The renovated lounge area at BPG. The frosted covering on the windows was removed to make the place feel airier and more open. Photos: Frances Dinkelspiel

After the Berkeley Patients’ Group’s plans to move into the old Sharffen Berger chocolate factory on Heinz and Seventh Street fell through in 2010, the medical cannabis dispensary turned its attention back onto its San Pablo Avenue home. If the organization, which serves hundreds of people a day, wasn’t going to be moving into larger digs, what could it do to make the experience better for patients?

In a word, remodel.

Over the last year, Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary has been sprucing up its space. It replaced its old razor wire fence with a handsome iron one, laid blond wood throughout the building, stripped off the frost window coverings, and set out sleek tables and chairs for people to relax in, hang out, and medicate. Berkeley architect David Trachtenberg helped with the plans.

In addition, BPG bought a building across the street and moved its social services – free acupuncture, massage, Pilates, and other services – there. The group is also constructing a new, freestanding lounge in its parking lot, which will give the staff of 75 a place to eat lunch and relax.

“One of the reasons for the remodeling is to better serve our patients,” said Brad Senesac, the group’s media spokesman.

The efforts have paid off. The East Bay Express named BPG “Best Dispensary Lounge,” in its 2011 Best of the East Bay edition.

BPG is not the only dispensary in Berkeley with a sense of style. The Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Berkeley, better known as CBCB, moved into a new building on Shattuck Avenue near Woolsey in late 2009. The structure had been a pet store that sold fish and aquarium supplies, and it needed to be completely redone. The members of the cannabis collective were instrumental in transforming the space, said Aundre Speciale, the executive director of the dispensary, which has about 3,500 members. The lounge is decorated with colorful couches and fringed umbrellas. There are two turntables on a counter, because a number of members who are DJs like to spin music, she said.

Berkeley’s third dispensary, the Patient’s Care Collective, has a colorful photo splashed against one wall, but there is no lounge because members cannot consume cannabis on site.

The entry into Berkeley Patients Group on San Pablo Avenue.
A BPG employee confers with a patient in the store area. Customers can buy cannabis plants, pipes, bongs, vaporizers, T-shirts, and more. The medical cannabis is distributed in a different section of the building.
Brad Senesac, director of communications, and Sean Luse, BPG's general manager, stand before the flat screen that advertises which strains of cannabis are available. BPG is about to launch its own line of edibles, including a macaroni and cheese plate.
Succulents adorn the outdoor entrance to the Berkeley Patients Group.
The lounge and dispensary of CBCB on Shattuck Avenue.
Interior of CBCB
Aundre Speciale, the director of CBCB.
The underwater mural on the exterior of CBCB reflects the building's former incarnation as a fish store.
The poster adorning one wall of Patients' Care Collective, which does not permit cannabis consumption on site.

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...