Update | Maple Valley Hearing Examiner rules Green Society Group violated city's collective garden moratorium
By TJ MARTINELL
Covington Reporter Reporter
September 14, 2012 · Updated 12:19 PM
Green Society Group Management is a collective garden no matter what its owner may call it, according to the Maple Valley Hearing Examiner.
According to the decision released by Hearing Examiner Gary McLean, the city proved by the preponderance of the evidence that GSG “operated a medical marijuana dispensary and/or collective garden at their leased premises in violation of a city moratorium prohibiting such use or conduct.”
“GSG offered no testimony that would rebut the city’s proof that GSG was/is operating a medical marijuana collective garden and/or dispensary in the City of Maple Valley,” McLean wrote.
The city originally cited GSG in early May after they opened for business on April 20 as part of a stop work order, do not occupy notice.
They were lated cited in June for violating the city's year-long moratorium on collective gardens, which the City Council had approved in July of last year. The Council approved an outright ban in June.
McLean noted that the city’s moratorium was never challenged by the Growth Management Hearings Board or a court.
GSG’s attorney, Jay Berneberg, appealed to the city’s Hearing Examiner. The hearings were in late July.
According to the findings, Community Development Director Ty Peterson located GSG on a website called weedmaps.com on April 6 after receiving several phone calls, “which showed that a business known as GSG Gardens, or something like that, was/would soon be open and operating as a marijuana dispensary and/or collective garden in Maple Valley.”
Peterson then wrote an email to email@example.com in which he informed the email recipients about the city’s moratorium and requested that they not open.
The findings stated further that on April 17 Maple Valley Police Chief Michelle Bennett visited GSG’s office at Frontier Village off of 272nd Street Southeast, where she spoke with GSG owner Chris Schoonover.
According to the findings, when she asked if he planned to open a marijuana dispensary, he said he could not answer the question and called Berneberg for Bennett to speak to.
Berneberg informed Bennett that GSG was “acting as a management business between members of the collective garden to exchange marijuana.”
Bennett then asked him if this meant that marijuana would not be exchange through a window inside of the premise, at which he “backed off a bit and said that was not what he was saying.”
Later that day, Bernberg wrote an email to Peterson stating that GSG could prove they complied with the moratorium ordinance and other zoning issues. City staff met with representatives from GSG April 23, after which, according to the findings, “City staff left the meeting unclear as to whether GSG would be operating a business in violation of the city moratorium.”
Peterson then asked GSG for a written description of their proposed use of the leased space.
ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Schoonover told the Reporter in April that GSG specializes in “palliative care and networking solutions,” which includes medical marijuana collective gardens.
Yet, in his findings, McLean stated that both Schoonover as well as Berneberg, in addition to others involved, referred to the business as a collective garden or dispensary. He cited GSG’s formation agreement, dated Feb. 29, which states “the purpose of this agreement is to formally establish a Collective Garden for the purpose of producing, processing, transporting, and delivering cannabis for medical use.”
The findings also quoted Berneberg from a previous contested hearing over do not occupy, unsafe and stop work order orders, in which Berneberg stated “GSG came into Maple Valley and opened up a management, by which the, it is a collective garden, and they manage the membership, the finances, and compliance with state law, RCW 69.51.A.”
McLean wrote that at no point did Schoonover or his business partner Jon Hofer, who were present in the room, “object, seek to clarify, or provide testimony or evidence to correct or modify Mr. Berneberg’s remarks, which were a straight-forward admission that GSG came into Maple Valley and as part of its operations, provides a place for people to ‘exchange’ cannabis, i.e. marijuana.”
The findings also quote various comments from people who spoke at the Planning Commission meeting which discussed whether to recommend an ordinance banning collective gardens in the city limits.
During the meeting, individuals who testified during the public comment section repeatedly referred to GSG as a “dispensary.” Schoonover, who also spoke at the meeting, stated that, “we’re not like many other collectives.”
Among the city’s evidence to prove GSG is a collective garden included an article from dopemagazine.com, in which the writer stated “with offices connected to their access point, GSG welcomes to bring in any questions about the industry without ever entering the collective.”
Other evidence included 19 reviews of GSG on weedmaps.com, in which one reviewer posted May 12 “I have officially tried every strain there, as far as bud, and I must say it is some of the more potent medicine I have tried.”
McLean wrote that GSG “offered no testimony to rebut the city’s evidence. No one from GSG came forward to assert that the Weedsmaps site was false or misleading in any way. In fact, at the prior hearing, Mr. Schoonover confirmed that GSG has purchased advertising in at least two periodicals that direct their focus to medical-marijuana related issues.”
McLean added that GSG’s email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, made it clear that GSG intended to be known as a collective garden online.
Ultimately, McLean wrote that regardless of what GSG called itself, it still fit the definition of a collective garden.
“Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” McLean wrote. “In this case, the evidence shows that dispensary, collective garden, access point, exchange of medicine site, and GSG Management, GSG Gardens, and GSG Collective are all terms that smell and mean the same. Not a single piece of evidence was offered to rebut the city’s case.”
GSG’s leased property in Frontier Village is owned by David Skvorak and Lisa Bowers.
McLean also noted that neither Schoonover nor Hofer appeared at the contested hearing.
“Unlike a criminal case, where a defendant’s failure to testify gives rise to no negative inference…if a party to a civil case chooses not to testify as to material facts…an inference arises that the facts would not aid his or her contentions,” McLean wrote. “The logical inference from such evidence is that GSG could have produced documentary or other evidence to rebut the city’s evidence, showing that GSG was/is NOT distributing cannabis/marijuana products from its business in Maple Valley — if that was the truth. When a party fails to produce relevant evidence within its control, without satisfactory explanation, the inference is that such evidence would be unfavorable to the non-producing party.”
Contact Covington Reporter Reporter TJ Martinell at email@example.com or 425-432-1209 ext. 5052.