Blunted: A Night At The Circus

Image: Plump Med
Blunted: A Night At The Circus
Image: Plump Med

Members of 40 Acres (FAMM) Address City Council Members at Berkeley City Hall

On Wednesday, November 13, I drove on over to the lovely village-like City of Berkeley, to attend a rally in support of 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Collective (FAMM) and to cover the City Council meeting, which this particular evening was open to the public. It was a highly-charged evening with everything you could imagine at a Berkeley town meeting and more. From live drumming on the lawn of City Hall (like you only hear in Berkeley) while inside the hall there were shouts, cries and emotional outpourings.

I heard well-spoken folks with lots of good points, opposition from folks that seem afraid, confused and ill-informed. I reacted with boo’s and applause. It was, in short, a total emotional roller coaster. Then, of course, I witnessed politicians shmoozing, soapboxing, shaking hands and kissing babies. At times, it seemed to drag on forever. I was warm and got really thirsty. It was kind of ridiculous and fascinating at the same time. It was like a night at the circus. I even slipped out and grabbed a hot dog during “intermission”, in the spirit of the occasion.

There were two matters on the agenda that evening: Items no. 20 and 22. To read the entire agenda for that evening, click here for the details of the items. Item 20: Supporting Oakland’s Lawsuit to Stop Seizure of Property of Oakland Medical Marijuana Dispensary & 22: Perfect Plants Patient Group – 2840-B Sacramento Street – Public Hearing and Determination Regarding a Public Nuisance under BMC Chapter 23B.64).

These items were of particular interest to Medical Marijuana (MM) patients who live in Berkeley, as well as folks who commute from quite far (Concord, Vallejo for example) to Berkeley for safer access to purchase their medicine, as well as to have a safe smoking space in which to take their medicine. Item 22 addressed 3PG – one of four dispensaries / collectives remaining in operation in Berkeley, and it was being decided if it should remain shut down by the City Council due to being a “nuisance”.

The other item (#20) was suggesting we ‘lend out’ our city attorney, to Oakland to assist Oakland with their illegal seizures and closures of Oakland dispensaries. There were raids performed upon legal places of business in Oakland and Berkeley earlier this year by Federal agents. These raids crippled the very heart of the medical marijuana community, by shutting down Oaksterdam University, threatening Harborside Medical and other credible dispensaries and collectives with eviction and closures.

I actually spoke on this item. I said that, “Although, I want to support our neighbors in their efforts to fight the Feds and I want everyone protected from these threats.” I said that, “I felt it ridiculous that while we here in Berkeley are experiencing such hardships in gaining safe access to our medicine, that we should resolve our problems in our homefront first (Berkeley) before lending our our attorney to fix problems in our backyard (Oakland).”

Before these items were formally addressed, there was an opportunity for five people who won a lottery-type drawing, to speak for a timed one minute – on whatever non-agenda subject they chose. If you were chosen, you could also waive your time to others, to allow them to continue speak and make their point. It was a very interesting process – and although time-consuming, it is helpful to hear everyone’s opinions so that we can build together in finding solutions that work for everyone. Also it’s a great exercise in working to get your point across concisely and with conviction in a really short period of time.

During the open agenda period, Chris Smith and Toya Groves in favor of clarifying zoning laws, accepting FAMM’s offer to pay sales taxes to the city on their revenue, and asked city council to stop harassing collectives and dispensaries who are doing their best to work within the confines of the laws, no matter how restrictive, cryptic and ever-morphing the laws may be. They each spoke with their own distinct style and both made excellent points regarding these and other issues.

Others asked: How is it that California can now be so behind other states in their recognition of medical AND recreational marijuana as a revenue stream that could have every state getting out of deficit budgets and bankruptcies into an excellent positive revenue flow? Now, other states are making California look antiquated instead of being the forerunner in MM laws and regulation.

In terms of Item No. 22, honestly, I was so surprised and discouraged at the vivid divide I witnessed amongst the residents of Berkeley. The divide is old residents v. new residents. The divide is perhaps income based and therefore standard of living based? The divide seemed to be – black and white. That’s what really upset me. The newer residents of South Berkeley, where the 3PG was doing business, have no idea what this neighborhood was like twenty years ago – even ten years ago. This historically has always been one of the busiest areas in Berkeley for drug dealings, prostitution and other street activity.

To hear the newer residents of this neighborhood complain about litter from 3PG, and people ‘hanging out’ on the corner, the ‘increased’ activity on the block was disturbing to them and their families. NEWSFLASH – things are getting better in that neighborhood. The Medical Marijuana dispensary has very little to nothing to do with the increase of crime in the area. One of the speakers went so far as to try to connect a deadly shooting to the operation of 3PG, when the particular block where 3PG operated, is notorious for gang activity and shootings. Further, according to this report, the scuffle happened with two customers leaving Bob’s Liquor store on the corner. It’s been proven time and again that alcohol is much more an instigator of violent crimes than Marijuana.

I wish there was a place we could come to as a community on these issues. I feel we must first stop living in fear. And I ask that newer community who has moved into Berkeley – are you open to co-existing? Co-exist with the residents of longer tenure, co-exist with the marijuana collectives and dispensary that have every legal right to exist and do business wherever they are allowed to by ever-changing zoning laws and other regulating factors? Berkeley has always been about co-existing – and communicating – and coming together through our diversity.

Another side of the issue is safe access. Did you know, that because a Section 8 or government assisted dwelling is considered ‘federal’ property and therefore, smoking a joint – even legally purchased and a registered patient, within subsidized housing it is considered a federal offense? Few places remain in Berkeley – like 40 Acres (FAMM) as well as 3PG provide ‘safe smoking access’.

I’ve seen it first hand. 40 Acres provides a safe place where everyone from every neighborhood can come together in a relaxed environment to take their medicine in peace and comfort. I needn’t repeat the incredible benefits and pain relief medical marijuana can provide. It literally levels the playing field and brings all people from all walks of life together to share in taking their medicine. Why would anyone want to stop people from being able to safely access and take their medicine?

I also wish that the City Council and the community at large would see the benefits and incredible revenue boost available to the City of Berkeley, by simply allowing the dispensaries and collectives that are already in existence to continue to do business without harassment or further molestation, and have them pay a sales tax on their profits. The zoning laws have changed often and many dispensaries have had to shut down or have been raided and shut down. Only three collectives are currently in operation in Berkeley – and Mayor Bates wonders why 40 Acres has six thousand members in its collective? Supply and demand, Mayor, supply and demand!

Collectives propose that a percentage of the tax revenues they wish to pay to the City be used in educational and after-school programs, as this seemed a sector of people who need more attention and facilities. Also collectives propose using some of that revenue to provide safe places for teens after school, as well as homeless teens and families. The amount of money the City could collect from the sales tax revenue stream on collectives and dispensaries, especially if they allowed more to come back into existence within city limits – could really help fund so many needed programs in Berkeley that would re-catalyze the community and give Berkeley the boost it needs to view itself once again as a progressive and forward-moving city.

Words by Carmen Guttierez

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