The city of San Jose issued a memo today threatening to shut down three pot clubs within the city limits if they refuse to stop selling medical cannabis for a fee.
In the memo, released this afternoon by Joseph Horwedel, director of the Department of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement, stated that the department has received complaints and is in the process of investigating Pharmers Health Center Cooperative, Inc., San Jose Cannabis Buyer’s Collective and Medileaf Collective.
The memo says: “If it is determined that these businesses are dispensing medical marijuana/cannabis for a fee, which is neither permitted or a conditional use under the City of San Jose’s Zoning Ordinance, Code Enforcement Division staff intends to issue compliance orders to both the property owner and business owner requiring that the unpermitted businesses cease operating within 30 days.”
According to Code Enforcement official Michael Hannon, who is in charge of the case, code enforcement officers will be visiting the pot club facilities today or Friday, to issue the compliance order. He says the memo was originally written on Jan. 5, and that he has received complaints about a total of seven medical cannabis dispensaries in San Jose.
Hannon says that if the clubs do not cease operating in 30 days, the department will precede to administrative hearings that could issue them penalties and fines of up to $2,500 a day if they continue operation. However, he says that his department is choosing to view the case as strictly a land use issue, which is why the city is not sending law enforcement into shut the medical cannabis dispensaries down.
“We’re not going to litigation right from the get-go,“ Hannon says. “We’re not seeing a lot of crime or nuisance activities specifically associated with these businesses. They are just like any other business at least from the standpoint of code enforcement. They are simply operating in the city of San Jose without a permit. They can’t get a permit, so rather then order an immediate closure, we’re going to give most of these businesses 30 days.”
Hannon says that his department has gotten complaints from nearby businesses that were concerned about the dispensaries.
“If people read the news, they know that the mayor has made it real clear that marijuana dispensaries are not legal in the city of San Jose,” says Hannon. “So there is probably a heightened awareness on this issue, so as this starts to open up, folks are going to bring them to our attention in the hope that the city can be quick in closing them down.”
The memo specifically states that the code enforcement is issuing the compliance order for dispensaries that are charging a fee. San Jose Cannabis Buyers Club and others have stated that they are a non-profit institutions.
“Well, I haven’t come across one yet that is,” says Hannon. “The ones that I’ve been to or seen are selling it for anywhere from $55 to $65 an ounce, so they’ve made it real clear to us that it is a business venture and they are looking to sell either to co-op members or folks who simply have the doctors recommendation.”
Councilmember Peirluigi Oliverio, who is currently backing a proposed ordinance to get the city to regulate and tax pot clubs, said that he expected this response from the department of code enforcement.
“It was only a matter of time,” he said. “I thought it would happen sooner, because code enforcement is based on people calling and complaining. The complaints are either from one or two parties: people who are jealous that they are open, like competition, or it’s people who are adamantly opposed.
“If we had my proposed ordinance in place, we wouldn’t have some of the concerns that people have, because I support a limited number of dispensaries in limited places that are regulated and taxed.”
As it happens, the issue of regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries was supposed to be discussed at the Rules Committee meeting yesterday, but according to Oliverio, city staff mysteriously forgot to post the notification.
“We were supposed to discuss this, and that’s what was told to everyone: Nov. 18. And then by some weird event, someone forgot to post it, which is really strange, especially when you look at the timing of this memo. It’s like, ‘did you purposely not post it because you knew you were coming out with a memo?’
“I showed up and spoke at the public portion of the meeting, and 20 people showed up. And only three or four of them spoke, because a lot of that crowd is pretty shy. So, here was the thing, there was no notification of the meeting, yet 20 people showed up. So, it sort of looks bad when you’re like, ‘oh, sorry, whoops! It was a mistake, we forgot to post it. I think. I guess.’ I would suspect that they are trying to avoid some of the discussion that comes with such a topic.”
Oliverio says that he anticipates that now that code enforcement has issued this compliance order, the owners of the medical marijuana dispensaries may decide to enter litigation with the city.
He says it’s conceivable that because the city does not have an ordinance barring their activity, and state law says they are allowed to operate, they might decide to take the city to court and let the judge decide.
“So it depends if one of those folks has deep pockets or strong convictions,” Oliverio says.
When reached by phone, the manager of San Jose Cannabis Buyer’s collective, who declined to give his name, said that he was unaware of the City’s recent Code Enforcement memo. He said that the dispensary at 373 S. Monroe Street in San Jose has had no recent interaction with police or city officials.
Erika Taylor Montgomery, who represents the San Jose Cannabis Buyers Collective, was not immediately available for comment, nor were representatives of the Pharmers collective or the Medileaf Collective.
Oliverio believes the correct course of action is clear: “If the voters have approved this by state law, and the president’s attorney general says ‘I’m not prosecuting people in states that are doing it,’ what I’m saying is, let’s have a policy or ordinance that says there can be a limited number of places, and we’ll tax it. It’s pretty simple.”
When reached by phone, the manager of San Jose Cannabis Buyer’s Collective (SJCBC), who declined to give his name, said that he was unaware of the City’s recent Code Enforcement memo. He said that the dispensary at 373 S. Monroe Street in San Jose has had no recent interaction with police or city officials. Erika Taylor Montgomery, who represents the SJCBC, was not immediately available for comment, nor were representatives of the Pharmers collective or the Medileaf Collective.