Ballot Measures Propose Expansion of City's Cannabis Industry

October 07, 2010

Gianna Albaum, Daily Californian

In less than a month, Berkeley voters will decide whether to pass two measures that together would represent an unprecedented expansion of the city's medical marijuana industry, allowing the city to license and tax six cultivation facilities. If passed during the Nov. 2 elections, Measure T would license and tax six 30,000-square-foot growing facilities, allow a fourth dispensary to operate in the city and reconstitute the city's Medical Cannabis Commission. Measure S would place a 2.5 percent tax on medical cannabis and - if voters pass California state Proposition 19, legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the state - 10 percent on nonmedical cannabis.

According to the city attorney's analysis, annual city revenue from medical cannabis alone would total more than $400,000.

For most, the measures represent a compromise between the city and the industry, with both offering hesitant support.

"Bringing in taxes and showing how medical cannabis ... can help community development is a good thing for patients," said Amanda Reiman, commission member and research director for the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the city's three dispensaries. "It's good to move this activity into a legitimate framework."

Though the vast majority of "cannabusiness" representatives support the licensing of cultivation facilities, many would prefer to shift the tax burden from dispensaries to recreational cannabis.

"Medical marijuana is quasi-prescribed," said Kris Hermes, commission member and spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access. "Because of that, it should not be taxed. Over-the-counter drugs are taxed, and prescribed drugs are not taxed."

The reconstitution of the commission has also been a sticky issue, with Mayor Tom Bates comparing the commission's current composition, in an interview in July, to a "fox guarding the henhouse," while Hermes said the reconstitution will make it "simply ... an arm of the city."

Industry representatives have also argued that while a diversity of voices is welcome, it is important to maintain a certain level of expertise on the commission.

"Some of our staunchest opponents ... are coming from neighborhood associations and people who call themselves members of the public," Hermes said. "So do I want to exclude that voice from the table? Certainly not. However, it should be tempered by patients, physicians and other experts that will bring a balance."

Erik Miller, manager of the Berkeley Patient's Care Collective, said because Measure T eliminates the requirement that future cannabis decisions go to the voters, it "puts all the power in the hands of the City Council alone."

Others, including former Mayor Shirley Dean, oppose the measures on the grounds that they are too vague regarding energy and electricity standards and allow too much space - a maximum of 200 square feet - for residential cultivation.

"That's the kind of thing that we would like to see," Dean said. "Not something that is so poorly written that ... people (are) able to circumvent the law ... this is very serious business."

Though safety and environmental standards are not mandated by the measure, council and commission members have said repeatedly that such standards will be included in the permitting process.

One question that has yet to be answered is whether the sites will house multiple growers "farmers market style," Reiman said.

"Multiple growers and cultivators can occupy a single space," she said. "So you don't have one company that does the entire thing."

When Councilmember Laurie Capitelli first suggested the idea of cultivators sharing one facility in July, Councilmember Kriss Worthington called the idea "entertaining, but unlikely to be realistic."

However, Reiman said the commission will encourage the council to give extra consideration to applications involving multiple growers.

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