The Berkeley City Council last week approved on-site vaping and smoking lounges at cannabis shops, which will enable the Berkeley Patients Group to open such a lounge in its big, new facility on University Avenue. The vote came above the objections of people whose complaints amounted to hoary expressions of "What about the children?"
In a letter published over the weekend on the Berkeley Daily Planet's website (which, in other news, still exists) Berkeley resident Carol Denney, who also spoke at last week's council meeting, and who lives near the new site, declared: "No good community partner would situate a marijuana dispensary and smoking lounge one storefront from a public library, even if there was no technical prohibition."
She went on to list nine more declarations. Another was: "No good community partner would situate a marijuana dispensary and smoking lounge closer than 600 feet to a Head Start school. And: "No good community partner would allow a marijuana dispensary to have a smoking lounge where employees will get heavy doses of involuntary exposure, a labor issue we thought we had won."
The problem here is that "technical prohibitions," also known as "ordinances," are how we formally determine whether someone is a good community partner. Anything else a business might do to ingratiate itself with the community is just gravy. And the Berkeley Patients Group has poured a lot of gravy. It's been operating since 1999, and is the country's oldest cannabis dispensary. Thanks to the lingering stigma of pot, and the simple fact that a lot of people simply aren't yet used to the idea of cannabis businesses operating in their neighborhoods, those businesses, if they are to succeed, have to make a special effort to burnish their images. BPG's "$1 Million for Good" campaign, which focuses on giving to local nonprofits such as the Berkeley Humane Society, the Women's Cancer Research Center, and the Berkeley Free Clinic, is part of its overall effort to be a good neighbor.
And most interested parties seem to think the shop is a fine neighbor, judging by the dozens who turned out at the council meeting in support of the ordinance.
But even in Berkeley, the "What about the children?" approach dies hard.
Another thing that dies hard in Berkeley: red tape, especially when it comes to planning and zoning issues. It will be quite a while before anybody will be allowed to consume cannabis at BPG's new shop at 1101 University Ave., on the northeast corner of University and San Pablo, or at any other shop that wants to offer on-site consumption. The city staff must now draft rules for what constitutes an adequate ventilation system to clear smoke. And shops must obtain a use permit, which can take months. Finally, the council must draft a new ordinance so that smoking on site won't run afoul of the current ordinance that forbids smoking in public establishments.
The new space will be five times larger than BPG's current store at 2366 San Pablo Ave. That will allow the shop to go back to its roots by giving it the space it needs to offer massage, yoga, and other therapeutic services. It offered all that stuff at its original location at 2747 San Pablo Ave. until 2012, when the feds (under, it must be noted, President Obama) raided the place, seizing property and causing the landlord to boot the business.
Meanwhile, the Berkeley City Council delayed voting on what may be an even more controversial issue: whether to ban flavor-enhanced cannabis products, including vapes and beverages. If it does so, it will join governments across the country in freaking out over vaping products, both nicotine and cannabis. The lung ailment that afflicted people in several states last year, killing some and seriously debilitating many more, has, if anything, highlighted why such bans are self-defeating. Those illnesses and deaths were all, or nearly all, the result of people puffing on illicit cartridges made by useless wankers. Cannabis vapes sold in licensed stores, which undergo rigorous testing, are about as safe as such products can be. But the generalized anti-vape fever that has swept the nation in the wake of the outbreak is hard to break.
The group Legal Cannabis for Consumer Safety, which represents dozens of California cannabis businesses, sent a letter to the council urging it to reject the measure. One reason is simple logic, backed by research: If you ban flavored vapes, people will go to the illicit market, which is where the danger lies. "The data speaks for itself," the letter noted. "There are higher rates of vaping illnesses in municipalities and states where consumers do not have access to safe, legal, tested cannabis vape products."