Berkeley may limit number of pot outlets

September 20, 2004

Kristin Bender , Tri-Valley Herald

BERKELEY -- City officials want to limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to three, hoping to avoid a mecca of Berkeley pot clubs similar to Oakland's once-thriving 'Oaksterdam' area.

The plan, by Councilmembers Linda Maio and Margaret Breland, would keep medical marijuana dispensaries away from schools and prohibit them from clustering in one area of the city.

With Oakland now limiting its medical marijuana clubs to four, Berkeley city leaders, who will tonight consider limiting the number of dispensaries, aren't the only ones scrambling to keep pot clubs out of their city.

In July, Emeryville temporarily banned medical marijuana outlets after one of Oakland's spurned clubs -- The Green Door -- came calling and the city realized it doesn't have a way to regulate the outlets, said City Attorney Michael Biddle.

Berkeley currently has three permitted dispensaries, which are in good standing and free from neighborhood complaints, said Don Duncan, director of the Berkeley Patients Group and an ardent medical marijuana advocate.

Police and even Maio and Breland agree the clubs abide

by the rules and have not been magnets for crime or violence. There have, however, been robberies inside and outside the clubs in recent history, said police spokesman Officer Joe Okies.

The proposal has distressed some medical marijuana advocates and city leaders.

'I think (three) is an unnecessary limit,' Duncan said. 'My problem is what's motivating it? We don't have any problems with our dispensaries. They are models of safety and good operations.'

Duncan said a group of medical marijuana patients and advocates will be at the meeting to protest the limit.

'I'm always concerned when I see a local government trying to limit safe access as opposed to facilitating safe access,' Duncan said.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said, 'I think it's needlessly alarmist in placing the number at three,' adding he doesn't expect a proliferation of clubs, because Berkeley has stringent zoning laws that require full disclosure before a permit is issued.

'This legislation is a solution in search of a problem,' he said.

Berkeley requires a public hearing before a use permit is granted.

But an initiative on the Nov. 2 election ballot could change that. The proposed Patients Access to Medical Cannabis Act would amend the zoning ordinance to grant a use permit without a public hearing. It also would set up a peer review committee to oversee the safety and operations at the outlets and replace the 10-plant medical cannabis limit with a patient's 'personal needs' defined by a doctor and the patient.

But those proposing the cap don't want Berkeley to deal with the same problems that roiled Oakland earlier this year.

'Berkeley needs to consider the Oakland experience and be proactive in establishing a reasonable number of dispensaries that are needed to serve Berkeley's patients,' Maio and Breland wrote in a city memo.

'By limiting the number of dispensaries, our police department can better monitor the operations of each dispensary to ensure our public safety goals are met.'

Neither Maio or Breland returned calls for comment Monday.

In May, the Oakland City Council limited the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to four, putting an end to the proliferation of pot clubs in an area of Oakland north of City Hall nicknamed 'Oaksterdam.'

At the time, five established clubs were operating there, with others nearby. City leaders cracked down on the clubs to aid in the redevelopment of downtown Oakland, weed out bad operators, and avoid a proliferation of illegal resale of medical cannabis.

In Berkeley, the clubs with permits are: Patients Care Collective on Telegraph Avenue; the Cannabis Buyers Collective of Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue; and the Berkeley Patients Group on San Pablo Avenue. But some say there are other 'collectives' and doctors distributing the drug.

The Berkeley City Council meets at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Kristin Bender covers Berkeley. Email her at .

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