Berkeley City Council, Oct. 16, 2012. Photo: Emilie Raguso
The Berkeley City Council postponed approval of a fourth medical cannabis dispensary this week. Photo: Emilie Raguso

By Eli Wolfe

After a lengthy discussion Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council postponed approval of a fourth medical cannabis dispensary and a ranking system to select it.

The council also asked the Medical Cannabis Commission to refine proposed regulations concerning cannabis collectives. The council wants the panel to examine limiting the size of collectives in Berkeley, changing their closing time, and requiring them to apply for a permit that would allow the city to track them.

Several council members wanted to learn more about how to ensure the medical safety of cannabis available in Berkeley, and the finances and staff compensation at dispensaries.

Berkeley voters approved Measure T, an overhaul of the laws governing medical cannabis, in 2010. Since then, the cannabis commission has been working on proposed regulations that include creating a ranking system for the city to use to approve a fourth permitted dispensary in Berkeley, and possibly increasing the number of dispensaries within the city limits from four to six. The city manager came up with an alternative set of recommended amendments to the existing ordinances.

The issue of collectives dominated much of the evening’s discussion. Current law allows groups of people to operate cannabis collectives in residential areas as long as the use is “incidental.” In the last few years, however, at least three collectives have opened in commercial districts and operated almost like dispensaries, selling cannabis to hundreds or thousands of members. Berkeley has shut down two of those collectives, Perfect Plants Patients Group and Greenleaf, for violating city zoning ordinances. The city is trying to shutter Forty Acres on San Pablo Avenue as well.

Commission members have told city officials that the unauthorized growth of collectives in commercial zones reflects a pent-up demand for medical cannabis, and have suggested the city increase the number of authorized dispensaries from four to six to meet the demand. The panel argued that this would provide the city additional taxable revenue and shift traffic away from residential areas where collectives currently must be located.

City Council members seemed split on whether to approve more dispensaries.

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, Councilwoman Linda Maio, Councilman Darryl Moore and Councilman Laurie Capitelli all expressed caution against prematurely increasing the number of dispensaries in the city beyond four. They cited the unpredictable impact additional dispensaries could have on the city.

“Only 18% of people patronizing dispensaries are coming from Berkeley, but you’re asking for three more,” Maio said. “But we’re clearly serving Berkeley with the dispensaries we have now. Why would we need to add more dispensaries and become the dispensary capital of the East Bay?”

Councilman Kriss Worthington made the strongest argument in favor of increasing the number of dispensaries. He said failing to increase the number of dispensaries flies in the face of what appears to be a large demand for medical cannabis in Berkeley, and puts a burden on neighborhoods.

“The city is foisting the problem into residential areas because we’re artificially restricting the amount of dispensaries … in commercial areas,” said Worthington. “I don’t think the number of six is enough.”

Several council members said they were skeptical that the stringent zoning laws in Berkeley would even allow a fourth dispensary to find an appropriate location in the city. Commission members acknowledged this could be a potential problem.

“There probably aren’t a lot of locations,” said Commissioner Charles Pappas. “If two or three dispensaries found more locations, it wouldn’t be shocking, but it would be surprising.”

During the public comment period, a West Berkeley man who has belonged to a collective since 1987 urged the council to limit possible restrictions on collectives. He said his group, unlike dispensaries, provides free medical cannabis to patients with serious chronic diseases like AIDS and cancer. He said the collectives causing problems for the city were the ones that wanted to become dispensaries, and had started illegally operating in commercial areas.

City staff will work with the Medical Cannabis Commission to refine its recommendations and resolve questions regarding collectives and dispensaries before making any further decisions.

See a video of the full Berkeley City Council meeting.

Berkeley to consider 4th medical cannabis dispensary (09.17.13)
Berkeley delays fourth medical cannabis dispensary (06.13.13)
Berkeley Council declares Greenleaf a public nuisance (06.05.13)
Officials oppose Fed’s suit to shut dispensary (05.18.13)
Court orders eviction of Forty Acres cannabis collective (11.09.12)
Berkeley Patients Group finds new home on San Pablo (09.13.12)
Berkeley Patients Group earned $15m in 2009 (06.20.12)
Sadness surrounds closing of Berkeley Patients Group (05.01.12)
Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary to close May 1 (3.15.12)

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.

"*" indicates required fields

See an error that needs correcting? Have a tip, question or suggestion? Drop us a line.

Freelance writers with story pitches can email