Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso

A plea by the chair of the Medical Cannabis Commission to reinstate his application for Berkeley’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary was ignored by the City Council Tuesday night, but council members did vote to slightly jigger the selection process.

The City Council voted 6-1-1, with Mayor Tom Bates voting no and City Councilwoman Lori Droste abstaining, to expand the fourth round of the selection process to include six dispensary applicants rather than five. (Councilman Max Anderson was absent.) The applicants will now hold public hearings to communicate with the various neighbors who might be affected by their plans.

The vote came after an unexpected motion by Mayor Bates to stop the selection process altogether, and to wait until 2017, after the 2016 election, when many believe there will be a ballot measure to legalize marijuana throughout the state.

“I don’t see why we need a fourth dispensary,” Bates told the council. “It’s likely it will be on the ballot in 2016. My strong advice would be to postpone this decision until after the November 2016 election and see where we are. If it fails we can revive it. If it passes, the issue is moot.”

Bates’ suggestion took everyone in the room by surprise.

The voters of Berkeley approved the idea of a fourth dispensary and cultivation areas in Measure T in 2012, and that can’t be undone, said City Councilman Jesse Arreguín.

“I question whether this motion is legal given that Measure T was the will of the voters,” said Arreguín.

City Councilmen Kriss Worthington said suspending the process would not be fair because so many people followed the rules and spent thousands of dollars on their application.

“It seems inconceivable to me that anyone would conceive of jerking people around like this,” said Worthington.

Other city council members agreed that the process should not be stopped.

Sue Taylor, who has an application pending, said she has been working on setting up a medical cannabis dispensary for four years. She pointed out that some applicants had purchased a building or laid out rent to secure a space in case their application succeeded.

“We have invested a lot of time, a lot of concern, a lot of money, “said Taylor.

City Attorney Zach Cowan told Bates his idea couldn’t be considered because it was not included on the agenda. State law requires legislative bodies to release agenda items 10 days in advance.

At that point Bates withdrew his motion.

Charles Pappas (far right) presiding over a September 2015 meeting of the Medical Cannabis Commission. City staff ruled that his application for a fourth dispensary permit was incomplete. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Charles Pappas, the chair of the Medical Cannabis Commission, had asked the council to consider reinstating his application for a fourth dispensary. City staff eliminated his group,CP4H, because the application was missing a notice from a landlord that he or she knew that there might be a medical cannabis dispensary on his or her property. Staff also said the group’s articles of incorporation were not complete.

                     Read more about medical cannabis issues in Berkeley.

Pappas told the city council that he actually had gotten what the staff needed, but a few days after the deadline. Pappas said the requirements had changed along the way so it took his group longer to get the paperwork done.

Given his 12-year involvement with medical cannabis in the community, the city council should give him some leeway, Pappas said.

But council members said they were reluctant to give special consideration to Pappas’ application because that would mean they would have to reconsider the three other applications that had also been disqualified.

Pappas said Wednesday that he was “shell-shocked” by what happened.

“I was completely blindsided,” he said. “I feel ignored as a human being. I feel marginalized as a disabled person.”

Pappas said he planned to confer with an attorney to see what he could do.

Twelve groups originally applied for the permit for a fourth dispensary but a number dropped out along the way. Four were also eliminated because their applications were deemed incomplete, according to Elizabeth Greene, the planner who staffs the Medical Cannabis Commission.

There are six viable applications now and the law had said that the number would be cut to five during the fourth round. But city staff said it would not be much more work to keep the sixth in the running. The City Council agreed.

Medical cannabis commissioner faces fraud and extortion charges (09.23.15)
11 groups are vying to open Berkeley’s fourth cannabis dispensary (05.06.15)
12 apply to operate Berkeley’s fourth cannabis dispensary (03.24.15)

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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...