Loophole permits pot clubs near private schools

February 15, 2010 6:22:29 PM PST
A loophole in the law could allow a pot club to open near a private school in Berkeley. The two sides of the issues are trying to reach a compromise as city officials brace for a lawsuit.

At Berkeley's Ecole Bilingue school, "Échappatoire," the French word for "pot club," may soon become part of the vocabulary.

"There's this implicit acknowledgement that pot clubs and schools don't mix and yet, it doesn't cover us," says school spokeswoman Jennifer Monahan.

The "it" Monahan refers to is the law Berkeley voters passed in 2008 banning pot clubs from opening within 1000 feet of a public school. The French school is private and now the Berkeley Patient's Group has plans to open a dispensary about 500 feet away, in what used to be the Scharffenberger Chocolate Factory.

"We've looked at 78 different locations in five years," pot club spokesman Brad Senesac said.

With plans to build condos at its current location, the dispensary has been looking for a new home, but with no success. Owners say the old chocolate factory is perfect. In addition to serving 500 patients a day, they also plan to build a lab and a bakery to bake medical marijuana goods like brownies and candies.

"If you excluded all parks and all schools in all residential areas, there would be no place for a dispensary in any city," Senesac says.

"Did the Berkeley voters know that this was part of the law?" Monahan asks. "I don't think that they did."

It turns out, state law will not help much either. California laws governing pot clubs do not say anything about opening up near a school. They just say you cannot consume the drug anywhere nearby.

The same city officials who supported the pot club measure two years ago now wish it was written without the loophole. The city is bracing for a lawsuit from whichever side loses the fight.

"It's unfortunate that we didn't say 'all schools,' not just 'public schools,'" says Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

Parents at the French school could not agree more.

"I have a hard time believing that this particular medical marijuana dispensary can't find a location that's, honestly, a little more suitable," said parent Marjorie Setchko.