The project to promote cannabis at the park, risen from the dead last week, ran into strong opposition at the City Council’s Health etc. committee this morning, and once again became motionless. One of its sponsors, Berkeley District 3 Councilmember Ben Bartlett, withdrew the item after public discussion. The other sponsor, District 2 Councilmember Cheryl Davila, did not attend the meeting.
Eight members of the public spoke against the proposal, citing variously the expected damage to the park and its visitors, the clean air and healthy lungs issue, the disconnect between marijuana promotion and the purpose of public parks, and the question whether City leaders should be advocating marijuana use at all. It was clear that being in favor of decriminalization does not equal being in favor of use.
The sole speaker in favor of the proposal was its sponsor, Kinshasa Taylor, who presented a plan that, she said, was independent of the High Times Cannabis Cup event. But the event Taylor detailed on a handout looked like an amateur knockoff. Instead of building an 8-foot high fence, like the High Times plan, Taylor proposed installing “barriers” on the same route, along Spinnaker Way from the Bay on the west all the way to the North Basin on the east, with a “Main” gate and a “VIP” gate. Taylor envisions a music stage, big tents in the off leash dog park, and six “Smoking Receptacles” scattered around the grounds. At the meeting, Taylor proposed that the City amend its No Smoking ordinance to allow smoking in the park for the duration of the event. Minors would supposedly be kept out, but how they would be stopped from jumping over the barriers, which are less than three feet high, was not explained.
There was no opportunity at the meeting to question Taylor about the financing for the event, which would require considerable investment, nor to ask about her prior experience in event organizing, about staff available to her, the price of admission, and the many other details that go into event planning. Taylor volunteered that she was the mother of twin girls aged 13 and that she sometimes had doubts whether cannabis promotion was the right thing for her to be doing, but that this “business opportunity” was irresistible.
In the discussion, the issue of “equity” was raised. Minority entrepreneurs have complained for some time that the City is shutting them out of the cannabis dispensary licensing process. Holding a cannabis promotion event in the park organized by an African-American woman such as Taylor, went the reasoning, would be an equity move. It was pointed out in response that the plan to promote marijuana in the park met the same opposition when a white organization, High Times, proposed it, and that there was no question of favoritism toward white entrepreneurs here. It was a bad idea regardless of who stood behind it.
It’s also clear that if this event, which Taylor dubbed “Cannaculture,” were held in the park, there would be no basis for denying a High Times Cannabis Cup event the following years. “Cannaculture” would be the big cannacamel’s nose under the tent flap.
In withdrawing the proposal, Councilmember Bartlett expressed the wish that the opposing parties would get together and find a compromise solution. There must be several suitable commercial spaces in Berkeley where such an event can be held.
As was the case when the agenda item for cannabis promotion in the park was dropped from the City Council agenda on April 30, this withdrawal is not necessarily the end of the cannabis promotion effort. There is big money behind cannabis promotion, and, like a zombie, it may seem to be dead, only to rise again in some other guise.