Measures That Work With 'Cannabusiness'

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Despite the failure of the passage of Proposition 19 to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in California, here in Berkeley voters approved a pair of measures that expand the possibilities for medical cannabis businesses within the city. These measures succeeded because they found a middle ground where patients, dispensary operators, community members and business and political leaders could reach an agreement as to how these businesses do, and can, operate in our city.

Measures S and T achieved a number of significant steps that advance the regulation and clarify the legitimacy of dispensaries and cultivation sites in the city. By expanding the number of dispensaries to four and implementing a special tax rate on these and on other cannabis-related businesses, Berkeley voters recognized both the legitimate need of patients to access medicine, and the clear revenue benefits available to all community members through regulation of these thriving businesses.

Perhaps the most visible change will be brought about by the broad-reaching Measure T, which allows for a fourth dispensary to be licensed in the city and enforces zoning regulations for these businesses.

Furthermore, Measure S created a new tax category for cannabis businesses. By taxing both small collective cultivators and dispensaries, the city runs the risk of double-taxing patients (if a dispensary purchases medicine from a small collective, the city receives taxes from both the small grower and the dispensary) - certainly problematic from the point of view of the patient. Yet this may provide an incentive for Berkeley's three existing dispensaries to try to obtain one of the six large-scale cultivation licenses made available by Measure T. Linking those "large grows" to dispensaries will allow for superior inventory control and will help Berkeley avoid the fate of Oakland, whose plans for large-scale cultivation licenses were recently dropped after the city received a visit, and some plain warnings, from the Department of Justice.

The increased taxes that will be provided by Measure S are not the only benefit the new laws offer to the larger community. Measure T expands upon 2008's Measure JJ, which created a Medical Cannabis Commission with officers appointed by the dispensaries. Measure T changes the makeup of this Commission to bring it in line with other city commissions with council member-appointed seats, and also affirms its oversight role for dispensaries and collectives. The improved Commission will provide a familiar, effective mechanism for city constituents to work together on the creation of new policies and procedures for "cannabusinesses."

Our federal government is signaling that it will respect medical cannabis businesses that are following state law and local regulations. Measures S and T create a stronger regulatory framework, provide clarity, reduce gray areas and minimize the chance that Berkeley's medical cannabis businesses will be subject to prosecution. But the real story of these measures, and the real story of what is happening in communities like ours across the nation, is about the give and take that occurs when a formerly illegal business evolves into a legal, regulated community member and a partner in the political process. Taxes, business regulations and oversight are part of the price of legitimacy for cannabis patients and providers.

Brad Senesac is chief marketing officer, and Becky DeKeuster is a board member of the Berkeley Patients Group. Reply to [email protected]

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