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.
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.
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]
Would you like the latest Berkeley news sent to your email inbox once a day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.