City Council approves medical cannabis cultivation, honors Affordable Care Act

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Berkeley City Council moved into action Tuesday night, passing an item that set the ball rolling on regulated medical cannabis cultivation in the city.

The item will only come into effect when the Berkeley zoning ordinance is amended to require a six-location cap for cultivators. Additionally, the ordinance will not go into effect until the Planning Commission determines specific criteria for applicants on a first-come-first-serve basis and the council receives an information report based on a list of questions that Councilmember Sophie Hahn asked at the meeting.

Hahn expressed a series of concerns about youth access to the drug, energy usage and landlord incentive to raise rents in the cannabis-legal M District, among others.

“Studies have shown that students in Berkeley smoke marijuana at twice the rate of other California teens,” Hahn said at the meeting.  “I am concerned about moving forward with another layer of expansion, of cultivation, dispensaries or anything, without some significant attention towards how we are going to move this towards an adult population and out of our schools.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington noted a need for expediency in implementing the process, largely due to the recently passed Proposition 64, which will legalize the recreational use of cannabis next January. He added that the ordinance had already been delayed for about two years and emphasized that the illegal underground market for cannabis continues to operate.

“(People) want the business to be regulated,” Worthington said at the meeting. “People are cultivating cannabis in the city of Berkeley today. If that’s a shock to you, I’m sorry, but it’s been true for decades and it’s absolutely true today.”

As the consent calendar passed, so did two more items — a resolution formally opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a proclamation of support for Planned Parenthood. In a press release Wednesday, Mayor Jesse Arreguin condemned President Donald Trump’s criticism of  ACA, stating that ACA is responsible for the creation of more than 200,000 jobs in California alone.

The council also affirmed a Zoning Adjustments Board decision to approve development on 2702, 2704 and 2706 Shasta Rd. Approximately half of the council chamber was filled with residents arguing against the development, citing issues such as an underground spring, possible parking issues, a possible overdevelopment of the land, landslide dangers and earthquake susceptibility. Mark McLean, the neighborhood resident primarily representing the defense, said he was speaking on the behalf of 44 neighbors.

”I know this has been a site that has looked this way and felt this way for many years for the neighbors, but I also know that we have development happening,” said Councilmember Linda Maio at the meeting. “Everybody must know someone who’s adding something here or there.”

All three zoning adjustments were moved by council.

Edward Booth covers city government. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.