Berkeley residents will vote on two ballot measures on Tuesday that could lead to a greatly expanded medical cannabis industry in the city – and hundreds of thousands of new dollars for the city’s coffers.
Measure T would increase the number of places that sell marijuana from three to four, and also permit six 30,000-square-foot indoor growing areas in the city’s industrial zone in West Berkeley. These places would not be open for customers, but would be used to grow cannabis, test it, distill it into tinctures or creams, or cook it into food products.
Measure T would also explicitly permit medical cannabis collectives to operate in residential neighborhoods, but limit the size of their grow operations to 200 square feet. Collectives are usually composed of a small group of people who come together to grow cannabis for their own use. Sometimes they sell their excess marijuana to the dispensaries.
Measure T would also dissolve the current Medical Marijuana Commission created by Measure JJ and replace it with one whose members are appointed by the City Council.
Measure S would place a tax on medical cannabis sales – up to 2.5% for medical cannabis and, if Proposition 19 passes, as much as 10% for recreational marijuana. Raising the tax from its current level of $1.20 per $1,000 of gross receipts to $25 per $1,000 of gross receipts would bring the city approximately $460,000 a year, according to a staff report.
The city’s existing dispensaries have split on whether to support Measures S and T. The Berkeley Patients Group, the city’s largest dispensary located on San Pablo Avenue, is in favor of the measures, while Berkeley Patients’ Care Collective, located on Telegraph Avenue, is opposed.
The Berkeley Patients Group, which has put money in the Yes on T measure as well as Proposition 19, supports the new measures because it would like to be more in control of the cannabis products it sells, according to spokesman Brad Senesac. Currently, the dispensary purchases marijuana, tinctures, and food products from independent growers and collectives. The BPG hand inspects all cannabis that comes into the dispensary to make sure it meets the group’s standards. BPG could better control its product if it also grew some, he said.
BPG would probably submit an application to be one of the organizations that sets up a grow operation in West Berkeley, said Senesac.
The Berkeley Patients’ Care Collective, in contrast, believes that Measure T gives too much power to the city council and does not leave enough decision making authority to those involved with the day-to-day workings of the medical cannabis business, said Erik Miller, a manager. He is not convinced that city council members will appoint people who really know the business since they have not been particularly friendly to the cannabis community, he said.
Measure T also gives the city council the power to make future amendments to the initiative, rather than turning it back to the voters.
“I don’t know why Berkeley voters would want to give up their rights to make decisions on this,” said Miller.
The BPCC is also concerned that the passage of Measure S will make medical cannabis too expensive for some of its customers since it will be taxed twice. The tax placed on marijuana will really be $50 per $1,000, not $25 per $1,000, said Miller. When the collectives sell the pot to the dispensaries, they will have to pay a tax on that transaction. When the dispensaries sell it to their customers, they must place a tax on the marijuana, said Miller. Those added costs will be passed on to customers, he said.
Wendy Cosin, the city planner who staffs the Medical Marijuana Commission, said she thought Measure S would permit this double taxation.
However, Measure T states that the new Medical Marijuana Commission will establish standards for any new dispensary that opens. Those new requirements will make it mandatory for a new dispensary to provide low-cost cannabis to low-income patients, as well as some organically grown marijuana.
What they are saying about Measure T:
Opponents: Grow facilities attract crime and break-ins. Increasing the number in Berkeley will increase criminal behavior. With six dispensaries of 30,000 square feet each, more than four acres of land will be used for the cannabis industry.
Proponents: Most crime occurs in places that are illegally growing pot for recreational use. All new dispensaries and grow operations will have to submit a security plan to the police department for approval.
Opponents: Measure T gives the City Council too much authority over the marijuana laws. The council could expand the cannabis industry without going back to voters for their approval.
Proponents: The City Council needs the ability to amend the law according to changing social and economic dynamics. Most likely, any major changes to the law would be vetted through the city’s public hearing process.
Opponents: The current Medical Marijuana Commission is made up of representatives from the dispensaries who know the ins and outs of the industry. The City Council may appoint people who are not familiar with the business.
Proponents: The current commission does not reflect the diversity of the community. City Council members can change this by appointing members from different ethnic and economic backgrounds. The measure also states that the new nine member commission shall have at least one member from the dispensary community, one from the collective community and one a cultivator who is independent from any dispensary.
Opponents: The existing law prohibits dispensaries from locating 1,000 feet from any public school. The new law reduces that buffer to 600 feet.
Proponents: The old law did not prohibit dispensaries near private schools; the new one does.
Opponents: Allows collectives to operate in residential neighborhoods with no permitting process.
Proponents: Collectives are permitted under California law and Berkeley does not have any legal authority to prohibit them. Measure T gives the city the authority to insist that collectives comply with codes.
Opponents: The six 30,000 square foot grow facilities add up to more than four acres of indoor space for growing marijuana. These will consume a huge amount of energy.
Proponents: Measure T establishes a code compliance requirement, demands that any new cannabis business use energy offsets and urges that organic methods be used as much as possible.
Supporters of Measure T: All members of the Berkeley City Council, State Senator Loni Hancock, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Oakland Tribune, SF Bay Guardian, Apothecary Genetics ( a seed breeding company in southern California).
Opponents of Measure T: Former Mayor Shirley Dean, former Police Chief Dash Butler, Jack Radish, former Alameda County Assistant District Attorney.