Berkeley votes to expand cannabis licensing, allow vape lounges

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January 28, 2020 – Berkeley city council voted unanimously (with one member, Sophia Hahn, absent) to allow delivery services and vape lounges in the city, culminating a two-year process that gathered public input through its cannabis commission, public health commission, and planning commission, as well as from dozens of Berkeley residents, veterans, seniors and others who spoke at the meeting largely in favor of consumption rooms.

The council also voted to direct its Public Health Department to advise them about whether to ban artificial flavorings in vape pens.

Staffer Elizabeth Greene presented 10 “decision points” for the council to amend Berkeley’s cannabis ordinance, covered in a motion presented by Mayor Jesse Arreguîn that sought a compromise between conflicting recommendations made by the various commissions. The points included whether to open zoning for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing businesses in more parts of the city, whether to change its 600-foot buffer zones for retailers, how many delivery services to allow and how many of those licenses should go to equity applicants, and whether to license delivery-only retailers and consumption lounges.

Councilmember Lori Droste said the most compelling argument for consumption lounges for her came from Sabrina Fendrick of Berkeley Patients’ Group, who pointed out that renters in Berkeley and elsewhere often face eviction for using cannabis in their homes, while wealthy homeowners can do as they like. The room was filled with supporters holding signs like, “Bans Don’t Work,” and “I’m A Renter, Where Should I Go?” and speaking about their personal experiences, benefitting from cannabis and the socialization in consumption rooms.

Members of the community health commission tried to tell the Council that smoking and vaping indoors was banned throughout California, and that opening vape lounges would encourage youth to smoke. Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer pointed out in response that several other cities have opened lounges, such as West Hollywood, Oakland and San Francisco. Debby Goldsberry, who is part owner of High Fidelity dispensary in Berkeley and operates a dab bar at Magnolia in Oakland, said that she has not had complaints from neighbors about smell or any problems with DUIDs in two years. A staffer finally advised the council that there are two carve outs in state law against indoor smoking/vaping: inside tobacco shops and inside licensed cannabis retailers.

In the end, the council voted to allow licensing for vape lounges and seven delivery service licenses, four of them for equity applicants. The city will be keeping its 600-foot retail buffer (the same as for liquor stores statewide), at least until the seventh retail licensee, an equity applicant, is situated. It doesn’t look like Berkeley will be opening up other zones for cultivation or manufacturing, concerned about displacing other businesses like artists/craftspersons.

It’s amazing and at times disheartening that activists still have to work so hard at the local level, even in liberal Berkeley, for our rights. Join with a local NORML chapter in California or contact Cal NORML deputy director Ellen Komp about getting active in your city or county.

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