City Council to further review approving additional medical marijuana dispensaries

Nathaniel Solley/Staff

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Berkeley City Council discussed changes to medical marijuana policies, including further investigation into the creation of new medical marijuana dispensaries, at its meeting Tuesday night.

After debating among themselves and listening to public comments and a presentation by the Medical Cannabis Commission, City Council members requested that the commission and city manager’s office amend dispensary rules and restrictions on collectives as well as address cannabis safety.

City staff members and the commission will revise ordinances to include a clearer definition of collectives, a limit on the number of people who can join collectives and a change in the closing time of collectives from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“I’m glad to say we’re moving forward on definitions, restrictions … because it’s like the Wild Wild West out there,” said Councilmember Linda Maio.

During the public comment session, Roger LaChance, operations manager at the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary, advocated allowing dispensaries to maintain digital records, removing overly technical parking lot light requirements and extending the dispensaries’ six-month grace period to 12 months to comply with the new ordinances. The council agreed to include these suggestions.

Although Measure T, passed in 2010, allows the council to approve the operation of a fourth dispensary, Berkeley only has three approved dispensaries. The commission supported adding two dispensaries, raising the total from four to six.

The council will also consider stricter testing regulations that would ensure the safety of the cannabis for patients.

“Product safety is critical when you’re talking about any herb as a medicine,” said Michael Backes, a consultant for the dispensary Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group. “You don’t want them to poison people.”

At the meeting, Backes showed the entire council a picture of a large piece of mold extracted from a cannabis user. He said his concern for product safety stemmed from knowledge about cannabis lab results in California.

According to Backes, four percent of cannabis samples tested positive for dangerous molds or bacteria, and 1 percent tested positive for pesticides.

He also said marijuana-associated deaths in the United States are usually caused by a mold called aspergillus, which needs testing to be detected.

“We should be testing for toxic stuff, and that information should be available,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “It should be safe.”

The council agreed to instruct the city manager to calculate the costs dispensaries would incur when conducting scientific testing on the cannabis they sell.

“I hope the city really looks hard at implementing testing so they get the cleanest, safest cannabis,” Backes said. “If there’s a clean place to go and get medicine, that’s great.”

Gladys Rosario covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @gladysrosario93.

A previous version of this article incorrectly referenced Michael Backes, a consultant for the dispensary Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group, as saying that 25 percent of cannabis samples tested positive for dangerous molds or bacteria. In fact, he said 4 percent.