Berkeley City Council to consider increasing number of medical cannabis dispensaries

Nathaniel Solley/Staff
Medical cannabis dispensaries such as Berkeley Patient’s Care Collective may increase in number, pending a City Council discussion Tuesday.

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Berkeley City Council will discuss increasing the number of medical cannabis dispensaries in the city from four to six at Tuesday’s meeting.

The council members will decide on referring the ordinance to the Berkeley Planning Commission, which will make the final decision of whether to approve adding two new dispensaries. The commission will likely not review the ordinance until early next year.

“The reason for the increase might be because the current number is inadequately meeting the needs of demand,” said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a group that promotes safe and legal access to cannabis.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said that the City Council will also have a chance to clarify the difference between collectives, which are allowed in residential neighborhoods, and dispensaries, which are not.

“Patients won’t have to go to Oakland. They won’t have to go to Richmond,” said Charles Pappas, a member of the Medical Cannabis Commission. “It’s good to have more choices. It’s going to be better for patients.”

If the council decides to move forward with the initiative, Hermes said that the price of medical marijuana in Berkeley could decrease as the number of dispensaries increases.

The MCC has made recommendations to the City Council concerning the criteria for choosing future dispensary owners and locations.

If the limit on dispensaries is increased, a ranking process based on a point system would be placed to moderate applications for the new dispensaries. Application requirements for opening a dispensary would include being subject to a criminal background check and having a clear business and security plan.

The applications would go to the MCC for review, but the City Council would ultimately make the decision of who gets to run the new dispensaries.

“I think there will be at least one added,” Pappas said. “They can’t stop that.”

Medical cannabis dispensaries have long been a contentious issue in the city of Berkeley. In 2010, the passage of Measure T enabled Berkeley to raise the number of medical cannabis dispensaries from three to four.

“What the Medical Cannabis Commission has been working on since (Measure T) is a set of regulations to not only improve our law around allowing safe access to (medical) marijuana, but (also) who will (run) that dispensary,” Arreguin said.

This past August, the Obama administration announced in a memo that the federal government would not interfere with state laws legalizing recreational marijuana use and would refrain from targeting dispensaries based on “size or commercial nature.”

Arreguin said that he hopes this change in policy may turn U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag away from her attempts to shut down dispensaries in Oakland and Berkeley. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice announced efforts to enforce regulations on the marijuana industry throughout California.

“The news that they are changing their stance about enforcing marijuana laws is very encouraging,” Arreguin said. “I hope it will allow us to move ahead.”

Tara Hurley covers city news. Contact her at [email protected].