City Council considers cannabis health recommendations, homelessness policy

Kristen Tamsil /Staff

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Berkeley City Council voted in its regular meeting Tuesday to consider cannabis health regulations that could limit the number of dispensaries in Berkeley, restrict the marketing of cannabis products and impose limits on drug potency.

Although the Community Health Commission, or CHC, called to suspend the approval and rollout of cannabis regulation until the proposed health standards are implemented, City Council decided to move forward with cannabis legislation while also considering the health concerns of the CHC.

The CHC’s cannabis recommendations — submitted by CHC chair and ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay — drew sizable public support. Residents and health professionals lined up during public comment to voice concerns over what they consider to be a lack of attention to public health in decision-making over cannabis regulation.

“I’m really concerned the public health perspective on cannabis has not been heard here,” said CHC member Ann Rojas-Cheatham at Tuesday’s meeting.

The CHC proposal warns that rapid introduction of legalized recreational cannabis may constitute a “significant potential threat” to residents of Berkeley, citing in its report the city’s already high rates of adolescent use.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, on the other hand, said he sees continuous legislation as a route toward mitigating harm from the cannabis black market. He added that the notion that City Council is not taking public health questions into account is “factually inaccurate.”

“Those particular people may have not been a part of the conversation, but those issues have been discussed and debated,” Worthington said. “Their proposal to delay (legislation) actually increases the likelihood of young children having access to cannabis. The sooner the city of Berkeley brings the underground economy into the licensed system, that will decrease the availability of places where they don’t check your age.”

City Council also decided against the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission, or HWCAC, plan to fight homelessness through both temporary assistance and long-term housing. Instead, the council voted to await a city initiative currently under development called the “1,000 Person Plan,” which it says will provide a housing solution by 2028 for the entirety of the city’s homeless population.

Denah Bookstein, the chair of the HWCAC, attended the meeting Tuesday and urged the council to make a “bigger effort” in the fight against homelessness.

“Planning for 1,000 people in 2028 is commendable, but it doesn’t help when you have a crisis today,” Bookstein said.

At the meeting, Mayor Jesse Arreguín commended the work of the commission and stated that many of their proposals are being looked at by the city and will remain under consideration. Bookstein said she was “elated” to receive this assurance from the mayor.

“I’m enthusiastic about considering some of their proposals,” Worthington said. “These ideas will be weighed and considered for what’s legally and practically achievable, and what’s cost-effective.”

The council also approved proposed protections for whistleblowers in the city of Berkeley and adopted Kate Harrison’s measure to regulate lobbying activity, requiring lobbyists to register and pay a registration fee, among other restrictions.

As a ceremonial matter at the meeting, Arreguín declared Oct. 6 Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the city of Berkeley.

Contact Alex Teodorescu and Brandon Yung at [email protected].