Members of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission, (left-right) Michael Cooper, Stewart Jones, Karen Marie Rice, Damond Tims, Tina Ferguson and Charles Pappas, heard pitches from six dispensaries Jan. 28. Photo by Lisa Tsering
Members of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission,(l to r): Michael Cooper, Stewart Jones, Karen Marie Rice, Damond Tims, Tina Ferguson and Charles Pappas, heard pitches from six dispensaries Jan. 28. Photo: Lisa Tsering

By Lisa Tsering

One offered expanded services to senior citizens living with chronic illness. Another pledged to provide strict round-the-clock security. Still another promised free yoga and group therapy.

The competition is down to the wire for six medical marijuana dispensary owners vying for a chance to become Berkeley’s latest medical cannabis destination. The city, which is now home to three medical cannabis dispensaries, opened up bids for its fourth and final location following the passage of Measure T in 2010, and has winnowed it down to six final applicants in six different locations around the city.

Representatives from the six businesses presented 10-minute pitches before the city’s Medical Cannabis Commission Jan. 28 at the North Berkeley Senior Center. (Read their applications in detail.)

Below are the final six applicants, in the order presented Jan. 28:

Ryan Hudson, executive director of The Apothecarium in San Francisco, hopes to open a branch of his medical marijuana dispensary in Berkeley. Photo by Lisa Tsering
Ryan Hudson, executive director of The Apothecarium. Photo: Lisa Tsering
Ryan Hudson, executive director of The Apothecarium. Photo: Lisa Tsering

The Apothecarium

Ryan Hudson, executive director of the upscale The Apothecarium in San Francisco’s Castro District, explained that he first became interested in medical marijuana when he was a patient suffering from chronic pain and couldn’t find a dispensary where he felt comfortable. Hudson, who if approved would situate the new dispensary at 2578 Shattuck Ave. between Blake and Parker streets, said he aims to make it an especially friendly place for senior citizens and first-time patients.

“One-third of our patients are over the age of 55,” he said, adding, “We are committed to helping first-time patients during a difficult time of life.”

Like the San Francisco location, the Berkeley Apothecarium would also feature a wide range of free offerings to the community, including yoga classes, veterans’ support groups and workshops, he said.

Blüm Boutique

Salwa Ibrahim. Photo: Lisa Tsering
Salwa Ibrahim. Photo: Lisa Tsering

Salwa Ibrahim, executive director of the Berkeley Women’s Cannabis Alliance, would head the proposed Blüm Boutique at 2067 University Ave. between Shattuck and Milvia. Ibrahim — dubbed the Cannabis Queen by the Female Entrepreneurs Institute — has worked for the development of Oakland’s Uptown district, worked for Oaksterdam University, and now runs Blüm Oakland, serving what she terms “unusual and boutique” strains of marijuana to around 800 patients per day.

“We believe that security matters,” she said. “Our training and development are led by a retired [Oakland Police Department] watch commander, and we retain a perfect track record – which for Oakland, is kind of hard.” Blüm Oakland has not received any criminal complaints over its three years in business, Ibrahim said.

Blüm Oakland, with $14 million in annual revenues, was acquired in January by Terra Tech, a publicly-traded cannabis company “that touches every aspect of the cannabis lifecycle—from cultivation to extraction, to branding, and now, with the acquisition of Blum, to retail sale,” Derek Peterson, the CEO of Terra Tech,said in a statement.

The Cannabis Center

The Cannabis Center would be located at 1426 University Ave. west of Sacramento Street, said founder Ryan Monsanto, who also ran the Hercules Health Center, the first union dispensary to register with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

The Hercules Health Center was forced to move out of its original location in February 2015 and again in May, when the building’s owner evicted it, claiming the center described itself as a holistic healing center and didn’t disclose that it was a marijuana dispensary.

Like the Hercules dispensary, TCC’s Berkeley center would provide a hyberbaric chamber, chiropractic treatments, oxygen therapy and massage therapy free to its members, Monsanto told the board. Monsanto vowed to keep strict security measures in place in Berkeley, and to institute a “neighborhood compatibility plan” that would include providing patrol in a two-block radius of the center during its hours of operation, 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.

iCann Health Center 

The director of senior programs of the proposed Berkeley iCann Health Center at 3243 Sacramento St. near Alcatraz Avenue is Frances Sue Taylor, a Berkeley resident who is on the board of the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging. A grandmother of three, Taylor is an impassioned advocate for providing medical marijuana to senior citizens, and travels around the county providing education to a demographic she says is underserved by the cannabis industry.

Part of the challenge, she said, is that seniors are reluctant to try marijuana. “They need it, but they’re afraid of it. We grew up with ‘Reefer Madness,’” she told the board.

Kitshwa (Kiki) Genama, Taylor’s daughter-in-law, who would serve as general manager of the Berkeley center, explained that iCann would be affiliated with, and mentored by, CRAFT Industries LLC, which runs the popular CRAFT Collective cannabis delivery service.

Berkeley Compassionate Care Center

Dave Prinz, co-owner of Amoeba Music on Telegraph Avenue, hopes to open a marijuana dispensary in the same block as the store. Photo by Lisa Tsering
Dave Prinz, co-owner of Amoeba Music on Telegraph Avenue, hopes to open a marijuana dispensary in the same block as the store. Photo: Lisa Tsering

Amoeba Music is the genesis of the Berkeley Compassionate Care Center, which would be located at what co-founder Dave Prinz describes as the “epicenter of the counterculture of the East Bay,” at 2465 Telegraph Ave., in the same block as the music store.

“We understand the intricacies, issues and difficulties of running a successful business in Berkeley,” Prinz told the board. The dispensary would be run by Debby Goldsberry, a longtime voice of the medical marijuana movement, a former founding member of the Berkeley Patients; Group, and a board member of NORML, a nonprofit that has worked to legalize marijuana since its founding in 1970.

Prinz pledged to install high-resolution cameras and employ high-end video storage and retrieval systems. “This part of Telegraph Avenue has been problematic for the neighborhood for decades in terms of loitering, vagrancy, low-level crime harassment and street dealing,” he told the commission. “A dispensary at this location can greatly help this situation with the increased security presence it would provide.”

Prinz also made a point to mention that his was the only purely local Berkeley interest. “All other applicants are either from out of town or funded by out-of-state money,” he said.

Berkeley Innovative Health

Berkeley Innovative Health would use the “most cutting-edge technology” and provide patients with “lab-tested, high-quality medicine” at its location at 1229 San Pablo Ave., between Gilman and Harrison streets, noted Shareef El-Sissi. He would own and operate the dispensary with Soufyan Abou-Ahmed and would model it after their Garden of Eden dispensary in Hayward, he said.

The company — which uses a UC Berkeley-friendly blue and yellow logo, and uses a graphic of Cal’s campanile on its written materials — has created a proprietary software to help customize patients’ care and prescriptions. The software will also prevent “diversion” (the unauthorized sharing of medical marijuana) with a feature called Track & Trace, said El-Sissi.

“This is not just a retail business,” El-Sissi told the board. “We are in the business of compassion.”

As reported earlier, each applicant had to pay an $878 application fee, submit to a criminal history check by the Berkeley Police Department; secure a location that fit Berkeley zoning codes; submit financial projections and a business plan; complete a medical cannabis competency test and detail the types and forms of medical cannabis they would offer patients.

The MCC reserved the Jan. 28 meeting for applicant presentations, Q&A from the commission and public comment. The commission will discuss the applications Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. at the Redwood and Sequoia Rooms in City Hall. The MCC will then rank the applications and send their recommendation to the city council, which is expected to select a dispensary by mid-year.

For more information, visit the city’s website.

This article was updated when Berkeleyside learned that Terra Tech had acquired Blüm Oakland.

6 groups vying for dispensary permit hold meetings (11.10.15)
Berkeley cannabis selection process proceeds despite mayor’s suggestion to stop process (10.30.15)
11 groups vie to open Berkeley’s fourth cannabis dispensary (05.06.15)
12 apply to operate Berkeley’s fourth cannabis dispensary (03.24.15)

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