Progress With Measures S and T Tripped Up by Commission Delay

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Despite the recent passage of two medical marijuana ballot measures, the city of Berkeley appears to be at a standstill, handicapped by a delay in reestablishing the Medical Cannabis Commission - the apparatus that will set standards through which the city will accommodate a larger medical marijuana community.

Measures S and T, which were approved by voters in November, entail levying a tax on the sale of medical cannabis, allowing for the development of six cultivation sites, the construction of a new dispensary and the reconstitution of the Medical Cannabis Commission.

Measure S, which levies a 2.5 percent tax on the sale of medical cannabis, went into effect Jan. 1 and is likely to provide the city with about $300,000 in the current fiscal year and about $460,000 for fiscal year 2012, according to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. However, Measure T changes to city policy have not been implemented, given that the Medical Cannabis Commission has yet to be fully reconstituted.

All members of the Berkeley City Council, including Mayor Tom Bates, are expected to appoint community members to the commission, though only Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Max Anderson had submitted their appointments as of Thursday.

According to Clunies-Ross, the city has not set a deadline for commission appointments. She said the council's winter recess - which extended from Dec. 15 to Jan. 17 - is a possible reason for the delay.

The commission was set to have a meeting Jan. 20, but the meeting was cancelled since the commission had only two appointed members.

Until the rest of the council appoints commissioners, plans to implement other components of Measure T will not go forward, given that the commission itself will set the guidelines for the permit process to raise the city's quota from three medical marijuana dispensaries to four and develop six growing facilities.

The lack of progress in Berkeley's medical cannabis distribution reform also comes at a time when the city's dispensaries are fighting the possible requirement of hundreds of thousands of dollars in retroactive taxes.

The Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest dispensaries in California, may owe the state $6 million in taxes on its medical marijuana sales from 2003 to 2007.

According to Brad Senesac, the dispensary's chief marketing officer, the group, along with other dispensaries in the state, sold medical marijuana for many years much like a pharmacy sells medicine - that is, untaxed.

"We do have a retail store, so we were collecting taxes there, just not on the medical cannabis," Senesac said. "We just weren't charging up until 2007 when they changed the legislation and made it retroactive till 2003."

Berkeley Patients Group may have to account for taxes during years of medical cannabis sales, and as a not-for-profit organization, the group cannot set money aside for rainy days such as these, Senesac said. The dispensary has a hearing with the California State Board of Equalization later this month to address the retroactive taxes.

While dispensaries negotiate with the state and the city waits to move forward with Measure T, the city of Oakland has spent weeks grappling with the idea of allowing the development of four more commercial growth sites of medical cannabis.

"Oakland is sort of trying to move toward centralization to large-scale grow facilities rather than having many small growers," said Dale Gieringer, director of CalNORML, an organization that works to reform California's marijuana laws.

Berkeley Patients Group, for example, Senesac said, receives its cannabis from patients who grow their own stock and supply the group with the excess. When Berkeley implements Measure T and allows for the building of six industrial growth sites, the sources of cannabis will change for such dispensaries as well.


Sarah Mohamed covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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