Berkeley to consider 4th medical cannabis dispensary

Berkeley City Council will tonight consider two proposals regarding new operating guidelines for dispensaries and the creation of a ranking system to select new dispensaries. Photo: <a href="">Flores y Plantas</a>

Berkeley City Council will tonight consider two proposals regarding new operating guidelines for dispensaries and the creation of a ranking system to select new dispensaries. Photo: Flores y Plantas

Despite the recent federal crackdown on medical cannabis operations, the Berkeley City Council will discuss tonight expanding the number of dispensaries from three to four – and maybe to six – and refine the rules regarding collectives.

The suggestions reflect almost two years of work from the city’s Medical Cannabis Commission, which was created after Berkeley residents voted in 2010 to overhaul Berkeley’s medical marijuana laws. Voters agreed to permit large-scale growing areas and increase the number of dispensaries from three to four, but Berkeley has not done any of those things, in large part because U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag has been clamping down on large medical cannabis operations, including Berkeley Patients Group.

In June, the City Council tabled discussion on the proposals. Mayor Tom Bates said then that the federal attitude made it all but impossible to site a new dispensary in the city. The delay in setting up a new dispensary meant Berkeley lost thousands of dollars of additional tax revenue.

The council will consider two slightly differing proposals tonight, one from the Medical Cannabis Commission and one from the city manager’s office. Both include new operating guidelines for dispensaries and the creation of a ranking system to select new dispensaries, but differ in other ways.

The Medical Cannabis Commission wants patients at dispensaries or collectives to be able to consume cannabis on-site, not by smoking, but with a vaporizer, or by eating edibles, largely because those living in federal housing are not permitted to consume cannabis at home. City staff is recommending that no on-site consumption be permitted. Staff also wants security bars on the windows while the commission is recommending the hiring of security guards.

The commission’s recommendations will also bring some clarity over the definition of cannabis collective. Berkeley law currently defines collectives as groups operating in residential areas where the cannabis operation is “incidental” to the overall use of the property.

But in the past few years a number of collectives have acted like the three permitted dispensaries by operating in commercial areas and catering to large groups of people. The city shut down two collectives, Perfect Plant Patients Group and Greenleaf, for violating zoning laws and has been trying to shut down Forty Acres on San Pablo Avenue.

The commission is suggesting new language that will eliminate some of the ambiguities of the existing law. It is suggesting that collectives not generate more than 10 member trips a day. Collectives would not be allowed to keep more than 10 pounds of cannabis on site or retain more than  $1,000 overnight. The new guidelines seemed aimed at restricting the size of collectives and their impact on surrounding neighborhoods.

The commission is also suggesting that the city increase the number of commercial dispensaries from four to six to meet demand. The City Council is expected to refer that suggestion to the Planning Commission for further review.

The council agenda packet includes some interesting statistics on the medical cannabis business in Berkeley. Because of the federal crackdown, Berkeley Patients Group, Berkeley’s largest dispensary, brought in much less revenue than expected, which meant it paid fewer taxes than expected. Berkeley is only projecting to bring in $568,180 in FY 2014, compared to $746,000 in FY 2012.

The number of patients visiting Berkeley dispensaries from Jan. - July 2013. Source: City of Berkeley

The number of patients visiting Berkeley dispensaries from Jan. – July 2013. Source: City of Berkeley

About 24,350 visited Berkeley’s three dispensaries from January to July 2013, according to the city report. Most of them were from Oakland, according to the city report. About 20.3% of the patients came from Oakland, with 17.7%  coming from Berkeley and 23.2% coming from elsewhere.

The bulk of the patients – 37.7% — are from 21 to 30 years old. The next largest group are people from 31 to 40 years old (19.6%), then 41 to 50 year-olds (12.6%), then 51 to 60 year-olds (11.2%) and then those over 61 (9.7%). Those who are 18 to 21 years old make up 9.2% of the patients, according to the staff report.

Age distribution of those visiting Berkeley's medical cannabis dispensaries. Source: City of Berkeley

Age distribution of those visiting Berkeley’s medical cannabis dispensaries. Source: City of Berkeley

Berkeley delays fourth medical cannabis dispensary (06.13.13)
Berkeley Council declares Greenleaf a public nuisance [06.05.13]
Officials oppose Fed’s suit to shut dispensary [05.18.13]
Court orders eviction of Forty Acres cannabis collective (11.09.12]
Berkeley Patients Group finds new home on San Pablo [09.13.12]
Berkeley Patients Group earned $15m in 2009 [06.20.12]
Sadness surrounds closing of Berkeley Patients Group [05.01.12]
Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary to close May 1 [3.15.12]

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  • Just Sayin

    The MM Commission should not be trusted.

    They have owner/operators of 40 Acres as their members.

    They say ridiculous things like “The current number does not provide sufficient conveniently located sites for patients to buy medicine.” This is a total lie/distortion. There are 3 MMJ dispensaires, not counting 40 acres, and there are 12+ other services that will deliver to your door, including Berkeley Patients Group.

    They say even more ridiculous things like “competition which could lower the price of medicine for patients”. I’ve been a MMJ user for 10+ years. Despite additional dispensaries opening, and a ton of delivery services opening, the price has not gone down. It has stayed flat. Adding 1-2 more dispensaries will not lower the price in any significant manner.

    Yeah – let’s let the fox watch the hen house…

  • PragmaticProgressive

    A far more meaningful metric would be the # of patients by the city population.

    So, Berkeley, with 112,580 residents, has 4308 patients, or 3.83% of the population.

    Oakland, with 390,724 residents has 4941 patients, or 1.26% of the population.

  • guest

    we should not be adding new drug clubs until the ILLEGAL ones are shut down!!!

  • Guest

    Oh I see, this is how the City Council et al decide to deal with the illegally operating 40 Acres which continues to operate after being both shut down by the city AND legally evicted from the building? This is the same place where people hang out on the sidewalk smoking blunts.

    Way to Go City of Berkeley.

  • Guest

    Let’s get this straight: of all medical marijuana users using Berkeley dispensaries (figuring those who had significant enough illness to warrant medical treatment), 9,179, or 37.7% are in the 21 – 30 age group. Seriously? If our young people are ill in such significant numbers, we have a far deeper problem than whether we have enough dispensaries!

  • John

    Berkeley remains the only town in the east bay not mandating quality testing for their medicines. I won’t buy from a dispensary that doesn’t test because they obviously are only concerned about profits. Buy your medicine in Richmond and Oakland!

  • Rob

    Why is Berkeley the only city in the east bay not requiring quality testing? Some think it is because they are only interested in profits rather than patients. Buy your clean medicine in Oakland and Richmond!

  • Rob

    yep, its all about greed in Berkeley!

  • Just Sayin

    Also, the same place whose security guard was arrested last year for possession of marijuana for sale. From Berkeleyside:

    On Wednesday, May 9 at 10:23 a.m., the Special Enforcement Unit (SEU)
    with the support of some detectives from the Investigations Division
    served a search warrant at a home in the 1000 block of Allston Way. Two
    men were detained by members of BPD related to the warrant. During a
    search of the home officers found a small amount of cocaine base or
    “crack cocaine”, approximately 115 grams of marijuana in over 100 small
    baggies, digital scales and sandwich bags. The suspects were both
    43-years old. One was arrested and booked for violation of 11350(a)
    H&S and the other for violation of 11359 H&S. Officer booked the
    two into the Berkeley Jail.

    Arrest Record:

  • maxwood

    “The Medical Cannabis Commission wants patients at dispensaries or collectives to be able to consume cannabis on-site, not by smoking, but with a vaporizer.”
    Hugely important! It’s time for millions more users to learn to discriminate against monoxide, get VAPE-literate! This in-store use program creates a chance to let customers actually hands-on try a plug-in vaporizer (with drawtube or balloon inhalant system), or something from the exploding technology of pen vapes (portable vaporizers). (And you can mostly vape with a screened long-stemmed one-hitter.)
    Instructing cannabis users in this way will pay off many times over when the knowledge spreads over into the tobacco $igarette user population– and they turn to the E-cig and other VAPE alternatives– bringing down the 6-million-a-year worldwide $igarette death rate (and USA yearly cost $193-bil. of $igarette-related diseases), and winning a Knowitwell Prize for one of our pro-cannabis spokeslungpersons.

  • The_Sharkey

    Holy hell. Looks like the 40 Acres off-site drug den was just a block away from Rosa Parks Elementary, and about 2.5 blocks away from the REALM Charter School.

    Why can’t Linda Maio and the City Council get 40 Acres shut down?
    Why is this illegal marijuana store still operating?

  • rhuberry

    Same thing I noticed. Surprising there are so many young folks who need “medicine” when the over 60 crowd is next to the smallest. Seems to be the opposite of what happens in real life.

  • Maunalani

    i didn’t realize the health of young people is so bad that they disproportionately need to be prescribed medical marijuana. What medical conditions are they afflicted with??? Does not bode well for the future that our young people are so sickly and in such poor health.

  • rhuberry

    And more sick people in Berkeley and Oakland than most of the other bay area cities combined.

  • Doc

    It’s time for legalization regulated by the state

  • Maunalani

    We probably have a medical crisis on our hands and folks don’t even realize it.

  • B2B

    Answer is: you can buy a prescription from a list of M.D.’s and they will prescribe for any complaint. What this means is that 37.7% or so are buying weed to smoke for recreational reasons. Let’s be real and hold C.O.B. to REALITY; we don’t need more dispensaries or collectives.

  • B2B

    Oh for heaven’s sake.. can you stick to the REAL issue here???

  • Truth Sayer

    While crime is increasing each day, Berkeley City council is giddy happy about opening the “4th medical cannabis dispensary.” Ah, its the “Berkeley way.”

  • Truth Sayer

    Hold on, just a Jack Daniel’s minute! Berkeley City Council can’t even collect taxes on existing medical cannabis dispensaries (See portions of previous Berkeleyside issue below). . Now they want to open more; thinking that people forgot their negligence. Or, was it truly negligence? I still can’t believe that city government can “forget, and forgive about $7,500,000 in taxes.”

    “Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) have worked out a compromise that reduces the dispensary’s delinquent tax bill from $7.5 million to $49,500. Despite selling millions of dollars in medical cannabis each year and paying its top executives close to $1 million in salaries, BPG told the state it could not afford to pay the taxes and interest it owed for the years 2004 to 2007, according to a document prepared by the Board of Equalization. At its Dec. 18-19, 2012, meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept a compromise payment of $49,500.” From Berkeleyside At:

  • Truth Sayer

    Shhhh Please don’t disturb them, as they are tired from dreaming up more hair-brained ideals.

  • correction

    Lest this recurring confusion spread again: The tax in question was a sales tax collected by the state, not the city. The discrepancy was the result of a good faith interpretation of California law which does not impose a tax on medicine. The settlement is in part a recognition of the state’s failure to provide clear guidance on the sales tax treatment of medical cannabis until late in the game. Yes, as a result the state’s failures the city lost some of its share of sales tax revenue: about $75,000 total, spread over four years or about $18,750 in each of those years.

  • Truth Sayer

    “Good faith interpretation” means that someone dropped the ball. But thats government for you..