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Now here we are in 2010. There is a new state measure, Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannnabis Act of 2010, that would, like the 1972 version of Proposition 19, legalize substantially all marijuana cultivation and use despite ongoing federal prohibitions against recreational marijuana; it also enables local tax and regulatory mechanisms on recreational marijuana. And we have a new Berkeley measure, Measure T (amending the municipal code), that would establish the framework for a vastly increased Berkeley marijuana industry whether or not State Proposition 19 passes. If Proposition 19 does not pass, Berkeley will bet set up for a very large local medical marijuana industry; if Proposition 19 does pass, then the sky is the limit on local marijuana businesses, as the Measure T framework can be easily altered, by the City Council alone, to accommodate recreational marijuana businesses as well. This expansion is clearly the intent of city council as evidenced by their discussions.
The "companion" measure to Berkeley Measure T is Berkeley Measure S, Tax on Cannabis Businesses. The proposed tax would cover both medical and recreational marijuana businesses, and would substantially increase the existing business tax on medical marijuana businesses and provide for taxing new recreational marijuana businesses. The purported tax revenue is the lure by the marijuana industry and our cash-strapped local government to get voter approval for a burgeoning local marijuana industry about which many Berkeley residents and stakeholders still have strong reservations. However, if the Berkeley marijuana industry were to stay at its current level, per the City Attorney the new tax would raise only $159, 655 annually, a negligible amount given the City's $320M annual budget and projected annual deficits of $16M and rising. So to make a real difference in terms of the City budget, Berkeley would need to develop a local marijuana industry worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. That is the plan and that's a lot of marijuana.
I urge readers and voters to peruse Measures S and T carefully, including and especially the City Attorney Analyses and the Arguments for and against.
I have discussed the Berkeley marijuana measures with many residents. Most agree that they would promote, encourage, and enable a vastly expanded Berkeley marijuana industry with unknown and unknowable consequences for good or ill. However, most voters cannot decide how to vote, since there is so much confusion and uncertainty around consequences and so many dueling expert opinions.
This author however would not recommend support for Measure T. As a forty-year Berkeley resident, parent and grandparent, I can only see the downside and risks.
— The quality and tone of Berkeley will be diminished when there are marijuana and related businesses all over town
— There will be plenty of marijuana available in nearby communities for those who want or need it, so a Berkeley-based industry is not de rigeur
— The impact on our youth is likely to be large and negative. We already have high marijuana use by Berkeley youth and an overly-permissive attitude — and the lowered price, increased availability, increased potency, and perception of yet more adult approval engendered by a local mega-industry can only worsen the situation
— I do not want new marijuana businesses to have a "by-right" entitlement to operate in my town nor do I want to give up to city council the voters future rights to legislate this industry
— I am suspicious of many of the participants in the marijuana industry. While there are some honest and well-intentioned participants, I believe that this industry is a very big tent inhabited by and/or alluring to some serious criminal elements and dealers in other illegal and dangerous substances
— There has been no controlled testing of the benefits and harms of marijuana use. Berkeley purports to be interested in public health and has seriously cracked down on alcohol and tobacco use, so why are we so permissive with marijuana?
— The impact on local wildlife and pets of marijuana vegetation and runoff is unclear, but could well be negative
— Berkeley's current budget and long-term liabilities deficit needs to be addressed first by deep fiscal reform. A local marijuana industry could actually add to our budget problems by engendering greater needs for public safety and public health services
— A local marijuana mega-industry could negatively affect residential property values and diminish the desirability of Berkeley as a choice for families. I note that some large commercial property owners may welcome potential marijuana industry buyer/renters of their vacant properties. One of our major land use attorneys is now representing the biggest Berkeley marijuana dispensary. Folks, is this another developer boondoggle?
— The marijuana industry is not "green" as it consumes huge amounts of water and electricity. There is increased risk of fire, pesticide contamination, and public safety threats.
Again, I urge Berkeley voters to read the ballot material and consider the issues carefully as the outcome of the Measure T vote will affect the quality and tone of our town. Why take chances?
Barbara Gilbert, Berkeley
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