City Clears Proposed Move For Marijuana Dispensary

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Berkeley City Council members decided at a closed session on Monday not to take any action regarding the attempt by the Berkeley Patients Group to move to the former Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker factory building in West Berkeley.

The decision means that the group will be able to complete the move, although it is not certain that they will choose to do so.

"They're at a point where they can either move forward with the Scarffen Berger building or continue to have dialogue if they want to look at alternate sites," said Julie Sinai, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates. "They fit within the zoning criteria. Whether people like it or not is really not relevant. Right now, we don't have any reason to believe the city wouldn't issue the zoning certificate."

Anna Shimko, an attorney for Wareham Development, was present at the session. The company, which owns 22 buildings in the area, has threatened to sue if the group's zoning certificate for the proposed location is approved because of its proximity to local schools.

Dispensaries in the city operate under Measure JJ, which prohibits marijuana dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of public schools but excludes private schools from the law.

It is this discrepancy, said Chris Barlow, a partner at the company, that is the basis for the potential legal action.

"We're very disappointed that the city council did not take the opportunity to close the loophole in the original city ordinance to provide the same level of protection of private school children as to public school children," Barlow said.

The board of trustees at Ecole

Bilingue de Berkeley, a private school located near the proposed site, has written a letter to the city concerning the "legal ambiguity" of Measure JJ.

"It seems like the Berkeley Patients Group is committed to that site," said Jennifer Monahan, communications manager for the school. "But we are still convinced that the law should cover all schools in Berkeley, and therefore the dispensary shouldn't move in so close to the school."

Though the dispensary can now obtain the zoning certificate, Brad Senesac, director of communications for the group, said the group will not do so until issues with neighbors in the proposed new location are resolved.

"We'd like to find out what all the issues are from all the individuals ... and then resolve those issues," Senesac said. "A lot of times people have a lot of misconceptions about what Berkeley Patients Group does, and we'd like to educate and inform people before we move into the building."

The group has met with officials of the school to discuss concerns. Another meeting will be held to further lay out issues with the move, Monahan said.

Wareham Development is currently evaluating its options in pursuing legal action, Barlow said.

"It's not our preferred option here, but ... the city council, by their lack of action, has really left us with few other alternatives," he said. "This is not of our doing, but the city council's lack of action in closing the loopholes (in Measure JJ)."


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

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