PG’s proponents iterated throughout the night was providing safe access to medical cannabis for its approximately 4,000 members — of which 200 to 300 are active.

However, a few supporters, including Thomas and co-founder of 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Growers’ Collective Chris Smith, argued that criticisms of 3PG are a result of the “gentrification” of the surrounding neighborhood, a sentiment at least in part echoed by Councilmember Max Anderson.

“I would caution people, though, to not just summarily dismiss concerns of the community about a lot of Caucasian people lining up on one side and African Americans on the other,” Anderson said.

That topic led to a discussion between Councilmembers Anderson and Darryl Moore as the issue turned from one of zoning code to race and divisions between those who have lived in the area for decades and more recent residents.

“If you lived in Berkeley for one day, you are a resident of this community, and your voice should be counted,” Moore said. “The fact that you’re white should not make a difference.”

Yet, regardless of any tensions or fears over the continued health of the city’s medical marijuana industry, many residents and the entire City Council acknowledged that there are laws that must be upheld.

“Right now, let’s focus on the fact that 3PG and the building’s owner have been under violation of Berkeley law for over a year, and you guys let them get away with it,” said Zach Stauffer, a resident living near 3PG, to the council. “The time has come for you to act and find this place a nuisance and move immediately to close it down and ensure that it never reopens.”

In the end, the City Council unanimously voted to continue the issue to its Nov. 27 meeting, where it will vote on whether to declare 3PG a public nuisance, with several council members echoing sentiments that the city may need to take a second look at local regulation of medical marijuana.

“This is an illegal supercollective acting as a dispensary without a license,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “We need to take a look at the medical marijuana laws.”

Contact Megan Messerly at [email protected].

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