Berkeley’s medical marijuana industry might greatly expand under two proposed ballot measures that the city council is on the way to placing on the November ballot.
Currently, there are three large-scale dispensaries in the city that provide medical cannabis to thousands of patients. The dispensaries are not permitted to grow or produce their own product, but must get it from small collectives or businessmen that grow it.
Under the proposed laws, Berkeley would allow as many as 11 growing and manufacturing operations in the commercial district of the city. Operators could grow pot and make cannabis-related products like brownies or salve, but would not serve customers. Those 11 operations would be on top of the small growing operations that individuals and collectives do in their homes.
The new laws would also allow a fourth dispensary to operate.
The council will take a final vote on the proposals at next Tuesday’s meeting and if it passes, place it on the November ballot.
Council members seemed to want a large number of growing operations in order to preclude any one company from monopolizing the trade.
“We don’t want some major corporation like Wal-Mart or Phillip Morris coming in and sucking up all the business,” said Mayor Tom Bates, who headed up a marijuana subcommittee that came up with many of the recommendations for the ballot measure. Bates’ plan had originally had four growing and manufacturing operations, but other councilmen proposed more.
“I want to increase competition because that’s good for just about any business,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli “Four locations is monopolistic. It seems quite simple to me: The more competition you have, the better product you’re going to have at a lower price.”
The proposed ballot measures could also increase taxes on medical cannabis sales from 1.2% to 2.5%, although the city plans to only charge 1.8% initially. Non-profits would pay $25 per square foot on the first 3,000 square feet of their operation and $10 for anything over that.
Those new taxes would raise the city’s income from $30,000 to about $330,000 a year.
The proposed ballot measures would also amend a law that prohibits any dispensary from operating 1,000 feet from a public school. Under a new law, that restriction would be lowered to 600 feet and include private schools. The existing dispensaries would be grandfathered in.
The small collectives would also have to obtain a city permit to operate, although those already operating will automatically get one. They would be allowed to grow in 200 square feet of space, up from the current 100 square foot allotment.
The measures also requires any new growing operations to set aside 10% of its product for low-income patients and provide some energy offsets.
One of the measure will address increasing the tax on the industry; the other will amend Berkeley’s existing laws governing medical cannabis.