Richmond Can't Decide What to Do About Pot 

The city council votes to permit an unlimited number of medical cannabis dispensaries even as the city attorney tries to shut them down.

A new law passed by the Richmond City Council authorizing an unlimited number of medical cannabis dispensaries appears to conflict with prior legal injunctions against Richmond's eight pot clubs. The situation is creating an awkward limbo-state for dispensary employees and calling into question continued access for patients.

The injunctions, filed by the Richmond City Attorney's Office, could conceivably force all of the city's current dispensaries out of business before the law approved by the council last week goes into full effect. If that were to happen, then medical pot patients in Richmond would have to travel to Berkeley or Oakland to buy cannabis.

Richmond City prosecutor Trisha Aljoe said she plans to move forward with the injunctions against the existing dispensaries. "At this point, all of the dispensaries are still operating in violation of current law," Aljoe said, citing the fact that according to city zoning law, pot clubs are out of bounds, and noting that many of the dispensary operators were less than straightforward on their permit applications.

"A marijuana dispensary is not a legal use in this city," Aljoe said, referring to Richmond law prior to the council's vote Tuesday night. "Plus, they're operating without the proper license. The new ordinance won't even be implemented until there's some sort of infrastructure [to issue permits] in place. Until then, you can't operate in violation of the law. Besides, it still has to pass the second reading."

The ordinance approved by the council allows for an unlimited number of medical pot collectives licensed by the city manager — or his designee — and permitted in any commercial district without "buffer" requirements, meaning that various dispensaries may be located close to one another, according to the ordinance's author and Richmond City Attorney's office staffer, Mary Renfro. Councilman Tom Butt called it "the most liberal and wide-open pot ordinance in the state of California — maybe the whole country."

Jay Newell, a partner at one of Richmond's dispensaries, the Golden State Health Center, said he was pleased with the council's 4-3 vote in favor of the new ordinance. However, he said he still fears that his livelihood and the health of his customers are in jeopardy. "It's better than what we had before," he said. "But they didn't come out and say they'd stop the lawsuits. I applaud their willingness to do something, but I don't think patients should suffer because city management doesn't follow the instructions of city council."

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