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Richmond passes law on marijuana dispensaries

July 21, 2010

Posted: 07/21/2010 01:19:39 AM PDT

Updated: 07/21/2010 02:49:44 PM PDT


RICHMOND — Medical marijuana dispensaries will be restricted to commercial areas in Richmond, with no limit on the number that can open shop.

After more than three hours of testimony and debate Tuesday night, a divided City Council passed its first law regulating pot clubs after an influx of these dispensaries caught them by surprise.

The law requires pot clubs be nonprofit collectives whose managers have passed criminal background checks. The clubs must be in commercial districts, at least 1,500 feet from high schools and 500 feet from other schools or day care centers.

The new law does not set a limit on how many collectives are allowed, though city leaders said they would consider a cap later.

“The idea of smaller dispensaries instead of one large one makes sense,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

The vote was 4-3 with McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Jeff Ritterman, Nat Bates and Jim Rogers in favor.

Council members Tom Butt, Ludmyrna Lopez and Maria Viramontes dissented. The trio backed Lopez’s failed motion, a variation of the city staff’s recommendation, that would have allowed no more than three dispensaries limited to major commercial areas and handed the police chief the authority to process permits.

“We’re here to meet the needs of the patients; we’re not here to become the regional center of marijuana,” Viramontes said.

Richmond has at least eight pot clubs, most opening within the past year. The city already filed court injunctions to shut them down in March because pot clubs have not been a permitted use in the municipal code. Contra Costa Superior Court granted an injunction against one site this month; hearings are pending for the others.

 The council gave initial approval to the new law Tuesday. The ordinance returns for final approval July 27, and if given the green light, collectives can start submitting applications in three months.

A moratorium on new pot clubs expires in January.

Under the new ordinance, the city manager, or whomever he designates, reviews applications and grants permits. A public hearing is required. The law also outlines hours of operation, security standards, inspections and documents to be kept on file.

Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in prison, or both.

Officials plan to revisit the ordinance in 90 days.

Many of the club owners, managers and clients who spoke Tuesday asked the city to wait until they could meet with officials to help craft an ordinance.

“I think you need to slow down. It’s not a footrace. Doing it right is more important,” said Chris Conrad, an El Cerrito resident who has written about cannabis.

Many disagreed with some proposed restrictions. For example, they said giving the police chief permitting authority criminalizes medical marijuana use. Some provisions they objected to were eventually removed from the ordinance that the council majority approved.

Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at

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