Most visitors to the city’s Permit Service Center on Milvia Street probably only want to remodel a kitchen, get a permit for electrical or plumbing work or apply for a small business license.
Everyone who passes through, though, is bound to notice a prominently-placed sign at the counter:
“Attention! Important information regarding applications involving medical marijuana/medical cannabis.”
“If you plan to cultivate, store, sell, barter, give away or otherwise distribute medical marijuana/medical cannabis, you must state that you plan to do so on your permit application, and provide documentation that your proposal is in full compliance with the city’s ‘Protocols for Medical Cannabis.’”
Vivian Kahn, acting deputy director of planning, said on Thursday that the sign, which has been in place for the last few months, is there for a reason.
“When we get an application for zoning approval, we normally don’t require the applicant to list every single thing they sell,” she said. “But in this case, even if (medical marijuana) is an incidental activity, we want to know.”
“To my knowledge, no one has yet come in and said they wanted a permit for this.”
Which just shows, according to critics, that the sign is fulfilling its purpose.
The sign is the public face of the scrap of city policy that exists for the regulation of medical marijuana clubs.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington said on Thursday that after the city passed the medical marijuana ordinance – which resulted in the “Protocols for Medical Cannabis” mentioned above – in March, there were no guidelines in place for regulating medical marijuana clubs.
“The old city manager (James Keene) killed the Proposition 215 Implementation committee we had proposed to study the issue,” he said.
Shortly after the passage of Proposition 215, the state referendum that permitted the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the city permits department started to receive a number of applications for “hemp and incense” and “herbal remedy” stores, which were approved. Only later did the city find out that the applicants were operating as medical marijuana clubs.
After neighbors started to complain, the city briefly considered imposing a temporary moratorium on new clubs and developing rules in the city’s zoning ordinance for where new clubs could locate.
However, that effort was suspended when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May that Proposition 215 did not invalidate federal laws, under which marijuana is an illegal drug. After the ruling, current city manager Weldon Rucker advised the council against the zoning changes, as the new ruling brought both the city’s ordinance and Proposition 215 into question.
According to Kahn and Fred Medrano, director of the Health and Human Services Department, Matthew Orebic of the city attorney’s office developed the process now in place in the Permit Center.
Orebic could not be reached for comment.
Worthington said that regulation through the permits department was far from ideal, but still workable.
“It’s a reasonably practical compromise,” he said. “In the sprit of Proposition 215 we’re allowing for some way for people to get their marijuana prescriptions filled. At the same time, it would cause a lot of controversy, and a lot of unwanted attention from the federal government, if we had 100 of these things in Berkeley.”
Some medical marijuana advocates take a dimmer view of the method.
Chris Conrad, a cannabis expert who has testified in many court cases involving medical marijuana laws, said that Berkeley was on the right track when it was looking at broader zoning regulations.
“Regulation through zoning ordinances is fairly rare, though I do think it is a sensible way to do it,” he said. “But Berkeley has perverted the method, because they’re looking at it as a way to limit marijuana clubs rather than regulate them.”
Conrad said a more equitable approach would be to designate certain districts in which clubs would be allowed to operate, and to develop other guidelines, including distance from schools.
There are three medical marijuana clubs currently in operation in Berkeley – one on Shattuck Avenue, one on San Pablo Avenue and one on University Avenue.