Thursday, March 15, 2012

Law-Abiding Berkeley Marijuana Dispensary Forced to Close

In case you’re wondering, Berkeley Patients Group was NOT one of the California dispensaries that funded opposition to Prop 19.
(California WatchBerkeley Patients Group, founded in 1999 by leading names in the state’s medical marijuana movement, will cease operations at its current location later this year, according to an agreement between the dispensary’s owners and the landlord. The document was signed on Feb. 28 by Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay.
The decision to shutter the outlet on San Pablo Avenue was triggered by a warning from Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California. In a letter sent to the owner of the building that houses the dispensary, Haag said federal prosecutors would file a forfeiture action if marijuana continued to be distributed at the location. Berkeley Patients Group has leased the property since 1999 and operates under a city license.
The letter cited violations of federal law and the fact that the outlet is within 1,000 feet of two schools: the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness, which also houses a preschool, and Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, a French bilingual grade school.
“Marijuana dispensaries are full of cash and they’re full of marijuana, and everybody knows that,” Haag said in an interview. ”They are at risk of being robbed, and many of them are robbed.”
Not the Berkeley Patients Group, however.  Not one robbery or incident of violence in all its years of operation.
What Haag is neglecting to tell the public is that the dispensaries being “full of cash” is a danger she helped create by pressuring banks not to do business with dispensaries.
(ABC News) In its effort to shut down California’s booming medical marijuana dispensaries, the Justice Department is seeking to seize the property where the clinics are based, even going after at least one bank that holds the mortgage on a clinic.
Chase bank received a letter to evict the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, according to Greg Anton, attorney for the clinic. The bank owns the note on the building in Fairfax, Calif.
According to Anton, the bank received a similar letter from U.S. attorney Melinda Haag for the northern district of California that was sent to the Alliance’s landlord on Sept. 28 and other medical marijuana dispensaries. The letters threatened that unless the owners evicted the cannabis clinics within 45 days, they could face criminal action.
But not just threatening banks that hold dispensary mortgages… actually threatening banks that handle the business transactions of dispensaries!
(Denver Post) On Friday, the last bank in Colorado to openly work with the medical-marijuana industry — Colorado Springs State Bank — officially closed down the accounts of dispensaries and others in the state’s legal marijuana business over concerns about working with companies that are, by definition, breaking federal law. Robert Frichtel, an industry consultant who runs the Medical Marijuana Business Exchange, estimated the number of accounts the bank held to be around 300.
That development — the latest in a series of problems medical-marijuana businesses have had in finding banks to work with — has sent the industry into a now-familiar scramble to find a place for its money. What’s different this time is that no obvious solution has presented itself, leading Frichtel and others to conclude the industry is in for a prolonged period of operating cash-only.
Jim Marty, an accountant who works with a number of dispensaries, said the financial changes won’t kill the medical-marijuana industry — there’s nothing wrong, he said, with being a cash-only business — but they will test it.
“It’s inconvenient,” he said. “It makes it hard to act like a legitimate business.”
1000 feet from Berkeley Patients Group, the deaf school, and the French school (image: Google Earth)
This is a Google Earth map of the area around Berkeley Patients Group, indicated by the Green Star Pin.  That red circle surrounding it is a one-thousand-foot radius from the dispensary.  As you can see, the School for the Deaf and the French Bilingual School (one of its campuses) fits within that 1000′ radius.

I’ve also indicated the 1000′ radii for the French School (in green) and the Deaf School (in yellow), so we can discern what other dangerous things, besides medical marijuana dispensaries with iron gates and security cameras that check IDs and medical recommendations of all who enter and have never been robbed in all their years of business, might be in the vicinity.

It turns out that within 1000′ of the Deaf School there are three diners and a bank.  Within 1000′ of the French School, there are two diners, a shopping center, a bank, and a gas station.  I understand that there is lots of cash at these types of establishments, and they are often at risk of being robbed!

But not really.  The City of Berkeley has this amazing online app that lets you build data maps of any address and pull up every reported crime within 1000 feet of any address for as much as the past 180 days.  I searched each address indicated at the center of those 1000 foot circles above and found not one robbery over the past six months.  There were six residential burglaries (burglary = I snuck in and took it; robbery = I took it from you) and only one commercial burglary, and that was a block away from the French School and outside BPG’s radius.

Drug warriors like Haag can never grasp that the biggest harm to children from marijuana is its prohibition.  If the feds backed off and allowed California and the other medical marijuana states to regulate these operations like traditional businesses, they’d be no more harmful to the children than the local cigar store or vineyard wine-tasting tour.

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