A court case last month possibly set the stage for a new cannabis dispensary in Richmond, the resurrection of an old fight to keep it out — or both.
Two Richmond dispensary owners were ordered to pay $5 million in damages for conspiring against a rival owner. On Sept. 23, a Contra Costa County jury found that William Koziol and Darrin Parle, who operate the Green Remedy Collective, had prevented a prospective dispensary, Richmond Compassionate Care Collective, from establishing a business in Richmond. The jury awarded $5 million in damages to RCCC.
The decision ends a legal battle that has stretched for more than five years, beginning before recreational cannabis use was legal in California. And it may have revived RCCC’s attempt to set up shop in Richmond, which many residents had opposed in the years leading up to the lawsuit.
RCCC’s owners are “going to make every effort to go back to the City Council and say that they were wrongfully deprived of their permit,” said Ron Foreman, who presented RCCC in the case.
Lina Velasco, community development director who manages cannabis permits for the city, declined to comment on RCCC’s potential to receive a permit.
RCCC filed the lawsuit in 2016, alleging that the owners of three dispensaries and several community leaders had conspired to prevent RCCC from opening.
After a 28-day trial, the jury found that Koziol and Parle kept RCCC from operating in a viable location. The jury cleared accusations against a third operator of Green Remedy, Alexis Parle. The community leaders and other dispensary owners were dismissed from the case before the jury trial began.
Foreman said the jury decision could be tripled under federal anti-trust laws. He said he believes the case is the nation’s first anti-trust case in the cannabis industry.
“It’s a warning to the industry that it’s going to be governed by competition,” Foreman said.
More than a decade ago, RCCC was among the first businesses to receive permits as a medical cannabis dispensary in Richmond but never opened because of a series of zoning challenges and pushback from the community.
RCCC argued that whenever it found a new location for a shop, rival dispensary owners and their allies would allegedly rent the properties or dissuade landlords from renting to RCCC. The suit claimed RCCC’s rivals met at Cafe Pascal, Romano’s Macaroni Grill or in private homes to identify properties potentially available in commercial zoning districts and “the ways to tie up any C-3 and C-2 conforming properties until RCCC’s permit expired.”
Under Richmond’s zoning rules, cannabis dispensaries are only allowed in certain commercial areas and can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school.
The plaintiffs argued that the rival group would use the city of Richmond’s website to find properties with compliant zoning, then visit the property owners and “pretend to be prospective purchasers or tenants.” The lawsuit says the rivals worked to “ensure that any landlord and/or owner would not lease or sell any property to RCCC.”
In one instance, RCCC alleges that the owners of Green Remedy purchased a commercial property at 4800 Bissell Ave. and had the city move their permit to that address, even though Green Remedy continued to operate only at its original Hilltop Mall Road address.
Attorneys representing the rival dispensary owners argued that while they explored other properties, they could not open shops in several of the prospective locations due to close proximity to a school or because of financing challenges.
“The evidence was overwhelming that they bought the other properties for legitimate business activities only,” said Barry Himmelstein, an attorney representing Koziol.
Himmelstein and Parle’s attorney Scot Candell said they plan to appeal the jury’s decision.