The Pacifica City Council Monday night rejected an appeal by the owner of to reinstate his business license after it was revoked because, according to the city, he lied when acquiring it.
Wellness Solutions Group (WSG), the medical cannabis club, opened on Palmetto Avenue at the beginning of August using a business license for a flower shop and operated under the radar, reportedly drawing hundreds of patients and ten growers, until it was accidentally discovered by a posse of city officials.
During an outreach event on Aug. 19, Mayor Mary Ann Nihart, Pacifica Police Chief Jim Tasa, City Manager Stephen Rhodes and County Supervisor (and former Sheriff) Don Horsley walked into a former upholsterer's shop only to be hit by a wave of something, well, skunky.
Turns out, they'd stumbled upon Pacifica's underground pot club.
The following week, the city and police department issued a cease and desist order to the owner of the establishment, Ruben Salvatierra, and revoked his business license.
At Monday night's council meeting, Police Captain Dave Bertini said that after the city and his department consulted an attorney, they determined that the business license had been obtained fraudulently because Salvatierra had claimed he was opening a flower shop.
"Our belief is that they obtained the business license under a false pretense," Cpt. Bertini said.
It is a misdemeanor crime to falsify an application to the City of Pacifica, he said.
According to Cpt. Bertini, Heidi Mann, the landlord of the building where the shop was housed, called the police department on Aug. 30 stating that selling medical marijuana was contrary to her lease, that Salvatierra told her that he was opening a Chinese herbal retail store, that the locks on his unit had been changed without her permission and that a security gate had been installed in the unit without her permission. She was beginning the eviction process at that time.
Salvatierra said he put down flower shop because it was the most accurate option in the city's business application process.
"For a medical cannabis dispensary, there's no tax code for that, I went with a classification that would be similar," he said. "I wasn’t sure which business description to use."
Salvatierra asserted that because Pacifica did not have an ordinance against establishing a medical marijuana, he did not break the law in establishing one here, especially since he complied with all state laws in doing so.
But city staff said Monday that Pacifica has a "permissive" ordinance system, meaning that unless a kind of business is explicitly allowed in city law, it is not allowed.
Several Pacifica residents spoke during a public comment period of the meeting about the need for the city to take an official stance on medical marijuana in Pacifica. Share your opinion in the poll at the bottom of this story.
The council voted 3-0 to deny Salvatierra's appeal of the revocation of his business license. Councilmen Jim Vreeland and Pete DeJarnatt were absent from the meeting.
Police are also investigating whether to charge Salvatierra with a misdemeanor for falsifying information on the business license.