While others try to acquire business licenses through zoning applications and court action, at least four medical marijuana-dispensing entities are already established in Vallejo.
A recent visit to medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives listed on the Web site www.legalmarijuanadispensary.com turned up four active sites: Better Health Group on Tennessee Street, Life Enhancement Services on Benicia Road, North Bay Alternative Healing on Napa Street and Stan the Man’s Collective on Warren Avenue.
One of the newest, Better Health Group on Tennessee Street, opened Dec. 1, next door to Youth and Family Services and the Jesus is Alive Fellowship Christian Academy.
Allowing a Times-Herald reporter and photographer inside the collective’s waiting room, 22-year-old Jorge E., a recent Oaksterdam University graduate, shared his enthusiasm for what is happening in Vallejo in terms of medical marijuana.
“I think that Vallejo can benefit from us collectives,” said Jorge, Better Health Group operating manager. “We have to collect sales tax. We’d be happy to provide (the city) an extra tax to help out, help the police department. (And) there’s a big need here — I get a lot of sick patients.”
Vallejo police say they are treating these entities the same way they treat an illegal business — by asking them to conform to city code. “We’re not raiding them, we’re not forcing them out,” Vallejo police Lt. Abel Tenorio said.
Police Sgt. Brett Clark, formerly the department’s community liaison officer, said since city law does not specifically address medical marijuana dispensaries, police consider them illegal and unlawful business operations. As such, they could face fines up to $2,500 a day, per code violation, Clark said.
“But our enforcement capabilities have been decimated,” Clark said. “We have no investigation or follow-up abilities for such a labor-intensive effort.”
He added that, because of state Proposition 215 allowing medical cannabis dispensaries to possess and sell the drug to qualified patients for medical purposes, police face an “extremely gray area.”
“Federal law says it’s illegal, state law says it’s legal,” Clark said. “Nobody wants to take on the battle.”
Federal law prohibits the possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana.
Jorge said his collective is non-retail and run by volunteers. He said it has swelled from 30 patients to nearly 400 — mostly Vallejo residents — in about a month.
“I don’t consider (the other collectives) competition,” Jorge said. “We’re all trying to help. If collectives are operated well, they cause no effect to the city — except positive.”
In that vein, Jorge said he has hired after-hours security to watch the collective, installed internal and external security cameras, discourages loitering and has a strict verification process for patients. A number of signs on the collective’s walls warn patients “You are being videotaped — smile.”
“There’s a stigma, and we’re trying to get rid of it,” Jorge said. “I want to be the standard of cooperatives in Vallejo.”
Neighbor Donna Martin, a Youth and Family Services adolescent program manager and substance abuse counselor, said she had noticed a lot of traffic to and from the collective. “I am surprised that there is a marijuana dispensary club next door to our agency,” Martin said.
Tony Pearsall, executive director for Vallejo’s Fighting Back Partnership, said residents comment and at times complain about the city’s medical marijuana ventures, in the context of neighborhood revitalization efforts.
Pearsall said underage drinking and marijuana use have been highlighted as escalating problems in the city, and that marijuana-using parents can influence their children.
“There are some people using it for legitimate medical reasons,” Pearsall said. “But I know as a fact, some people have been going out to obtain — just like false driver’s licenses — false medical marijuana cards.”
Pearsall, a retired police captain, said if statewide efforts to legalize medical marijuana are successful, he would rather see the city come up with its own regulations than leave it strictly to state oversight.
While the Vallejo City Council has not collectively weighed in on city medical marijuana establishments recently, Councilmember Marti Brown said it is not a topic she would shy away from.
“My honest answer? I’m open to the possibility,” Brown said. “I’m very cautiously open to some high-end options, versus smaller clubs. If we were to consider it, we’d need something that’s more full-service, well-monitored, and offers tax revenue.”
Brown said she would like to see the city be more proactive on the issue, even considering an ordinance. “I don’t think that us sort of putting our heads in the sand … is going to work for us,” Brown said.
Councilmember Joanne Schivley, the only other council member to respond to a request for comment this week, said she knows nothing about dispensaries, collectives or cooperatives in town.
By Jessica A. York