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: