On Tuesday, May 17, 2016, the El Cerrito City Council considered whether or not to accept applications for a retail cannabis dispensary in order to provide a facility in El Cerrito for patients eligible to purchase medical marijuana.

This is an important issue for El Cerrito; other cities, such as Oakland and Richmond, are collecting significant sales tax revenue from cannabis dispensaries.  However, there are intrinsic public safety issues.  

The City Council agenda described the item as follows:

Councilmembers Quinto and Friedman request that the council discuss the current prohibition on medical marijuana facilities and the potential impact of the likely passage of a ballot initiative in November 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana use. The item is for discussion and direction only. There is a request to permit a new facility to open on San Pablo Avenue at the former Taco Bell site on the north end of town. It is widely expected that the ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use will pass in November. By lifting the prohibition and permitting one medical marijuana facility we are able to exercise control, set conditions, and negotiate a substantial tax on gross receipts of the facility. If the City maintains the prohibition and does nothing and the initiative passes the City could quite likely have less control and would likely earn much less revenue. The purpose of the study session is to engage the public and City Council in a discussion in the pros and cons of fast-tracking the proposed facility, which would be called the El Cerrito Wellness Center. Depending on the direction of staff, the current prohibition on medical marijuana facilities would need to be revised and replaced. In the words of Councilmember Friedman, “Having a well run medical marijuana facility in El Cerrito will serve our citizens who need marijuana who currently have to go elsewhere, and provide a significant revenue stream to our city for years to come.”

Several ECDC members commented, including Al Miller, Kip Crosby, Hilary Crosby, Rochelle Pardue Okimoto, and Paul Fadelli.

Mr. Miller’s primary concern was “that the applicant wants to be the only dispensary in town, and, while we may only want one, we should be the ones who choose that one, not the applicant, even if we end with a lower tax rate. I was also very unimpressed with the quality of the draft ordinance/resolution they provided. I think that if they can not even provide a proper document, how are they going to be able to run a complicated business? That said, I think a Medical MJ Dispensary in town…would be a good thing. Related concerns, such as the proposed Adult Recreational MJ proposition, will no doubt be addressed as this process continues.”

Mr. Crosby addressed the ways medical marijuana can alleviate the suffering of mood disorders. Ms. Okimoto is a nurse; she said, “Patients should be able to access all treatments for their ailments.  Medical marijuana helps to alleviate many symptoms.  For example, pain, appetite, and nausea, are just a few of the symptoms relieved by cannabis.  The time has come to leave behind 20th century thought on cannabis and move into the 21st century.  While drug companies make millions on the suffering of others, it is time to allow a cost effective medical treatment to alleviate the suffering of our fellow citizens.”

Ms. Crosby addressed the fact that “since legal cannabis is ipso facto less expensive than illegal cannabis, even adding sales tax to the product does not increase the cost.”  She pointed out that legally sold cannabis is “the only product that costs less even after being taxed, unlike other products for which levying a sales tax increases the cost to the consumer.”

Mr. Fadelli was concerned that the proposed site, the currently vacant Taco Bell store at the Richmond/El Cerrito border on San Pablo, would place a retail cannabis facility at the gateway to our city.

Ms. Crosby was also concerned that only one vendor had been invited to propose to the council.  However, Sean Donahoe, who was the featured guest speaker at the El Cerrito Democratic Club last August delivering a Capitol insider perspective on the historic Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act overwhelmingly passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor last fall, provided the Council with information.

Mr. Donahoe co-founded a statewide trade association over three years ago, and has spent many weeks on the road through California, assisting cities and counties in crafting policy reform to provide regulated access to medical cannabis.

He pointed out that

El Cerrito, being limited in geography and with neither an industrial nor agricultural base to speak of, obviously would be best served by a storefront dispensary. The cities of Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland presently provide medical cannabis access to the region, as well as countless state-compliant (but locally not authorized) medical cannabis delivery services. Richmond and Oakland are moving to explicitly authorize delivery services in the coming months. I would make the case that El Cerrito would best be served by considering a prospective medical cannabis dispensary operator that has a proven track record in two crucial fields in today’s (and tomorrow’s) medical cannabis industry: advanced, consistent retail operations in heavily regulated jurisdictions, and advanced product development and formulation.

In the coming weeks and months I would like to introduce to the community a prospective dispensary team that will bring several decades of experience in these unique fields. One of the prospective partners has been a resident of the city of El Cerrito for over two years and has invested in raising a family in a place that also offers a superior option for medical cannabis products and consultation in a safe retail experience. This team has developed proprietary, standardized medical cannabis formulations that have already undergone clinical evaluations, and a variety of medical products, including water-soluble and aerosolized delivery mechanisms, that represent the future of the medical and adult use cannabis industry. These products benefit from long-term working relationships with the leading nutritional and cannabis testing professionals in the world, many of whom will serve on our Advisory Board. They have substantial, well-established retail and cultivation operations in multiple parts of California and Nevada. These retail operations have been secured after both multiple Conditional Use Permit as well as competitive merit-based processes in respective cities. The proposed operators wish to partner with the city to provide a comprehensive approach to providing a continuum of care to patients in El Cerrito and the surrounding area. The proposed operators have excellent existing community relations and community benefits programs, including organizing historic industry support for youth centers. At this point this evening I wish to urge the Mayor and City Council to move forward on this important issue and humbly request that the best operators be considered to provide world-class medicine, solid retail operations, and proven community benefits for El Cerrito.

Successful resolution of this matter promises significant improvement to the finances of El Cerrito. Please consider this article prefatory to a motion encouraging our City Council to take prompt additional action.

Hilary Crosby
President, ECDC