City Council Decides on Cannabis Ballot Measure

Council Members Amend Ballot Measure to Include Seven New Dispensaries

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City council discusses cannabis dispensery issues

News Editor Javier Panzar talks to reporter Gianna Albaum about future city regulations regarding cannabis dispenseries and collectives.

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The Berkeley City Council took a large and long-debated step toward acknowledging, taxing and regulating collectives in the city as council members placed the finishing touches on a November ballot measure Tuesday night that would alter the city's medical marijuana laws.

Speakers and council members expressed concern that limiting the number of city-recognized "cannabusinesses" would prevent start-ups and smaller organizations from entering the industry and grant unfair advantages to those already established.

Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Kriss Worthington said the proposed four-location limit on both dispensaries and non-dispensing locations was "monopolistic" and "silly," respectively.

Capitelli proposed the city allow 10 non-dispensary locations to operate with a maximum total of 180,000 square feet, welcoming collectives into the city's regulatory embrace.

"I want to increase competition," he said. "The more competition you have, the better product you are going to have, the lower price you are going to have."

His motion passed over Mayor Tom Bates' pleas for the council to postpone its decision to next week - or even next year.

"This is a changing market," Bates said. "We don't know if four is way too little or way too many."

Last week, Bates called the regulation and taxation of non-dispensing collectives "impossible" because of the difficulty involved in locating and enforcing regulation of the dozens of collectives currently operating in the city, especially when some prefer to remain in the shadows.

"We didn't know how we could tax all these growers all over the city," he said.

Worthington compared the city's lack of recognition of collectives to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"The cannabis just kind of magically falls out of the sky," he said. "It gets there somehow but we don't really know how."

Under Capitelli's amendment, which was adopted into the proposal Tuesday, the city would begin regulating and taxing non-dispensing organizations. Cultivators who obtain permits to become one of the 10 city-acknowledged, non-dispensing locations will be taxed at the same level as dispensaries: 2.5 percent of gross profits, phased in over two years.

"It's a very logical step forward," Worthington said. "Once you agree to have a dispensary, there has to be some place where the cannabis is cultivated."

Collectives that continue to exist but do not obtain a permit will not be illegal under state law, though they will not be officially recognized by the city.

But the permitted collectives - some potentially 30,000 square feet - will be much larger than is currently legal for collectives and will also presumably be afforded some level of city protection against federal raids.

The council still has to decide whether to restrict the collectives to the manufacturing zone of the city or to open up either the mixed manufacturing or the mixed-use/light industrial zones, as many council members have advocated.

If the measure is adopted by voters, the council will develop a process to decide which applicants receive permits to operate the 10 non-dispensing facilities.

"There will be a licensing system for medical marijuana organizations," City Attorney Zach Cowan said. "You get your license much as you would a liquor license."

The council discussed several criteria that could contribute to the evaluation, including the amount of financial transparency, the extent to which cultivation is organic and the availability of free product to low-income patients.

"One that must be included is energy offsets," Cowan said, referencing the council's hope that collectives and dispensaries will leave as small a carbon footprint as is feasible.

Council members are expected to vote July 13 to place a final set of amendments on the November ballot.


Contact Gianna Albaum at [email protected]

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