Next week, voters in Berkeley will weigh in on two medical cannabis related measures, S and T. Measure T allows for an additional dispensary, 6 licensed cultivation sites, 200 square feet of grow space per patient in a residential area, and calls for the re-constitution of the Medical Cannabis Commission. As the Chairwoman of the Commission, I think it is helpful to understand the process by which Measure T came about. Two years ago, shortly after the formation of the Commission, it became obvious that there are far more stakeholders in this field than the dispensaries, who were the only stakeholders represented on the Commission under Measure JJ. An open discussion of cultivation standards and practices (cultivating in an appropriate area and providing safe medicine to patients, etc.) was hindered by the lack of recognition of those who are growing the medicine. Additionally, we discovered the large number of residential cultivation sites in Berkeley, some providing medicine to the resident only, and some providing medicine to several patients via a collective garden. The realization that the current policies really only addressed activities in and by dispensaries was the impetus for the Commission to begin work on legislation to recognize and regulate cultivation, ensure that the medical cannabis patient population was getting their needs met, and providing guidelines for those who wish to cultivate in their residence.
Not ready to commit without a more in depth examination and feedback from the public, the City Council formed a Sub-Committee to hear this feedback both from the medical cannabis industry and the surrounding communities, and had several meetings at the North Berkeley Senior Center. The Sub-Committee’s recommendations then came back to the City Council for further discussion. Finally, after two years of meetings and negotiations, public comment and expert testimony, Measure T was approved for the ballot. Having been a part of these negotiations from the beginning, I can relate the driving forces behind aspects of the measure:
1. Additional dispensary: During the hearings, a common theme was the influx of patients from surrounding areas who travel to Berkeley to get their medicine, and access issues for patients in some of Berkeley’s economically challenged communities. The hope is that the new dispensary will focus on meeting the needs of low income patients in Berkeley’s most vulnerable areas. To support this, the Commission is recommending to the City Council that provisions for low income patients count heavily in the application process.
2. Licensed cultivation: Although Berkeley is far ahead of other communities in terms of dispensing cannabis to patients, there has been little to no regulation or recognition of those who grow the medicine. There are no requirements for cultivators in terms of transparency or quality. At the same time, cultivators report that they would like the opportunity to come into the light and become a part of the regulatory process. Licensing cultivation allows better control over where the medicine is grown and how it is grown. The Commission is recommending to the City Council that cultivation applications require a sustainability plan and that applications with eco-friendly practices will be given preference.
3. 200 square feet for residential cultivation: This issue was a complicated one, driven by the discovery of just how many residents were cultivating at home, and concerns over unsafe cultivation practices in a neighborhood environment. We consulted several experts in the field of cannabis yields and measures, as well as data on the usage patterns of medical cannabis patients to determine a grow space adequate to meet the needs of the most vulnerable patients. Again, like with cultivation, acknowledging that patients are growing in their homes opens this practice up to regulation and education. Many of the problems coming from home cultivation are due to lack of information on safe techniques. Teaching patients how to grow safely and effectively in their homes is only possible when patients feel safe disclosing this practice. Fear of discovery leads to unsafe growing situations. The allowance of 200 sq. feet simply regulates a practice already occurring in the city of Berkeley, and allowed by state law.
4. Re-Constitution of the Commission: As Chairwoman of the Commission, I have had the honor of taking part in a historic partnership between the medical cannabis industry and local government. However, it became clear to me quite early on, that there are more voices needed at the table. Yes, I feel that the dispensaries should be represented, but so should the cultivators, the residential growers, the patients, and neighborhoods in which dispensaries are located. The current Commission has been called the “fox guarding the henhouse”. I would argue that it’s more like the hens guarding the henhouse, who have come to the realization that there are many animals on the farm that have a vested interest in the well-being of the hens.
Measure T was not dropped onto the ballot hastily. It is the result of years of meetings, testimony and negotiations. As with all legislation, it is, in the end, a compromise that will take effort to implement and will need consistent evaluation. However, given the benefits of the recognition and regulation of the many activities involved in the provision of medical cannabis, it is a step in the right direction.
Amanda Reiman is Director of Research, Berkeley Patients Group; Lecturer, School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley and Chairwoman, Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission