Berkeley City Council, Oct. 16, 2012. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Berkeley City Council on Tuesday adopted regulations put forth by the Medical Cannabis Commission. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The Berkeley City Council took a huge step Tuesday night towards the approval of a fourth medical cannabis dispensary, but deferred passing an ordinance until July 1.

The Council voted unanimously to adopt regulations put forth by the Medical Cannabis Commission, with some amendments, to set up a process to select a fourth dispensary and the guidelines for selection. The council also indicated they wanted to adopt new rules to better regulate both dispensaries and the smaller, less formal, cannabis collectives.

The approval comes three and a half years after Berkeley residents voted for Measure T in 2010, which called for a fourth dispensary. Just a few weeks ago, Mayor Tom Bates said the political environment, with the federal government cracking down on medical marijuana operations, made it too uncertain for Berkeley to go forward with an additional dispensary.

But other councilmembers felt the city had already taken a long time to approve the fourth dispensary and it shouldn’t be postponed any longer.

The Medical Cannabis Commission had recommended that Berkeley open six dispensaries to meet the demand, but council members decided that was too many, too fast. The council members approved a fourth in principle and agreed to look at the situation again in a year.

The ordinance that will come before council on July 1 sets up new guidelines for collectives. It requires them to get a fire and electrical inspections before getting a business license and limits them to operating out of just four locations. The council also decided that all collectives and dispensaries should close by 9 p.m. The current closing time is 10 p.m.

The council also decided that only cannabis edibles manufactured in Berkeley need to be tested; those made elsewhere don’t. They will also require all dispensaries and collectives to have 2 percent of their members be low income, among other rules.

The discussion revealed some interesting information about the shape of the medical marijuana community in Berkeley. While current law requires all collectives to have business licenses, only one collective has gotten one, according to Elizabeth Greene, the planner who staffs the Medical Cannabis Commission. While no one knows exactly how many collectives there are in Berkeley, City Councilman Kriss Worthington said he knows of “a couple hundred collectives.” He said he thought they had not gotten business licenses because they are so informal.

“Most are social networks; they don’t operate as businesses,” said Worthington. “They hang out together and one or two of them grow and share it with the social networks. It’s very informal. It’s not a business. They’re not trying to get rich. They are trying to take care of one another.”

The City Council discussion came on the first day of an appeal hearing by Chris Smith, the owner of the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Grower’s Collection. Berkeley informed Smith in October that his operation at 1820-1828 San Pablo Avenue was a public nuisance because it was operating as a dispensary. Berkeley also said it was illegal because it was a collective operating in a commercial zone when collectives must be located in residential zones.

Smith has argued that Forty Acres existed before Measure T and should be grandfathered in place.

The hearing is closed to the public despite the attempt of Smith’s attorney’s to open it up to press and others. It is expected to run through Thursday.

Berkeley still battling Forty Acres cannabis collective (06.12.14)
Berkeley will again consider a 4th cannabis dispensary  (06.03.14)
Berkeley delays decision on fourth dispensary (09.20.13)
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)

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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 Created California, published in November...