Council to Form Committee for Medical Marijuana Evaluation

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Faced with the chance to both expand medical marijuana cultivation locations and open a new stream of taxation on the product, the Berkeley City Council instead stalled its evaluation of cannabis collectives and dispensaries within the city at its meeting Tuesday night.

Members of the city's Medical Cannabis Commission along with city staff had proposed to clarify distinctions between cannabis dispensaries and collectives as well as loosen the reins on space restrictions for the two.

However, following comments from commission members as well as about five residents-some of whom identified themselves as members of collectives-the council voted to not immediately allow larger growing spaces for collectives and additional ancillary locations for the city's three dispensaries. Instead, they formed a subcommittee to further evaluate the "big picture" of medical marijuana in the city.

"We did not intend for Berkeley to be a Mecca for marijuana in the Bay Area," said Councilmember Linda Maio. "But we need to understand the market before moving forward. It's a big job, and there's still a lot that we don't know."

In seeking to clarify the somewhat vague definitions of collectives-as approved by voters in Measure JJ in 2008-and also prepare a business tax on cannabis suppliers for voter approval in November, council members opened the door to a discussion of the overarching politics of medical cannabis distribution, a task council members admitted they were largely unprepared for.

Speakers at the meeting said collectives-which are legal in the city as long as the cannabis is only distributed among members without profit-remain "in the shadows" in both their interactions with dispensaries, the space restrictions imposed upon them under Measure JJ and their lack of representation in the city's commission.

Although the commission and city staff said they sought to legitimize the community-based nature of collectives and expand opportunities to provide cannabis to patients, some speakers at the meeting claimed the commission's recommendations to the council would create a medical cannabis monopoly for the three outlets in the city.

"It seems to me that the goals of collectives and dispensaries are the same, but that they are treated completely differently," said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. "I don't really understand that."

Though opinions were varied regarding the interactions between the city's dispensaries and the numerous-but often underground-collectives, the majority of council members and residents who spoke at the meeting agreed that the regulations regarding the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana by either sector must be clarified before possible tax or zoning measures hit the ballots in November.

"This piecemeal approach is not going to work," said Councilmember Darryl Moore. "We must come up with a way that the patients and community can benefit, and we have to fix that gaping legislative hole that exists."

But the council stood unaware of how to fill the hole Tuesday night and voted only to evaluate the issue through a series of public meetings in the future. Maio, Moore, Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Max Anderson will form the subcommittee that will continue the discussion between the council, commission and community.


Contact Sarah Springfield at [email protected]

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