City Council to discuss marijuana dispensaries, general fund reserve at meeting Tuesday

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Berkeley City Council will discuss selecting two more medical marijuana dispensaries in Berkeley and approving a plan that would gradually increase the general fund reserve at its regular Tuesday meeting, with a special meeting beforehand on the midyear crime report with the Berkeley Police Department.

For the regular meeting, Councilmember Kriss Worthington will introduce the review and selection of the recipients of the fifth and sixth dispensary permits. Selection is based on a dispensary’s ability to provide medical marijuana, increase tax revenue for the city and add benefits for the community, including end-of-life care.

“I think that there’s a dramatic need for medical cannabis in the city of Berkeley,” Worthington said. “It’s not safe for the consumer and not safe for the general public for street dealings of any type of drug. To me, the more of the cannabis that can be licensed in a regulated, taxed environment, the better.”

Shareef El-Sissi, principal of Berkeley Innovative Health — one of the five applicants for the two dispensary permits — said expanding the number of dispensaries in Berkeley is meant to increase access.

“It is a twofold process,” El-Sissi said. “(It is) not just increasing options for patients to shop at but also (a) need to improve the ability for patients to gain access locally.”

City Council decided to expand the current number of dispensaries in Berkeley after recognizing that there were several “qualified players” who could submit applications, according to Marc Terbeek, former attorney for Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective, another dispensary applicant.

“I think it was a market-based solution that recognized that there is a well-regulated industry out there that adds more appropriate players that can …  lawfully (and) appropriately meet the needs in Berkeley,” Terbeek said.

At the meeting, Worthington will also propose a 4 percent increase from the current 8 percent allocated to the general fund reserve, or rainy day fund, from the city surplus account. The fund, which allows Berkeley to provide services in cases of economic uncertainty or catastrophic events, is currently below recommended levels.

“I think a 4 percent increase, by the way, is logical, and we can afford it,” Worthington said. “The important thing is that we need to evaluate the reserve in comparison to our pension obligations, our underfunded infrastructure cost … and operating funds.”

He said that over the next few years, he hopes the percentage will rise to 16.7 percent, which is a recommended percentage by the Government Finance Officers Association. Worthington added that the proposal is not meant to raise taxes or fees or issue new bonds or debts.

BPD will also present its midyear crime report for 2016 to City Council at a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Council members will review the overall decrease of Part One crimes — which are violent and property crimes — and the rise of aggravated assault, sexual assault and arson cases over the last six months.

The regular City Council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers.

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected]and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.