Marijuana collective co-founder files lawsuit against Berkeley

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A Berkeley resident and local medical marijuana collective co-founder filed a lawsuit against the city and three medical marijuana dispensaries Sept. 17, alleging racketeering on the part of the city and dispensaries.

In the complaint, Chris Smith, co-founder of the 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Growers’ Collective, said California state law allows only for the operation of nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries. He claimed that the three dispensaries currently in Berkeley are operating illegally as for-profit enterprises. Additionally, Smith alleged that various city government entities have allowed for this activity to continue, in violation of the law.

According to court documents, Smith alleged that the activities of the city and dispensaries have been personally harmful, as they have led to the forced relocation of 40 Acres and damage to its reputation, among other injuries.

Smith alleged that the city government has refused to accept his application for a dispensary permit while allowing the three dispensaries already operating to do so without the proper legal documentation.

City Attorney Zach Cowan disagreed with Smith’s assessment. Asserting that the case is without merit, Cowan said he expects to file motions to dismiss it.

“He’s alleged all kinds of things,” Cowan said, whose office was accused in the document to be one of the government entities responsible for Smith’s alleged damages. “His legal theory is wrong.”

The lawsuit could be complicated by the recent passage of legislation through the California State Legislature that, if signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, will allow dispensaries across the state to become for-profit businesses.

Smith has filed several lawsuits against the city in recent years. A suit filed earlier this year claimed that the city was allegedly discriminating against his collective after a former location was ordered to shut down.

According to Cowan, the 40 Acres location was shut down because it didn’t comply with city ordinances on medical marijuana because of its location in a commercial zone of the city that isn’t permitted under the Berkeley Municipal Code. Berkeley City Council also declared 40 Acres a public nuisance earlier this year.

“We’ve been dealing with it for quite a while,” Cowan said.

Although many of Smith’s previous legal actions have been directed toward the city, he said the three medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Berkeley “have been the main ones pushing for me to be put out.”

While previously the city had allowed only three dispensaries to operate within the city, a fourth spot is now available.

While Cowan said he expects the city will file motions to dismiss all of Smith’s cases against it, Smith hopes the defendants will “take accountability for their actions.”

“It’s really about equal treatment,” Smith said.

Contact Maxwell Jenkins-Goetz at [email protected].