Berkeley’s mayor says a fourth medical marijuana dispensary will not be feasible in the current political climate. Photo: Flores y Plantas/CC

The Berkeley City Council has delayed discussion on opening a fourth medical cannabis dispensary since the current federal attitude toward dispensaries has made it all but impossible to site them in Berkeley.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Councilman Darryl Moore made a motion to table consideration of a measure to establish rules for opening a new dispensary. Mayor Tom Bates seconded the motion and suggested the item return at an October meeting. The delay means that Berkeley could lose from $51,000 to $860,000 in anticipated taxes.

But in the current climate, there is no way a fourth dispensary could open, Bates said in an interview on Thursday. While Berkeley laws prohibit dispensaries opening within 600 feet of any K-12 school, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag has indicated preschools should be included in that prohibition, said Bates. Haag recently filed a lawsuit against the landlord of Berkeley Patients Group, indicating that the dispensary’s new location at 2366 San Pablo Ave. was too close to two preschools.

“A fourth dispensary is extremely unlikely at this point,” said Bates. “BPG looked all over town and they found a location that fit our requirements and the federal government came around and said it didn’t meet theirs. If the federal government continues with that approach I don’t believe there is another place in Berkeley you can site a dispensary.”

Bates said it was more prudent to wait for the passage of a law that the state legislature currently is considering. The law would reiterate that California is in favor of medical cannabis facilities and that local jurisdictions have the right to set their own land use requirements.

The City Council on Tuesday also agreed to file a lawsuit against the federal government in support of BPG’s right to be situated at its current site.

Berkeley Patients Group opened its doors at 2366 San Pablo Avenue in December. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Berkeley Patients Group at 2366 San Pablo Ave. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Charley Pappas, who sits on the Medical Cannabis Commission, said he was disappointed—and surprised—by the mayor’s postponement. The commission has worked for two years to craft a selection process for a fourth dispensary and to refine some of the laws governing collectives. The council was scheduled to consider those proposals on Tuesday.

The council’s actions will be harmful to patients and ultimately make it more difficult for any cannabis operation to find a suitable site, he said.

Tom Bates “has always been status quo,” said Pappas. “The council’s actions truly do not inspire any landlord to want to rent to a dispensary.”

Pappas also said he has no confidence the state will take any action regarding medical cannabis.

“Who believes in our state legislature?” he said. “They should have done something on medical cannabis 10 years ago. Or five years ago.”

Berkeley currently has three medical cannabis dispensaries. In 2010, voters approved a measure to increase that number to four. Voters also approved the opening of three large grow operations and taxes on the sale of cannabis.

But the political climate has changed drastically since then. In 2011 and 2012, Haag and four other U.S. attorneys sent out a slew of letters to landlords telling them their property could be seized if they continued to rent to medical cannabis dispensaries. The U.S. attorneys said all those facilities were within 1,000 feet of a park or school. At least 400 dispensaries have closed in northern California since then, according to some cannabis activists.

Berkeley Patients Group was forced to move from 2747 San Pablo Ave. and it took them six months to open up again at 2366 San Pablo Ave. But a few months after the move, Haag filed a forfeiture lawsuit against BPG’s new landlord Nahia Droubi. BPG is fighting that lawsuit.

The postponement of a fourth dispensary is also a financial setback for the city. Berkeley currently taxes the dispensaries $25 for every $1,000 of gross receipts.  In Fiscal Year 2012, Berkeley garnered $746,009 in taxes from medical cannabis. In FY 2013 the city only got $479,255. (That is a reflection of BPG being closed for six months.) In FY 2014, City Manager Christine Daniel projected that the city would bring in $720,000.

A fourth dispensary could add from $51,356 to $860,317 to that number, according to a staff report.

“We’d love to have that money but it’s not practical,” said Bates.

Officials oppose Fed’s suit to shut dispensary [05.18.13]
Berkeley Patients Group finds new home on San Pablo [09.13.12]
Berkeley Patients Group earned $15m in 2009
Sadness surrounds closing of Berkeley Patients Group [05.01.12]
Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary to close May 1 

Would you like the latest Berkeley news sent to your email inbox once a day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

Avatar photo

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...