Permit Process Could Delay 'Cannabusiness' Growth

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Though Measures S and T granted the city of Berkeley license to tax the medical marijuana industry and permits seven new "cannabusinesses," merely developing and implementing the application process for the permits may take more than six months, making it difficult to say when the sites will actually begin operation.

Measure T, passed with 64 percent of the vote, allows the city to permit six new 30,000-square-foot cultivation sites to operate in West Berkeley's M district as well as a fourth dispensary. The measure also calls for the reconstitution of the Medical Marijuana Commission to bring it under city purview.

Measure S - approved overwhelmingly with 82 percent of the vote - places a tax of 2.5 percent on for-profit "cannabusinesses" and a tax of $25 per square foot up to 3,000 square feet, with every square foot thereafter taxed at $10, on non-profits.

In light of Measure T's passage, the city now has the green light to finalize an application process. Though the current commission will most likely put the finishing touches on their final recommendations next month, the recommendations will have to be reviewed by the new commission - which probably will not start meeting until January, according to Councilmember Laurie Capitelli - and be subsequently approved by the council.

Capitelli said the current commission - which is mostly made up of cannabis industry representatives - would undergo a "significant" change with the reconstitution to better represent Berkeley residents, though commission members have said community members do not have the expertise necessary to craft effective regulation.

Commission member Kris Hermes said given the extent to which the commission has worked with city staff to develop an application process, he hopes the current commission's recommendations would be used "in part, if not in full."

"It certainly doesn't help anyone to completely reinvent the wheel," he said.

The council asked the commission to construct a rubric that gives preference to applicants intending to engage with the community, maintain solid safety standards and use 'green' cultivation methods, among other things.

The current commission has recommended the council adopt a two-tier process, which would allow it to weed out clearly unfeasible applications while focusing its attention and time on those that are particularly promising.

After the council approves a final application process, the city will start taking applications and eventually designate permits for up to six applicants.

"Before somebody can actually sign a lease for some space," Capitelli said. "(It will be) six or seven months."

Capitelli said the city has received inquiries about the cultivation sites from the East Coast, Los Angeles and even from abroad.

Oakland voters also chose to further tax and regulate their cannabis industry during the election, raising the tax on "cannabusinesses" from 1.8 percent to 5 percent. With the city evaluating a range of proposals of up to 200,000 square feet for its four anticipated facilities, Oakland's industry has been referred to as the "Walmart" of weed.

Many representatives of the Berkeley medical marijuana industry have expressed concern that the facilities could undercut Berkeley's ability to remain competitive, while others said Berkeley would likely find a niche market in local, organic marijuana.


Gianna Albaum covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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