Richmond's pot shop permits spark controversy
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 06/12/2012 01:38:25 PM PDT
Updated: 06/12/2012 07:18:43 PM PDT
The owner of the most recently approved local medical marijuana collective in Richmond is demanding an apology from a councilman after a contentious public meeting.
Zee Handoush, whose 7-Stars Holistic Healing Center became the fifth medical cannabis shop granted a permit to operate in the city this year, is miffed by what Councilman Corky Booze said about him and his business during the City Council meeting June 5.
During discussion of the permit, Booze attacked Handoush as an irresponsible business owner and suggested the businessman bore responsibility for a December 2011 shooting in the parking lot of the mall where he operates a smoke shop and hookah bar.
Despite Booze's protestations, Handoush was approved to open the city's fifth medical cannabis shop by a 4-1-1 vote, with Booze dissenting, Councilman Tom Butt abstaining and Councilman Jeff Ritterman absent.
"(Booze) slandered me personally by saying that I cannot be trusted, however ... he is the one making false claims," Handoush wrote in a June 10 email to Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, which was copied to the other five council members. "For now, I am very concerned with his final threat to unduly single myself and 7-Stars out for special police scrutiny. I have every reason to think that finding nothing wrong, he is capable of abusing his position of power and of manufacturing what he wants in his blind pursuit of hurting me."
In an interview Monday, Booze dismissed Handoush's complaints, but didn't back off -- much less apologize for -- his criticism of the longtime Richmond merchant.
"He has a nightclub there at the mall and they had a problem out there with violence and security," Booze said. "You can't skirt your responsibility when you own the facility."
The incident in question was a shooting at the Pacific East Mall in the early morning hours of Dec. 4.
Handoush said three men came to his business, Stogies Smoke Shop & Lounge, where patrons can smoke tobacco, play pool and watch television. A security guard employed by Handoush told the men the shop was closed, and followed the men into the parking lot. He was shot and wounded as they fled in a vehicle.
"If anything, it was a demonstration of how well our security works," Handoush said Monday, reclining in his second-floor offices at the south Richmond mall. "We had surveillance on these guys from the moment they came in, and we escorted them out professionally. Then they take shots at my guy in the parking lot. There was no way to prevent that."
Richmond police Lt. Bisa French said there was no evidence of wrongdoing or negligence by the smoke shop, but he did say it wasn't the first time there was trouble there.
"In the last few years there have been several incidents there," French said. "A few fights and a robbery, in particular."
The debate over 7-Stars, which would also be located at the Pacific East Mall near the borders of Albany and El Cerrito, is the latest in the increasingly contentious process by which the city grants permits to marijuana dispensaries. In March, a divided council agreed to increase the number of dispensaries permitted in the city from four to six, paving the way for Richmond to have one of the highest concentrations of pot clubs in the Bay Area.
Booze, who has earned a reputation for bruising politics and confrontational tactics, said he had other concerns about Handoush, a longtime Richmond businessman whose parents owned a local grocery store in the 1970s.
Booze said Handoush has promised money to a local nonprofit in an attempt to curry favor with the council and has been "running around telling everybody he has his way with the council," a charge Handoush called "ridiculous."
"(Handoush) donated $2,500 to my (council) campaign," Booze said. "But now he knows what everybody knows, you can't buy Corky."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.