Measures S, T Expand Medical Marijuana in City

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Large Indoor Cannabis Growing
Though Californians rejected Proposition 19, Berkeley voters approved an unprecedented expansion of the city's medical marijuana industry last night, making Berkeley one of a handful of cities in the state to tax and license cultivation facilities.

Measures S and T also allowed the city council to tax and permit a fourth dispensary and reconstitute the city's Medical Marijuana Commission.

Measure S, which levied the 2.5 percent tax, has consistently been controversial in the city, with some industry representatives arguing that the business license tax - which is applied to all city businesses - is more than enough and expressing concern that the tax will be passed on to patients through higher costs.

Amanda Reiman, Medical Marijuana Commission member and research director for Berkeley Patients Group, said in an interview earlier this month that she supported the measure.

"Bringing in taxes and showing how medical cannabis ... can help community development is a good thing for patients," she said. "It's good to move this activity into a legitimate framework."

Measure S would have also placed a 10 percent tax on recreational marijuana had Proposition 19 passed. However, the proposition failed by an eight-point margin.

Proposition 19, like the 1996 ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana, would have left the details of implementation to cities and counties.

Opponents voiced myriad concerns regarding safety - including that Proposition 19 might have sanctioned smoking marijuana while on the job or driving.

Few California politicians supported the measure and big-name Democrats like current Attorney General and Governor-elect Jerry Brown actively condemned the measure.

But the failure of Proposition 19 is good news for medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, which will not have to face competition from a new recreational marijuana industry.

According to the city attorney's analysis, Measure S is expected to generate more than $400,000 in revenue for the city - though the number and size of the cultivation facilities permitted under Measure T will determine the exact sum.

The six growing facilities - capped at a maximum of 30,000 square feet each - are restricted to the manufacturing district, while the new dispensary will be located in the commercial district.

Measure T also requires that members of the Medical Marijuana Commission - who provide "cannabusiness" policy recommendations to the city council - be appointed by the council.

The reconstitution of the commission has already been controversial, with Mayor Tom Bates comparing the commission to a "fox guarding the henhouse," as many commissioners are industry representatives, while commission member Kris Hermes has accused the council of making a grab for power.

Hermes has also expressed concern that the reconstitution could result in less expertise on the new commission.

The current Medical Marijuana Commission is in the process of developing criteria by which the council could evaluate applications for the permits, though the council is not obligated to use their suggestions.

The council will start taking applications for the permits next year.

The commission as it stands is still expected to meet one more time, as it cannot be reconstituted until the election is certified and council members appoint new commissioners.