Relocation Of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Stirs Debate

Development Company Threatens to Sue Should Berkeley Patients Group Move Forward with Plan

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The Berkeley Patients Group, a medical marijuana dispensary currently located in West Berkeley, is attempting to lease the former Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker factory building at 914 Heinz Ave.

However, a development company that owns buildings in the area has threatened to sue the city if the group moves forward with the plan.

The Berkeley City Council is holding a closed session today to discuss the issue, and Wareham Development and schools in the area are opposed to the plan.

"We're not opposed to marijuana for medical uses," said Tim Gallen, a spokesperson for the development company. "What we don't approve of is that we have schools in this neighborhood."

Brad Senesac, director of communications for the patients group, said the marijuana dispensary wants to relocate its operations-which include cultivating, testing and distributing marijuana-because the building they are currently leasing is too small.

"What we're trying to do is expand our social services that we offer to our patients," he said. "We're hoping to expand to a much larger location."

The group also provides social services, including massage therapy and counseling, Senesac said, adding that the group needs to expand its office space in order to accommodate new employees.

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Berkeley operate under Measure JJ, which was passed by voters in 2008. The measure does not allow such dispensaries to operate within one thousand feet of public elementary, middle and high schools.

Two schools near the proposed site are Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley and Aquatic Park School. Because Ecole Bilingue is a private school and Aquatic Park School is a preschool, Measure JJ does not restrict the move.

"We can't imagine why the law would protect one class of students and not another," said Jennifer Monahan, communications manager for Ecole Bilingue. "We're opposed to the measure as it's currently written. We're asking it to change it to include all students."

Gallen said there are also questions about the functionality issues of having the medical group located in the neighborhood, such as parking and building improvements.

The group submitted a zoning certificate for the building on Jan. 4, which will be reviewed by the city's Medical Cannabis Commission at a meeting Thursday, according to Wendy Cosin, the city's Deputy Planning Director and the commission's secretary. However, the outcome of the meeting will also depend on tomorrow's City Council meeting, she added.

City Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose district includes the group's current site as well as the proposed site, said that part of the opposition raised may be due to a lack of awareness of the kind of operation the patients group runs.

"They run a very good operation, very few complaints, very few problems; they have all kinds of strict rules and organizations," he said. "I'm hoping to work out a win-win for both the Berkeley Patients Group and the businesses in West Berkeley."

Senesac said the group hopes to talk to anyone who is opposed to the move.

"We hope we'll be able to clear some things up with everyone about our move," he said. "We feel that we are very good neighbors in the community and ... we just hope people can bear with us in our growing times."


Denise Poon covers local business. Contact her at [email protected]

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