By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Berkeley voters will decide two questions on the future of medical marijuana in the city Nov. 2: whether to enact a tax increase on the weed and whether to allow city-sanctioned growing facilities.
Measure S asks to raise taxes on medical marijuana sales from the current level of .12 percent to 2.5 percent. The city's take on the approximately $18 million worth of medical marijuana sold each year from the three current dispensaries would be about $450,000 a year.
Measure S states that if marijuana is approved for recreational use in California, as proposed on a statewide ballot measure in the upcoming election, recreational sales in Berkeley would be taxed at 10 percent. The city has no idea how much money that tax would raise for the city each year.
Measure S also would tax nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries differently than for-profit operations. Nonprofits would pay $25 per square foot for the first 3,000 square feet of their retails sales operation and $10 per square foot for anything over 3,000 square feet. That rate would be lowered to $12 a square foot for the first 3,000 square feet if marijuana is legalized after Nov. 2.
There were no arguments submitted against Measure S in the Alameda County voter information pamphlet.
Measure T asks voters whether the city should allow six medical marijuana growing facilities of 30,000 square feet on the west side of town, allow a fourth medical marijuana dispensary, create a 600-foot buffer zone between new dispensaries and public and private schools and allow medical marijuana collectives to grow up to 200 square feet of pot in homes citywide.
Responding to worries that Measure T will make it easier for young people to obtain medical marijuana and that it will increase electricity and pesticide use in the city as a result of the grow operations, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said the City Council put the measure on the ballot and he endorsed it because it restricts a further liberalization of medical marijuana by future council actions.
"I didn't want to have runaway dispensaries and grow operations," Bates said. "This puts a cap on dispensaries at four and grow operations at six. Without Measure T, the City Council can do anything it wants with medical marijuana. We could end up with 10 dispensaries and grow operations all over the place."
Sophie Hahn, co-chair of the No On Measure T Committee, contends that if the measure is approved it will entice more youths to use marijuana and it will pollute the environment.
"Measure T expands the size and scope of the marijuana industry in Berkeley exponentially without providing protections for youth and without providing adequate protection for the environment," Hahn said. "I think any legislation has to address interdiction, treatment and education for our young people. As a parent, the silence on that is disturbing."
Hahn said the as yet-unnamed "offsets" in Measure T that medical marijuana growers would have to provide in compensation for using lots of energy to power thousands of high wattage grow lights and fans to circulate the air goes against the city's official goals of cutting energy use.
"Measure T does provide for offsets, but the problem is the amount of energy used for indoor marijuana growing is colossal," Hahn said. "Even putting solar panels on top of a growing facility wouldn't make a dent in the energy use."