Two new laws greatly expanding Berkeley's medical marijuana industry but also raising taxes on it likely will go before voters in November, following a Tuesday night City Council meeting.
The two ballot questions, if approved, will allow up to 11 large-scale growing facilities of various sizes, but none larger than 30,000 square feet in the city's manufacturing zone. And the measures will allow a fourth retail outlet in the city's commercial districts, among other provisions.
The Council voted unanimously to approve language in the laws and will bring the matter back next Tuesday for a final vote that may place them on the ballot.
Under the new law, growers would also be allowed to bake pot brownies, cookies and cakes, but would not be able to sell anything at the facility.
Berkeley's three existing medical marijuana dispensaries report sales of $18.5 million a year, according to a city report. New taxes would raise income for the city from $30,000 a year to about $330,000.
One of the two measures also reduces a buffer zone between retail dispensaries and public schools from 1,000 feet to 600 feet and adds private schools, which previously were not mentioned. Existing dispensaries closer to a school than 600 feet would be allowed to remain.
During public comment at the Council meeting, about 20 people spoke, none with a negative take on the situation.
"It's obvious you respect the cannabis community," said Richard
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said three high priorities council members had when crafting the language of the new laws were that some weed, possibly 10 percent, be given away free to low-income patients, that growers somehow "offset" their electric use, and that the city give preference to locals when issuing permits for the grow operations.
"We don't want some major corporation like Wal-Mart or Philip Morris coming in and sucking up all the business," Bates said.
Councilman Laurie Capitelli successfully convinced the Council that a previous cap of four growing facilities was too few.
"I want to increase competition because that's good for just about any business," Capitelli said. "Four locations is monopolistic. It seems quite simple to me: The more competition you have, the better product you're going to have at a lower price."
Dispensaries currently are taxed $1.20 per $1,000 in sales. New taxes would rise to $25 per $1,000 of sales. Those that are organized as nonprofits would pay $25 per square foot on the first 3,000 square feet of their operation and $10 for anything over that.
One of the ballot measures also allows an unlimited number of medical marijuana collectives, which are already allowed under state law. Collectives are different from dispensaries in that they have no retail locations. Collectives would be allowed in homes in residential areas and be allowed to grow 200 square feet of weed in any home or 25 percent of the floor area.