There was a full house at the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night for the selection of the city’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary. Photo: Emilie Raguso
There was a full house at the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night for the selection of the city’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council unanimously named the iCANN Health Center on Sacramento Street as the city’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary.

In what was to many a surprise move, council also voted to have city staff and the Berkeley Planning Commission look at changing the law to increase the number of dispensaries in Berkeley from four to six. Officials said there were so many qualified applicants, which evidenced such a strong need, that an increase would make sense.

iCANN, which is focused on providing medical cannabis to seniors, was among six dispensaries to present applications to the city Tuesday. Their supporters also had a chance to lobby council during public comment.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage of medical cannabis.

Several council members expressed strong support — if the law is changed to allow for more dispensaries — for an application from Amoeba Music’s owners to open the Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective on Telegraph Avenue next to the iconic record store.

The voters of Berkeley approved the idea of a fourth dispensary with Measure T in 2010.

(In the video below, iCANN supporters, including proprietor Sue Taylor on the right, react to the unanimous vote. Taylor, a Berkeley resident, sits on the board of the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging.) 

In February, the city’s Medical Cannabis Commission named iCANN its top choice for the fourth dispensary slot, followed by Berkeley Innovative Health, at 1229 San Pablo Ave., and the Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective by Amoeba.

While all six businesses considered Tuesday night brought supporters, including employees, to speak on their behalf, Berkeley Innovative Health alone drew a wave of opposition from nearby neighbors on Kains Avenue who said they don’t believe the location would be the right fit for a new dispensary.

Most of the speakers Tuesday were either affiliated with the applicants or were supporters of medical cannabis. The few local residents who came to speak out against dispensaries in their neighborhoods said they were concerned about trash, crime, safety and traffic. Dispensary supporters countered that crime has been shown to decrease around well-run dispensaries. Some of the applicants said they have never had a problem with crime or needed to call police at other dispensary operations they have run.

Supporters of the Amoeba application, in the foreground, listened to the council discussion. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Public comment lasted from 8:30 p.m. until about 11 p.m. The council discussion that followed was brief. It quickly became clear that support for iCANN was unanimous. Councilman Darryl Moore made the motion to choose iCANN as the fourth dispensary, but also said he looked forward to increasing the number of dispensaries in Berkeley and complimented all the applicants for their professionalism.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he was pleased to see the labor agreement iCANN had put in place. But he and others said the equity issue was to him the most important factor. Of iCANN, he said: “It’s minority owned, minority supported in a minority neighborhood. That’s the key for making them No. 1 for me.”

Councilman Max Anderson said there had long been concerns among city leaders that the dispensaries “could turn into a burgeoning industry without equity and without diversity,” and had pledged to work to avoid that. “We may have missed some opportunities regarding equity in this city before, but there’s no reason for us to miss this opportunity.”

(Many of the applicants pointed out earlier in the night that they were diverse and representative organizations, too.)

Council members also said they believed Taylor to be a strong leader who would serve the community well.

Sue Taylor, right, and supporters, as they listened to the council discussion about dispensary selection. Photo: Emilie Raguso

It was Councilman Kriss Worthington who made the motion early in the night to have the city look into increasing the number of dispensaries to six. Councilman Moore asked staff to bring back those changes to council “as fast as humanly possible.” Staff said the item could reach the Planning Commission as soon as June 15.

Council members Linda Maio and Lori Droste said the vote — which was not part of the originally published agenda — felt like it was coming too fast without enough public comment. They abstained from the vote, and Mayor Tom Bates was the lone “no” vote on the subject.

Said Anderson: “We took a very cautious approach and that cautious approach has led us to a field of very qualified applicants.… For us to put brakes on it and parameters on it now seems to run contrary to the public will.”

Worthington, Bates and Jesse Arreguín all said they would like to see the Amoeba application get the next slot, if it opens up, while Moore said it didn’t seem fair to anyone to have that discussion Tuesday night.

Charley Pappas, chair of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission, said he was pleased to see the move to increase the number of dispensaries in the city. He had just a few words to say before council took that vote: “I feel like I’m in a dream here.”

See the list of all six dispensary applicants, and find links to their applications to learn more.

Berkeley commission shortlists 3 for cannabis dispensary (02.05.16)
Finalists pitch for Berkeley’s fourth cannabis dispensary (02.01.16)
6 groups vying for dispensary permit hold meetings (11.10.16)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...