Berkeley planning commission talks increase in number of dispensaries in city

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Jennifer Tanji/File

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The Berkeley Planning Commission met Wednesday evening to discuss an amendment that would raise the number of legally allowed medical marijuana dispensaries in the city from four to six.

At a May 10 Berkeley City Council meeting — during which council granted a permit to Berkeley’s fourth medical marijuana dispensary — Councilmember Kriss Worthington proposed an amendment to the city’s cannabis ordinance that would raise the legal limit of dispensaries allowed in the city. The amendment was approved and referred to the Planning Commission.

“(There is) way too much cannabis being dispensed on the streets,” Worthington said. “It’s better to bring it into a regulated system.”
Though no direct action was taken during the Wednesday meeting, commissioners voted to schedule the amendment for a public hearing at the June 15 Planning Commission meeting.

According to Worthington, the planning staff will be working on the “legal language” required for the amendment to pass. He added that he was hopeful that the Planning Commission will vote in favor of increasing the number of dispensaries at the June meeting.

Currently, a legal limit in the city restricts the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed to four. The main reason that the council is considering increasing the number of dispensary permits, however, is because of the strength of the applications received, according to Worthington.

One of the applicants was the Berkeley Compassionate Care Center, which would operate a dispensary out of Amoeba Music — a record store on Telegraph Avenue. According to Marc Weinstein, co-founder of Amoeba Music, increasing the number of dispensaries is a “human rights issue.”

Weinstein added that increasing the number of dispensaries would have economic benefits for the entire city and could potentially save 40 jobs and add another 40 for Amoeba. If the Planning Commission awards Amoeba a permit before August, Weinstein said it could expect to have a dispensary operating before the end of the year.

Commissioner Ben Bartlett, who was present at the Wednesday meeting, said that it was important to embrace the new market and recognize the role that people of color have played in paving the path for legalizing marijuana.

“Prisons are full of people of color who paid the price for the legalization (of marijuana),” Bartlett said. “It is important to make sure that these people are able to participate in this new economy.”

Bartlett added, however, that although the response toward the amendment was largely favorable, some community members expressed concerns that increasing the number of dispensaries would drive up the rent for warehouses that manufacture marijuana.

On May 4, Oakland City Council approved an update to its cannabis ordinance that would allow the city to grant up to eight medical marijuana dispensary permits per year.

“The medical marijuana business was born in Berkeley,” Bartlett said. “It’s up to Berkeley to shape its development.”

Contact Shanzeh Khurram at [email protected].