Smoking, vaping and consuming cannabis will once again be allowed in the city’s dispensaries, the Berkeley City Council decided Tuesday.
The council voted unanimously to permit cannabis lounges in storefront retailers (previously referred to as dispensaries) after dozens of people spoke in favor of a practice that was once legal but became prohibited after Berkeley enacted stronger smoking laws.
Councilmembers talked about how cannabis lounges would allow people who are banned from smoking in their apartments or workplaces to have a spot where they could consume marijuana, and how the lounges would create community.
A few people opposed the change, in part because it would be exposing workers to secondhand smoke.
Consumption won’t start immediately, however. The council asked staff to return with rules on what kind of ventilation systems must be installed to clear the lounges of harmful smoke and product. A use permit will also be required before lounges open — a process that can take up to a year.
The council will also have to vote to change the city’s smoking laws before allowing the vape lounges to operate.
The approval of on-site vaping was one of a number of votes the council took to update Berkeley’s municipal laws. City staff has been working on updating and enhancing cannabis regulations since the summer of 2017, and the council has voted twice since then to update various regulations. The council still has to vote about how to choose a seventh, equity dispensary, meaning licenses will be given to those who have been disproportionally impacted by the war on drugs.
The new rules, adopted Jan. 28, include:
- Berkeley will allow seven delivery-only cannabis businesses. Four of those will be equity businesses. Three licenses will go to non-equity businesses. These businesses must locate in the “M” or manufacturing district in West Berkeley and must be 300 feet from any schools or youth centers. Current law allows storefront retailers to have delivery options. Berkeley residents can already get cannabis delivered to them by businesses that operate outside of Berkeley.
- The buffer zone between middle and high schools and storefront cannabis businesses will increase from 600 to 1,000 feet. The new regulations add a 600-foot buffer zone to six youth centers and skate parks as well. This won’t impact the proposed seventh Berkeley dispensary, reserved for equity businesses. But it will impact any dispensary that moves. The council said it will revisit this rule in three years.
- A requirement to post a new warning in storefront operations on top of the five already required. The new sign will warn of the intoxicating effects of cannabis, how it can impair someone’s ability to drive or operate machinery, and the dangers of consuming cannabis while young or pregnant.
- New companies will not be allowed to display their logos outdoors if they incorporate cannabis leaves. This is grandfathered in, so it does not impact existing businesses. The council did not impose the same rule on packaging because the state already has strict rules on this. Last year, the council voted to prohibit the depiction of cannabis leaves or products on exterior signs.
The City Council declined to expand the area in which commercial cannabis-grow businesses can operate. Voters agreed in 2010 to allow these kinds of businesses in Berkeley’s “M” or manufacturing zone. Nobody has applied for a permit yet, leading some cannabis activists to push to allow those businesses in the “MULI” or “MM” districts.
The council also put off banning the sale of artificially flavored cannabis and cannabis-infused drinks at storefront retailers. Council also asked city staff to more fully explore the issue and return with a more fleshed-out definition.
The council voted unanimously to adopt Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s motion on which items to accept. City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn was out sick.
Update: Jan. 31: The article was updated after publication to state that Berkeley will require a use permit rather than an administrative use permit for a storefront retailer to open a vape lounge.