A bulldozer rips up the parking lot at the new San Pablo Avenue home of Berkeley Patients Group. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

[Article is updated at the bottom.]

Three months after the federal government forced it from its long-term home on San Pablo Avenue, the Berkeley Patients Group has found a new location just a few blocks away.

Construction crews have been working to transform a small, dilapidated one-story building at 2366 San Pablo Avenue near Channing Way into BPG’s new dispensary. On Wednesday, a bulldozer was breaking up an asphalt parking lot and workers were hauling away debris.

Berkeley Patients Group declined to answer questions about its new location, but it looks like it will be many weeks or months before it can open. In a permit application submitted to the city by Sean Luse, one of BPG’s managers, the dispensary applied for permission to replace its parking lot and renovate the 1,200 square foot building, including cutting new doors to make it accessible for those in wheelchairs. The structure was built in 1964 as an A&W drive-in restaurant.

The new home of Berkeley Patients Group on San Pablo Avenue Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

BPG is scheduled to present its plans to the Medical Cannabis Commission in September and show how it will comply with health and safety laws, according to Elizabeth Greene, a city planner who staffs the commission.

“Staff is aware that BPG has selected a new location which it would like to open as soon as possible,” Greene said in an email to Berkeleyside. “Part of that process involves an MCC review of how the relocated dispensary will meet Berkeley’s medical cannabis dispensary safety and operational standards; the purpose of the review is to allow the commission to advise staff whether BPG’s strategy for compliance with these standards at the relocated site is appropriate.”

BPG had to leave its location at 2747 San Pablo Avenue after the US Attorney Melinda Haag sent a letter to the building’s owner, threatening to seize the property if he did not evict the dispensary. Haag contended that BPG was located within 1,000 feet of a school, which made it illegal under California guidelines.

The eviction was part of a large-scale plan by four California U.S. Attorneys to clamp down on medical cannabis sales. Medical marijuana advocates estimate that more than 400 dispensaries in northern California have closed because of the federal government’s actions, including Divinity Tree, a dispensary operated by Charlie Pappas, one of Berkeley’s medical cannabis commissioners. Just recently, Haag sent a letter to the owner of the property housing Oakland’s Harborside Health, threatening to seize the land.

Rep Barbara Lee introduced a bill into Congress last week making it illegal to use forfeiture to shut down cannabis clinics.

The May closure of Berkeley Patients Group was only the latest indication of the turmoil surrounding the medical cannabis industry. Under current Berkeley law, only three dispensaries are permitted to operate: BPG, CBCB, and Berkeley Patients’ Collective, and they must operate in a commercial district. A law passed by voters in 2010 will allow the permitting of a fourth dispensary and the Medical Cannabis Commission is now drafting those guidelines.

But many cannabis operators have chosen to ignore Berkeley’s laws and open storefronts in commercial districts anyway without getting a permit. After scores of complaints, Berkeley moved in December to shut down two of these cannabis outlets, Forty Acres on San Pablo Avenue near University and 3PGs on Sacramento Street. Forty Acres shut briefly but has reopened and 3PGs has stayed open, despite fines levied by the city. At least one other cannabis operation opened on Dwight Way recently.

There has also been an increase in the number of delivery services for cannabis patients. After its closure, BPG started a delivery service, as did Forty Acres. Weedmaps.com describes a half a dozen such services in Berkeley.

Update, 6:30 pm: After this article was published, Berkeley Patients Group sent out a release about its new location. An excerpt is below and you can read the entire release here.

“Ample care was taken in selecting a relocation site that satisfies the requirements of both the city of Berkeley and the state of California while retaining convenient access for our patient members. BPG’s relocation site at 2366 San Pablo Avenue is located in a Commercial District. The site is more than 1000 feet aware from all elementary, middle and high schools, both public and private, and more than 1000 feet from the other two permitted dispensaries in Berkeley, exceeding the requirements detailed in BMC 23E. 16.070.”

The release goes on to say that BPG will put a trailer in the rear of the property to house administrative functions. It will construct an 8-foot, secure fence with locable gates. There will be 24-hour security around the building. Loitering around the building will not be tolerated.

Berkeley Patients Group earned $15m in 2009
Sadness surrounds closing of Berkeley Patients Group [05.01.12]
Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary to close May 1
Berkeley cannabis lawsuit reveals bitter infighting [7.18.11]
Berkeley Patients Group owes $6.4 million in back taxes [2.24.11]

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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...