Jul 18, 2014
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Even though John Valdez has held a city permit to open a medical dispensary since 2011, he has struggled to find a location that doesn’t incite community opposition.

Now the owner of the Richmond Compassionate Care Collective believes he’s discovered the least controversial spot for a dispensary. He hopes to move to a space “right behind Sims Metal Management,” the recycling center at 600 S. 4th St., which is in an industrial area just south of Cutting Boulevard.

Valdez believes the new location — separated from residential communities by a freeway — is far enough from residents to avoid much opposition. Last year, an attempt to open in the nearby Sante Fe neighborhood was thwarted by concerned local residents.

But Valdez and his attorney, James Anthony, appear more hopeful than confidant. At Thursday’s Public Safety Committee hearing, their latest plan faced opposition from members of the  West Contra Costa County Council of Industries (COI).

Fred Glueck, COI’s president and the owner of Plant Reclamation on Harbour Way South, warned a dispensary in an industrial zone would pose risks to public safety.

“There’s a tremendous amount of vehicle and train traffic and that poses a safety issue,” Glueck said, adding that businesses in the remote areas “are frequently vandalized.”

Jim Cannon, a COI board member and director of external affairs and special projects for the Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation, said medical marijuana users are bound to “just wander out onto the tracks.”

“It’s just not a good idea,” Cannon said.

Valdez countered that a dispensary would actually make the area safer. Not only would the shop be far from residential areas, he said, it would provide added surveillance and security to an area known for vandalism.

“There’ll be no one out there but us and the copper thieves,” Valdez said.

Councilman Nat Bates believes the light industrial zone is ideal to ensure the dispensary is well beyond the mandated distance of 1,500 feet from schools, parks and churches.

“There’s a freeway to separate the Sante Fe neighborhood,” Bates said.

Three dispensaries currently operating in Richmond do so unassumingly and in far more populated areas, the councilmember added. He said few passersby are aware of the Holistic Healing Center operating in the Vista del Mar Village Shopping Center off of Richmond Parkway. The 7 Stars Holistic Healing Center in Pacific East Mall is similarly low-profile, Bates said.

“Most dispensaries in the city of Richmond, nobody knows they are there except for the people who are using it,” he said.

Until now, the city wasn’t looking at industrial areas as possible dispensary locations, as there was a desire to keep patients close to their medicine, according to Richmond Planning Director Richard Mitchell.

At one point dispensaries were zoned for city’s major shopping malls and centers. There have been proposals to allow them along major commercial corridors such as Macdonald Avenue, 23rd Street and San Pablo Avenue.

Councilmember Jael Myrick said he thought Valdez had been considering locating in one of those areas, and questioned why Valdez now wants to locate in a potentially controversial location.

At least there will be less resistance from landlords, says Anthony, who added that the climate for medical marijuana dispensaries is more tolerant due to the easing of federal enforcement.

The Public Safety Committee decided Thursday to table the discussion until after the August recess.

Should more medical marijuana dispensaries open in Richmond?

Meanwhile, Richmond is mulling whether to allow more than its existing three medical marijuana dispensaries.

A total of six dispensaries are allowed in the city. In May, Police Chief Chris Magnus took action to force permit holders who haven’t opened up a dispensary to promptly identify a location or lose their permit. Valdez, who fell into that category, also had to reach an agreement with the city to pay delinquent quarterly permit fees.

Magnus argued the city has been missing out on a significant source of sales tax revenue without the permitted dispensaries.

Myrick wonders whether that’s true. At Thursday’s Public Safety Committee hearing, questions were raised as to whether the city pays too much to regulate the dispensaries. An attorney representing medical marijuana dispensaries told council members that most cities employ just one regulator. Richmond has four.

Councilmembers have asked police officials to report back on the amount of sales tax revenue that could potentially come from six operating dispensaries, and how many staff members are needed to regulate them.


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.