Thursday, May 13, 2010

City Council Begins Evaluation of Marijuana Laws

The Berkeley City Council continued to hash out the legal semantics of
cannabis dispensaries and collectives at Wednesday night's meeting, the
first of a four-week series.

With the intent to evaluate proposals to tax medical marijuana and amend
zoning regulations, the Medical Marijuana Subcommittee spent the first
meeting clarifying legal statues and definitions.

"The objective is to potentially go to the ballot in November," said
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. "To do this we need to learn about the legal
framework about marijuana issues in general."

Deputy City Attorney Matthew Orebic presented a summary of federal,
state and local laws concerning the use of medical marijuana.

Berkeley legally recognized collectives in 2001, allowing for groups of
individuals to cultivate and exchange medical marijuana between members.
Unlike dispensaries, collectives cannot operate for commercial retail,
Orebic said.

He added that there have long been vague distinctions between
collectives and dispensaries, noting that a 2001 ordinance recognized
the right of collectives to cultivate cannabis but failed to provide a
clear definition of a collective. A 2004 ordinance limiting the number
of dispensaries within the city to three did not adequately address
collectives' right to exist, he said.

"What we hadn't thought all the way through was the way 'collective' had
been defined in the 2001 ordinance," Orebic said. "When we added the cap
in 2004, we added the definition of dispensaries. A dispensary must also
be a collective. We inadvertently outlawed collectives."

Throughout the discussion, committee members questioned details in
zoning definitions pertaining to grandfather laws and retail and school
zones because the number of dispensaries remains limited to three.

However, community members at the meeting said there is a growing demand
for medical marijuana that can only be fixed by increasing the number of

Councilmember Max Anderson said he was concerned with the practical
implications of a tax because enforcement would be difficult if
collectives were pushed further underground or if they started trading
with cities beyond Berkeley's jurisdiction.

Debby Goldsberry, spokesperson for Berkeley Patients Group, said she
supports a tax on collectives because it will lead to increased
regulation and a safer community.

"There's a lot of small-scale collectives that are growing without being
taxed," she said. "It's safer for our community if we regulate and
license them."

Although there were still ambiguities after the meeting, the
subcommittee hopes to report back by June 22, according to Bates, in
order to meet the 2011 fiscal year budget deadline.

"We have four weeks," Anderson said. "We have plenty of time."

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