Interview: Mayor Tom Bates Laments Closing of Berkeley Patients Group Marijuana Dispensary

Michael Montgomery/California Watch
KQED News intern Dana Varinsky asked Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates today what he thought about the news that the Berkeley Patients Group, one of California’s largest marijuana dispensaries, will shut down in response to a warning letter sent to its landlord by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. Haag has been targeting dispensaries that in proximity to schools or other locations where children gather. Here’s what Bates had to say:

They have actually been a very good corporate citizen in Berkeley. There have been no complaints — we get compliments from neighbors. They really have a very high-class operation that dispenses marijuana to people who need it.

We’re really sorry to see them close up, because if we’re going to have a dispensary, they’re certainly the model. If you’re going to have marijuana dispensaries, you need to make sure they run like the Berkeley Patients Group, and we’d love to see people who have a dispensary in the future pattern themselves after them. There were no instances of violence, they were excellent neighbors, they had good security, they contributed to the economy and helped local non profits by making contributions.

The voters of this city voted unanimously that they wanted to have four dispensaries in Berkeley and that was it. We grandfathered them in. But evidently we get trumped by the federal government.

As to whether the dispensary may be able to operate elsewhere in the city, Bates said, “I think they’re definitely looking for an alternate location and have been looking for quite awhile. It’s not easy, because we have schools all around the city. It’s hard to find a location that meets our other criteria too.”

U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag offers her rationale for closing dispensaries that would seem to have community support or be problem-free in this interview with KQED’s Michael Montgomery. Here’s what she said…

We’ve sent letters to a number of dispensaries and we certainly hear back from most if not all of them, or lawyers representing them. And one thing we’ve heard in response is that this is a good dispensary. This is a dispensary that’s patient-run, or they consider themselves to be a good actor in the marijuana space. And I hear them, but I have a hard time making that distinction. I’ve already drawn a line. I’ve already made a distinction. If it’s close to children then that’s a line we’re going to draw. If I then start trying to get in and figure out which ones are quote good or not, it’s just not something I’m capable of doing. So I’ve decided to draw this line, and to keep that line fairly bright.

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Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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