RICHMOND -- The City Council on Tuesday agreed to allow one of Richmond's medical marijuana dispensaries to move into an East Richmond neighborhood, agreeing with managers and employees that the new location would pose little risk to the surrounding community.
"The precedent we're setting tonight is we're respecting the neighborhood," Councilman Jim Rogers said. "We've heard from the public tonight ... I am comfortable there is neighborhood support for this."
Owners of the Green Remedy Collective said they needed to move from the Hilltop area because the owner of that building is facing foreclosure. The new location, in the city's southeast corner, is tucked beneath overhead BART tracks, behind a Bank of America and adjacent to the Richmond Greenway, a public park.
The location is zoned as C-2 general, which violated prior city guidelines for marijuana dispensaries that call for them to be approved only in C-3 commercial zones. The council agreed to waive those guidelines in this case, in part because Richmond police said that although the dispensary would be next to a public park, the entrance and exit are not visible from the park.
The new location is at 4800 Bissell Ave., and is not within 1,000 feet of any schools, a minimum distance that has triggered federal raids of marijuana dispensaries, which are legal in many California cities but not at the federal level.
Richmond has four operating dispensaries and six current permits, giving it the highest number of marijuana shops per capita in the Bay Area.
The city's Finance Department estimates that each permitted collective generates sales tax revenue of about $200,000 per year.
Green Remedy Collective, which has 18 employees, has been permitted to operate since May 2011 at 2928 Hilltop Mall Road. In March 2012, the City Council amended local laws to allow permit holders to change the location of their business and to prohibit more than three collectives to be located within one mile of each other.
"Without approval of our move, we would be forced to close," collective Director Darrin Parle said.
While the Richmond Heights Neighborhood Council voted in October to approve the new business, and the City Council approved the move without opposition, not everyone is pleased.
In a letter sent to the council before Tuesday's meeting, resident Nina Smith noted that the new dispensary would be less than one mile from a middle school, adjacent to one park and one block away from another. Smith said that approving the new site heightens risks that federal officials may intervene.
"I believe that the city's regulation and taxation of dispensaries is ill-advised and probably illegal," Smith wrote.
Other residents complained that the city did not study the impact of increased foot and vehicle traffic in an already bustling area, and that the pot shop was too close to homes and parks.
The approval stood in stark contrast to a July showdown over a dispensary, when an outpouring of community opposition drove the council to reject a permit application for the owners of Richmond Compassionate Care, which requested a permit to locate at 425 South Second St., adjacent to the Santa Fe Neighborhood residential area.
A month earlier, several council members had expressed openness to granting the permit, which would have been the first in a noncommercial zone, but were dissuaded by dozens of residents who inveighed against bringing the pot shop to their neighborhood.
"These are very different circumstances," Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said, adding that a majority of speakers Tuesday supported the dispensary's move.
Members said Green Remedy Collective serves a total membership of 8,917. Of those, 1,845 are Richmond residents.
"I've learned traditional medicines don't work for everybody," Councilman Nat Bates said. "This works for them, and I support this."