In a closed session meeting last night, the Berkeley City Council agreed to let a medical marijuana dispensary move into the old Scharffen Berger building on the corner of Heinz and 7th Street. A number of nearby organizations, including the Ecole Bilingue private school, supermarket Berkeley Bowl West and a local developer, had opposed the move.

The dispensary, the Berkeley Patients Group, will move from its existing site on San Pablo Avenue.

The Ecole Bilingue objected to the move because Berkeley’s Measure JJ bans medical marijuana operations from locating within 1,000 feet of schools, but the measure was restricted to public schools. The school argued that the distinction was unfair. Measure JJ also allowed medical marijuana dispensaries from locating anywhere in the city (while following the 1,000-foot rule) without a public hearing, which is why Berkeley Patients Group did not face a planning hearing for the move.

In a report on the decision in the Oakland Tribune,  a lawyer for the local developer, Wareham Development, said the company may still sue to stop the zoning permit and overturn parts of Measure JJ.

Photo by JoelPK from Flickr

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

Join the Conversation


  1. I live not far from the dispensary’s current location. I’ve no definitive position yet but I do have strong misgivings about this move on several levels:

    To the credit of the dispensary, every public statement I’ve seen from an immediate neighbor has been positive with regard to there being no particular “incidents” on the property or immediately adjacent. I infer that they succeed in running a quiet shop.

    Unfortunately, there are some considerable downsides:

    The current dispensary property is surrounded by barbed wire fence. There is a constant and somewhat intimidating security presence at the gate. One day, after having rode by the place many days in a row, I paused to ask the guards “I’m curious. Can you tell me what this business is?” I was treated bruskly; rudely. “It’s a medical facility,” came the answer while the guard puffed out his chest and tensed up, stepping forward. “Oh,” I said with some enthusiasm, “aha.. it’s a dispensary?” A second guard moved forward while the first answered “It’s a medical facility. That’s all I will say.”

    I’m rather uncomfortable having that kind of sanctioned thuggery and closed off space in my mixed residential and commercial neighborhood.

    Next, there are some issues that are difficult to be frank about but I will. I have observed that, for all of their good intentions, the dispensaries do (of course) feed the hand-to-hand street trade in pot. This is hardly a surprise and, as one who is pro-legalization, I don’t consider that to be in and of itself a problem. Yet there is a problem here, in this instance:

    We have observed the parking lot of the nearby Walgreen’s to, on occasion, be converted into a kind of unofficial pot club, with people hanging out in their several cars getting high before driving (!) away. Is this directly a result of the nearby dispensary? I’m not certain but I think it is a reasonable suspicion.

    Additionally, the blocks of San Pablo around the club certainly, by eye at least, persistently host a significant amount of street prostitution – suggesting that this area is becoming 1-stop shopping for all your vice needs. Why these few blocks are not more of a priority to the police department is a mystery to me.

    And, of course, it was but a few weeks ago that there was a substantial exchange of gunfire on these blocks, resulting in a long closure of San Pablo and half-closure of Ashby.

    It would be unfair to blame the dispensary for these kinds of problems which, certainly, to a degree, preceded their arrival. It is fair to wonder whether they don’t contribute to the problems in spite of their best efforts and whether or not they will simply expand the extent of those problems to the nearby new site.

    Finally, there is the former Scharffen Berger site itself which, by appearances, is quite a gem ripe for mixed use public retail and light industrial use. Presuming that the dispensary’s current security posture will continue at the new site, this surely must be counted as a mis-use and as a harm to surrounding businesses and residents. By analogy, why don’t they just move downtown to, say, the former Eddie Bauer site or similar? What would neighboring residents and merchants have to complain about there? (Quite a lot, of course.)

    There must surely be a better site for the dispensary though certainly one which is less of a “prestige” property. Less of a location best reserved for a local retail *anchor*.

    In summary, I think that the Ecole Bilingue has legitimate concerns about what ancillary effects will come to their neighborhood and that any zoning decisions ought to consider both the security posture of the dispensary and the preponderance of evidence concerning its indirect contributions to the local “vice zone”.