Berkeley City Council decides on cannabis retail licenses as part of Equity Program

People sit at a wooden desk in front of microphones and computers.
Maya Valluru/Staff

Related Posts

Berkeley City Council decided on the number of retail licenses granted to future cannabis business owners as part of its Cannabis Equity Program at its regular Tuesday evening meeting.

The Equity Program was created to address past disparities within the cannabis industry by recognizing the victims of the “War on Drugs,” as well as identifying and minimizing their entry barriers into the cannabis industry. Applicants who seek to participate in Berkeley’s cannabis retail market will go through an equity-based process, in which 50 percent or more of owners must show that their parent or guardian has been directly affected by the “War on Drugs,” as well as demonstrate a personal impact.

In an October 2018 report, the Cannabis Commission recommended the City Council approve retail licenses for four equity applicants and two nonequity applicants within the next two years. During the meeting, City Council provided the city manager and the planning departments with directions on how to move forward with the Equity Program, awaiting further changes in March.

The Equity Program elicited much debate among public commenters, with several cautioning City Council on public health concerns of cannabis and some urging for a broader licensing criteria.

“We need to be prudent and cautious about not flooding our city with outlets,” said UCSF clinical professor Dr. Lynn Silver at the meeting. “I’m really grateful and appreciative that the council appears to be moving towards a more cautious position.”

Silver added that, in her opinion, Berkeley should not provide more than six cannabis retail licenses for the city. She cautioned the council from increasing the number of licenses to more than that, saying that “Berkeley parents and residents don’t want too many dispensaries.”

According to City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, youth access to marijuana should not be tolerated, and the council, in its upcoming March 12 meeting, should discuss the way cannabis dispensaries will be run to make sure they’re serving the correct audience.

Timothy Burroughs, the director of the city Department of Planning and Development, said the meeting on March 12 will include recommendations on protecting the youth from cannabis access and cannabis advertisements, such as having buffers around schools and parks.

District 4 City Councilmember Kate Harrison said there are public health benefits of a “carefully monitored outlet,” since a safe, healthy cannabis outlet for people would be better than people buying cannabis off the streets. Harrison also suggested that the license criteria are too “narrowed” in their requirement to demonstrate a personal effect from the “War on Drugs” on the retailer, since many people of color have been affected in indirect ways, not just directly by the criminal justice system.

Daniel Kosmal — a founding member of the company Doc Green’s, which manufactures cannabis products in Berkeley — urged the council to change the language of the policy for greater public benefit. Kosmal spoke in favor of expanding the definition of cannabis “retail establishment,” saying that retail sales in the cannabis industry would benefit a majority of Berkeley voters who cast ballots in favor of cannabis legalization in 2016.

“Take West Hollywood as an example,” Kosmal said. “There are eight retail locations that licenses. Eight medical dispensaries and eight edible cannabis locations. There are a lot of opportunities for the city to bring income and help heal people who use cannabis as a medicine.”

Bella An covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BellaAn_dc.