Three months after Oakland passed a law that effectively sent four pot clubs packing, Berkeley is making sure it doesn’t roll out the red carpet for them.
Councilmembers Linda Maio and Margaret Breland are proposing that Berkeley establish a quota allowing no more than three medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits—the number currently operating aboveboard—and ensure they are located away from schools and from one another.
If the City Council, as expected, passes the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, city staff would draft the ordinance for council approval early next year.
Dale Gieringer, California Coordinator of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, charged that adoption of a quota system would be “anti-competitive and against the interest of patients and consumers.”
The push for a quota, Maio said, stems from an Oakland ordinance passed last June, which established a strict four-club limit in that city. At the time Oakland had eight clubs concentrated in a section of downtown bounded by Telegraph Avenue and 17th Street, nicknamed “Oaksterdam.”
Now the Oakland clubs that didn’t win a license are either operating underground or looking for new homes, Maio said, adding that she doesn’t want Berkeley to be the next East Bay city facing an uncontrolled proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries.
“If we limit the number of clubs, the police can better monitor them and we can keep them from concentrating in one area,” she said.
Maio stressed that Berkeley’s three recognized clubs on Shattuck, San Pablo and Telegraph avenues have not drawn neighborhood complaints, but two years ago the city forced a fourth club from University Avenue after it had been the target of repeated armed robberies.
Clubs in Berkeley sprouted up after California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 that legalized medical marijuana.
After a history of reasonably cordial relations, Berkeley’s pot clubs have clashed with the city this year. In January the Planning Department revoked a use permit that would have paved the way for the Cannabis Buyer’s Cooperative (CBCB) to move from Shattuck Avenue to Sacramento Street, where some neighbors feared it would attract more crime. More recently, the council rejected a proposal to boost the number of plants that medically-licensed cannabis users could grow.
In response, medical cannabis advocates have initiated a ballot measure that would grant pot clubs by-right use permits to set up shop on commercial corridors and leave pot clubs regulations to a panel of club members.
“I’d hate to think that Councilmembers Breland and Maio are retaliating against us,” said Don Duncan, director of the Berkeley Patients Group.
With most councilmembers expressing support for a quota on clubs, the question is expected to be how many should be allowed. Though the police department recognizes the existence of only three clubs, Gieringer and Councilmember Kriss Worthington say there is a fourth smaller cooperative on the north end of Shattuck that could be forced out of business if the council imposed a three-club quota.
“We need a reasonable quota that doesn’t tell police, ‘we’re allowing three clubs, let’s get rid of one,’” Worthington said.
Maio said she had seen no evidence of a fourth club and if one existed, she would want to see “compelling” evidence that the city needed more than three clubs.
Duncan estimated Berkeley has about 500 patients licensed to use medical marijuana. Berkeley Health Director Fred Madrano said the city doesn’t track the number of medical marijuana patients, but that “with three sites we’re covering Berkeley’s needs adequately.”
In addition to settling on a quota, the council would still have to hash out most of the details of an ordinance. If more clubs move to Berkeley before a quota went into effect, for instance, the city would have to determine the criteria for deciding which clubs would get the city licenses. Also, the city would have to settle on how far the clubs must reside from schools and whether the city would tax the clubs.
The Oakland ordinance established a licensing fee of between $5,000 and $20,000 for clubs, but Maio said she hadn’t thought of doing the same in Berkeley.
Duncan said he wouldn’t oppose a fee, but was concerned that when city staff crafts an ordinance they will seek to add more regulations.
Since Oakland passed its pot club law, Gieringer said, the clubs that didn’t receive a license have been in limbo, hoping that the city will raise the quota when it reconsiders the measure in January.
But Larry Carroll, of Oakland’s City Administrator’s Office, said even by cutting down to four clubs the city still had capacity to serve patients in Oakland and throughout the East Bay.
The Oakland law came about after a youth group that has since moved from “Oaksterdam” complained about smelling marijuana from a neighboring club.
Oakland might be the first city to limit the proliferation of pot clubs, but Gieringer said no matter what Berkeley does, it won’t be the last.
With the passage last year of SB420, which legalized patient cooperative cultivation clubs, he has received daily calls from patients eager to set up cooperatives in more conservative Central Valley cities that so far have not reacted kindly.
“Any time a central valley town is approached about a cannabis club the City Council has an emergency meeting and they either ban it or allow only one club with unreasonable restrictions,” he said. “It’s happened in Oak Grove, Citrus Heights and Stockton.”