Why Big Cannabis Wants Our Park

By Carol Denney

Carol Denney is a Berkeley songwriter, singer, and activist. She has a special concern with the damage that smoke inhalation causes to our lungs.

California is the cannabis industry’s largest legal market. 2018’s profits topped $10 billion. While local dispensaries cannibalize their local markets muting profits, the overall projection for the cannabis industry in 2019 is $16 billion, a combination of straight sales and ancillary investments fleshing out in jobs, deliveries, even tailored software packages. Visibility and a sense of normalcy are key, but “temporarily” lifting or eliminating smokefree protections are more than key; they are crucial.

The cannabis industry wants public consumption in restaurants and bars, special cannabis spas, on-site smoking at dispensaries, lounges, and massage parlors, and outdoor cannabis zones for fairs and trade shows. Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani even suggested at the March 12 meeting that the Doubletree Inn near Cesar Chavez Park host the proposed High Times’ “Cannabis Cup” indoors on their premises in her haste to back off her initial support for “unlimited” cannabis events in Cesar Chavez Park –situated in her district. This despite decades of hard-won smokefree protections for employees often fought for by casino dealers, maintenance workers, and entertainment industry musicians who often had to wheel up to their City Council’s podium dragging oxygen behind them.

One can be sure Councilmember Kesarwani hadn’t considered the matter from the point of view of the stagehand forced to inhale what amounts to years of theatrical, tobacco, and marijuana smoke opera by opera, but that’s just the problem. That big money the cannabis industry waves around gets in your eyes and obscures the fact that this bright idea had visited zero commissions. And this Cesar Chavez Park cannabis designation was inserted at the last minute in the middle of 90 pages of proposed dispensaries legislation.

The easiest, the most reasonable request of the council should come from all parties to this matter: sever the proposed Cesar Chavez Park cannabis designation from the 90 pages of proposed cannabis dispensary legislation and let it have the opportunity to do what the dispensary package did — travel through relevant commissions and include unheard community voices, especially public health voices. That is if there’s anybody left really eager to destroy Berkeley’s forward-thinking smokefree park protections on behalf of one of the wealthiest, well-heeled groups in existence.

The “temporary” permit process the Berkeley City Council is considering- again- at their meeting on April 2, 2019 is just the beginning. As important as decriminalization and safe access are, as useful as creams and lotions with cannabinoids may be to a ratio of citizens for ailments, the work we have to do here in Berkeley is serious. We need to address the probability of our high schoolers continuing to vape and smoke at twice the rate of other California high school students, a far higher probability than that any cannabis event in Cesar Chavez Park will be, even if so billed,  a stately, obediently smokefree affair as some of the council – even the mayor – are now suggesting with a straight face after experiencing a bit of public backlash.

We need signage in Berkeley to help the very low ratio of smokers in Alameda County who have a high ratio of supporting smokefree legislation and a high desire to comply with it– if they know what it is in the first place.  Most people in town, smokers or not, would fail any test that asked, what’s the nearest legal place to smoke? Especially considering that California’s recent law decriminalizing marijuana prohibits smoking it in public. Most people, even the Berkeley City Council and the local police, have no idea. And this is crucial information to have if you’re a student, employee, visitor, or customer who smokes.

We need education so that people understand that their attitude about tobacco or marijuana is irrelevant to their lungs, which are evolutionarily incapable of compromise. Not even next year are your lungs, no matter how hard they concentrate, going to be able to get what they need from the air they breathe and just skip the particulates.

Hear that high-pitched whine in the background? That’s the shrill insistence that nobody acknowledge the obvious: that recreational marijuana was the obvious driver of “medicinal” decriminalization in California. That any benefits- recreational or medicinal -pale in comparison to the information from any pulmonologist or cardiovascular specialist regarding the immediate and measurable damage from smoke, including marijuana smoke. That we in Berkeley find smoke everywhere we go in Berkeley and in most “smokefree” parks as well. Middle schoolers toke up before class in the alcove of the West Branch Library. Your neighbors think it doesn’t drift into your garden. The fellow who smokes by the children’s play structure daily in Strawberry Creek Park will just tell you the sign doesn’t apply to him, since his smoke is medicine.

Are our parks for sale? Is Cesar Chavez Park for sale? The letter from High Times dated November 27, 2018 and the subsequent race to insert accommodating legislation in the dispensaries proposal not only says yes. It says yes, how high?

Carol Denney’s Public Records Request produced this Nov. 27 2018 letter from High Times magazine to the Mayor’s office:

4 thoughts on “Why Big Cannabis Wants Our Park

  • March 17, 2019 at 12:59 pm
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    in thinking about this, it’s likely the local cannabis shop owners who are pushing this through. they complain about not enough business, or competing business, so they figure why not set up a vendor type situation at the marina, whether doubletree or outdoors in a “smoke free tent” – yeah, right that should work very well (sarcasm). they feel they are not making enough money so they want to expand their locations. expect “pop up” pot trucks coming soon around town!?
    also, this has the stink of a notoriously piggish dealer. no one knows about this, I put the word out and people are shocked
    why isn’t the press picking this up more? an OP piece on Berkeleyside is great, but we need it to be front page news as they are planning to sell out our park, and our much needed fresh air! which is no small thing around here. with tens of thousands more in the local population, there are few places people can go to get fresh air without being on top of BBQ’s, smokers, vapers, pot smokers, perfume wearers, round up in the east bay regional parks, etc
    it is really quite a place, I feel as though I am living in a daily nightmare, just trying to slug through each day without a fatal asthma attack. should the east bay times be alerted? where is the Berkeley press? maybe a letter in the daily cal? I will continue to alert people. Concerned about this April 2 vote. if they go with the hotel (isn’t it non smoking, so that would be breaking laws), people would still mill about the marina and CC Park blowing weed in everyone’s face. it’s not a good idea to bring this to the marina AT ALL
    Martin’s suggestion of Cow palace is a great one! or craneway pavilion, but not a public waterfront with clean air!

  • March 15, 2019 at 4:01 pm
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    we need thousands of people to start standing up to the Berkeley city council about this issue.
    we need children who are sick to come forward, we need parents who can’t take their kids to public parks and playgrounds due to vaping and smoke to speak up on April 2 at the Berkeley city council meeting.
    it’s unconscionable that this is even an issue in Berkeley, with it’s rich history of environmentalism and activism.
    I am ashamed of what they are trying to pull off, is cannabis money bribing them or giving them huge amounts of weed or cash? one certainly has to wonder at this point in time! and to have to wonder about that is truly disgusting. I truly wonder how things have become so evidently pointing towards the word “corrupt”. Thank you for speaking up everyone, please do so. the lungs you will save may be your own.

  • March 15, 2019 at 3:56 pm
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    I feel it’s a horrible idea. playgrounds often are full of pot smoke clouds, where can children with asthma play, or kids without respiratory issues “be kids” if not at playgrounds?
    why are they so determined to have non smoking parks and places become riddled with cancer causing chemicals and smoke?
    and why on earth does Rashi think putting it in an indoor hotel is going to be non hazardous? people work there for cripes sake. they don’t want workers comp cases or health problems from going to work one day being exposed to clouds of smoke
    WAKE UP BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL
    YOU ARE NOT DOING YOUR JOB
    CLEAN AIR SHOULD BE THE PRIORITY NOT GIVING CORP AND OTHER CANNABIS BUSINESSES THE BIG MONEY IN EXCHANGE FOR OUR CLEAN PARKS AND SPACES
    I am screaming because I am a frustrated grandparent with sick kids from smoke related asthma

  • March 15, 2019 at 3:52 pm
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    I agree with this totally. it’s shameful that smoking in ANY form is even being considered in public spaces and especially public parks. Thank you for this very informative article, the State park board has been alerted but so far nothing but let Berkeley be Berkeley kind of BS. AND IT IS TOTAL BS
    Berkeley should be standing up for clean air, not exemptions for smoking events!

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