Debby Goldsberry: a BPG founder and one of three people who have applied to open a cannabis dispensary in Albany

In a sign of the growing professionalization of the medical cannabis industry, Mark Rhoades and Ali Kashani, the owners of the Berkeley development company Citycentric Investments, have teamed up with Debby Goldsberry, a founder of the Berkeley Patients Group, to open a number of medical marijuana facilities around the East Bay.

Rhoades, Kashani, and Goldsberry have applied to open a cannabis dispensary in Albany and are planning to apply to open another in Oakland.

On Saturday, at the California NORML conference in Berkeley, the trio advertised their plans for a new Oakland collective they hope will combine an aesthetically appealing space with a large range of social services. They hung up a big banner on the second floor of the David Brower Center announcing the ARCH Collective, which stands for the Angel’s Retreat for Cannabis Health, to solicit prospective members.

There are only two large dispensaries in the East Bay, Harborside Health Center and BPG, and they are both over capacity, said Goldsberry. Since the rest of the dispensaries in the East Bay are small, there is an urgent need for a new large facility that can accommodate the growing number of medical cannabis patients, she said.

“There’s a war on drugs out there,” said Goldsberry, who along with Rhoades was a speaker at the conference, which looked at next steps for marijuana laws in California. “We want to make a gathering place that people feel comfortable hanging out in. We want to create a place to retreat, a place to come and get healthy, get recharged and then go out back in the world.”

Mark Rhoades

Goldsberry, Rhoades, and Kashani represent a new breed of medical marijuana entrepreneurs: people expert in land use policy, non-profit work, and running cannabis collectives. It’s a set of services that is growing in demand as more states adopt medical marijuana laws and as more people try to navigate the byzantine laws permitting medical marijuana in California.

The three are not the only ones exporting their Berkeley expertise. Becky DeKeuster, the former community liaison for the Berkeley Patients Group, and Tim Schick, a former director the CEO of BPG, won permission in August 2010 to establish four medical cannabis facilities in Maine. Brad Senesac, the spokesman for BPG, and other BPG staff members are planning to provide paid consulting services to DeKeuster’s Northeast Patients Group. BPG also assisted in the opening of two dispensaries in southern California. They have both One has since closed.

Kashani and Rhoades also provided consulting services to Remedia, a group that is vying to open Napa’s first medical cannabis dispensary, according to Rhoades.

Rhoades, who served as Berkeley’s city planning manager for nine years and did a short stint on the Medical Marijuana Commission, said his interest in land use policies led him to join forces with Kashani and Goldsberry. Rhoades, who was both lauded and criticized during his time in Berkeley government for his embrace of “smart growth” – placing high density mixed residential and retail development near transit corridors — said medical marijuana dispensaries have the potential to enhance commercial districts. Dispensaries are a high-volume business, he said. The Berkeley Patients Group on San Pablo Avenue, which has about 13,000 members, draws 800 to 1,000 people each day to its facility. Those people also might be lured to stay in the area and shop.

“There is no other business in Berkeley that has one-third the volume of foot traffic BPG has,” said Rhoades. “Here’s a use that is better than a café or anything we have thought of in drawing people to your commercial district.”

Rhoades’ group has secured a site for a 2,000 square-foot medical cannabis dispensary in an industrial area of Albany on Cleveland Avenue, he said. The trio, along with Angel McClary Raich, a well-known medical cannabis advocate, have looked at various sites in Oakland for the ARCH collective but have not leased anything yet since they do not have a permit.

The Oakland City Council passed a law last year allowing for the permitting of four industrial grow facilities. The legality of those industrial grow sites is in limbo, however, until Oakland amends portions of the ordinance to comply more closely with state law. The city council will take up the matter again on Tuesday.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...