A Patient’s Perspective

Friday May 28, 2004

As a medical cannabis patient (quadriplegic) fortunate enough to have a doctor’s recommendation for the past five years, I feel compelled to comment on recent developments in our community regarding the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana. On April 27 our City Council unfortunately tabled proposed amendments to the previous 2001 medical cannabis initiative. Their lack of decision has prompted a voter initiative drive and the rights of patients like myself have been overlooked and ill-served. I believe this process can be avoided with reconsideration by the Berkeley City Council.  

The facts of the matter are that initiative preparation, signature gathering and the expense and resources needed require much time and energy. Because the three existing Berkeley medical dispensaries (and their patients) are the prime initiators for this project, the needs and servicing of patients are strained. I praise these organizations for their continued operation as well as a past record of success deserving recognition. They have proposed reasonable amendments the City Council has chosen not to consider: a 72-plant limit for indoor cultivation, a peer review committee to help regulate and oversee existing and new dispensaries, and zoning considerations that would provide city sanctioning for the dispensaries. I worry that a protracted voter initiative struggle and further ballot measure campaign will negatively affect myself and other patients. 

Opposition to the amendments by the City Council were based on a lack of information and fear of increased crime. While 72 plants sounds like a great many, that is already the limit in neighboring Oakland. The limit is 99 in Santa Cruz, and there is no limit in San Francisco. What this number of plants might produce as well as how many times a year is surely both relative and debatable. Producing 18 pounds worth $90,000, thereby a cause for crime concern could be possible, but not probable at very many locations in Berkeley, most certainly not residential ones. Such an operation would be more suited to warehouses in Oakland and San Francisco. The 72-plant limit is primarily to protect patients already over the existing 10-plant limit in Berkeley. I most strenuously object to embedding medical cannabis with increased crime. One day a few weeks ago three banks in Berkeley were robbed so what should be done? If Police Chief Roy Meisner deserves commending for our lower crime rate, I think he is off base suggesting the increased plant limits may mean increased crime. And I seriously doubt the armed robbery mentioned at the City Council meeting was related to medical cannabis. Three years ago when there were problems at the then University Avenue dispensary, the now existing dispensaries were instrumental in it’s shutdown and ceasing of operations, also acknowledged by the City Council and police chief. 

The adoption of the amendments would ease patients’ concerns and help to provide a continued secure dispensing of medical cannabis. The proposed relocation of one dispensary, Cannabis Buyers Cooperative of Berkeley has been particularly disconcerting to patients, the City Council, and neighbors of the proposed new location. As Councilmember Kriss Worthington stated, the adoption of the amendments should not be related to the contentiousness surrounding CBCB’s move. With all due respect to council members Shirek and Breland, citing the arrested victims of the war on drugs, whether black or white, does not seem just cause for limiting or ignoring the needs and rights of medical cannabis patients. Because my own mother has the same response I can appreciate Margaret Breland’s faith in her doctor and his prescriptions, but medical cannabis is most definitely an alternative for so many. Councilmember Dona Spring best understood the importance of patients’ relief from pain. 

Three weeks ago before the City Council met, a Daily Planet front page story characterized the voter initiative as “threatening” the council to adopt the medical cannabis amendments. I believe “challenge” is more appropriate. Our elected city officials should reconsider these amendments. Their adoption would help provide continued safe and secure access for medical cannabis patients to their medicine by increasing the number of plants we may grow, and by officially mandating the city working with and sanctioning existing medical dispensaries. Finally, because of missing regulation and federal opposition these measures are necessary to help implement Proposition 215, approved by 86 percent of Berkeley voters. 


Charles Pappas is a Berkeley resident.