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Berkeley Delays Vote on New Dispensaries

The City of Berkeley took a pass Sept. 17 on a vote to increase the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Instead, members of the City Council asked the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission and the city manager’s office to draft changes to regulations that govern collectives. That could include rules regarding the size of collectives, their operating hours, and the need for a city permit.

Reasons For The Delay

Council members said they wanted to hold off on the vote until they can learn more about the medical safety of cannabis in the city, as well as the finances at the dispensaries and how staffers are paid.

It wasn’t clear how the members would have voted on the matter, but there appeared to be a split between those who favored expansion and those who opposed it, according to Berkeleyside, a local news Web site.

“Only 18 percent of people patronizing dispensaries are coming from Berkeley, but you’re asking for three more,” said Council Member Linda Maio. “But we’re clearly serving Berkeley with the dispensaries we have now. Why would we need to add more dispensaries and become the dispensary capital of the East Bay?”

Berkeley currently has three operating medical cannabis dispensaries. City ordinances allow for four, but the council would have to vote to approve it as well as the process used to select it. They opted to delay that decision. They also chose to delay a vote on expanding the total number of allowed dispensaries from four to six.

Past Marijuana Policies

Three years ago, voters in Berkeley approved Measure T, an initiative that restructured the city’s medical marijuana laws. The commission was charged with drafting proposed regulations to enforce the initiative, a process that led its members to recommend an increase in dispensaries.

The rules revisions that were requested by the council Sept. 17 will provide a clearer definition of collectives, limit the number of people who can join them, and change their closing time from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. Council members also agreed to consider the suggestions of Roger LaChance, operations manager at the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary, who asked them to remove overly specific lighting requirements in parking lots and double the six-month grace period dispensaries will be given to meet the new rules.

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The revisions will also cover testing procedures to protect public safety.

“I’m glad to say we’re moving forward on definitions, restrictions,” Maio said, “because it’s like the Wild West out there.”

Current Berkeley Dispensaries

The three dispensaries in Berkeley vary widely in size. The largest, Berkeley Patients Group, has been facing federal property seizure proceedings for months, a suit that is expected to continue despite a recent about-face in pot policy by the Obama administration.

In recent years, several large collectives have formed in the city and tried to become de facto dispensaries operating outside Berkeley’s regulated system. City officials have launched efforts to root those pot shops out, with some success, but supporters of expansion hope more legal dispensaries will meet pent-up demand and make it a moot issue.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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