Supporters of The Cannabis Center line up for public comment at last night's city council meeting. Photo: Lance Knobel
Supporters of The Cannabis Center line up for public comment at last night’s city council meeting. Photo: Lance Knobel
Supporters of The Cannabis Center line up for public comment at last night’s city council meeting. Photo: Lance Knobel

Berkeley City Council last night approved the city’s fifth and sixth cannabis dispensaries, four months after approving the fourth. A long night of public comment and testimony was followed by a relatively brief discussion by councilmembers before selecting Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective (BC3), 2465 Telegraph Ave. (led by the owners of Amoeba Music), and The Apothecarium, 2578 Shattuck Ave. (from an established San Francisco dispensary).

Proposals from Berkeley Innovative Health, 1229 San Pablo Ave., and The Cannabis Center, 1436 University Ave., failed in their bids, although each attracted some support from members of the council.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage of medical cannabis.

The council heard nearly three hours of testimony and public comment from the four applicants for the two dispensaries. All of the applicants promoted their professionalism and operational excellence, all had long lines of community members speaking in support. A relatively small number of community members raised concerns about location of any of the dispensaries. What differences could be gleaned from the public comment were largely of tone and nuance.

That was on top of a years-long process the applicants went through to select the city’s fourth dispensary, which concluded in May when the council approved the iCann Health Center on Sacramento Street. Because of the “compelling” quality of the applicants, according to Councilman Kriss Worthington, in July the council agreed to allow a fifth and sixth dispensary. The Medical Cannabis Commission had this year exhaustively evaluated the applicants as part of the lengthy decision on a fourth dispensary.

Adding two new dispensaries could add hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual tax revenues for the city.  

Darryl Moore. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Darryl Moore: ‘Not right to prop up a failed business model.’ Photo: Emilie Raguso
Darryl Moore: ‘Not right to prop up a failed business model.’ Photo: Emilie Raguso

After public comment closed at the council meeting last night, Mayor Tom Bates joked that perhaps the decision should be held over. But Councilman Laurie Capitelli seriously suggested delaying a decision, to boos and groans from a capacity crowd at the meeting.

“You’re all extraordinarily qualified in one way or another. And I find problematic issues with you all in one way or another,” Capitelli said. He added that the likely passage of Prop 64 to legalize marijuana in November will “change the landscape.”

“I don’t think it’s fair to the four applicants remaining to continue this issue,” said Councilman Jesse Arreguín to applause. “It’s only fair to take a decision and take action tonight.”

Other councilmembers agreed with Arreguín on taking the decision last night.

Councilmember Darryl Moore raised the hackles of several other members by implying that the Amoeba-backed BC3 bid was misguided.

“What deeply concerns me is that we’re trying to prop up a business by allowing it to have a dispensary in it, at the cost of a dispensary that has been there from the very start,” Moore said, without naming either Amoeba or nearby Berkeley Patients Care Collective (PCC). “That’s like Walmart opening up half a block from a neighborhood business. It’s not right to prop up a failed business model.”

“I don’t agree with your analysis of Amoeba,” Bates said. “I see it as an asset to the Telegraph neighborhood.”

Worthington responded with passion.

“To suggest we’re subsidizing Amoeba by doing this is misunderstanding Berkeley history,” he said.
“To compare Amoeba to a Walmart is just unfathomable. This store has been so helpful to so many people in Berkeley and so supportive of the arts in Berkeley and so supportive of social services in Berkeley. They set the benchmark for this whole conversation.”

Moore refused to yield on the point, saying, “PCC is the poor David (against Amoeba’s Goliath) and we should be concerned.”

What provoked greater discussion, however, was figuring out a process to winnow four applicants down to two.

At the outset of the discussion, Worthington proposed conducting a straw poll of councilmembers to see whether there was a consensus opinion. It attracted no support at first. Mayor Bates moved a measure to grant one of the dispensaries to BC3, but Capitelli and others said it would not be fair to take a decision in sequence since there were only two slots available. Arreguín moved to approve The Apothecarium and BC3 in separate votes.

In the end, there was unanimous agreement that a straw poll was the most sensible method. Bates and Arreguín withdrew their motions.

In the straw poll, The Apothecarium received nine votes, BC3 five, Cannabis Center four, and Berkeley Innovative Health two. The council then moved swiftly to pass a motion approving both The Apothecarium and BC3.

Berkeley may soon have 6 cannabis dispensaries (07.19.16)
Berkeley names iCann as the fourth cannabis dispensary (05.11.16)
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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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...