CannabisAfter Berkeley residents voted in 2010 to increase the number of medical cannabis dispensaries in town from three to four, it took the City Council six years to approve the first new one.

Two months later, the council is on the verge of approving another two new dispensaries, which means Berkeley may soon have six places to buy medical cannabis.

The rapid turnaround came in part because city council members were so impressed by the presentations made by the six finalists vying for the fourth spot, said City Councilman Kriss Worthington. He said the presentations were “compelling,” and the applications were very different from one another.

 “The council was reluctant until they saw the depth and breadth of the applications,” said Worthington.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage of medical cannabis.

Adding another two dispensaries will also add to the city’s coffers. In 2014, the existing three dispensaries contributed $638,938 in taxes, according to a staff report. Another three dispensaries would almost certainly generate several hundred thousand dollars in taxes annually.

Frances Sue Taylor, one of the founders of Berkeley iCann Health Center, addresses the Medical Cannabis Commission on Feb. 4. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Frances Sue Taylor, one of the founders of Berkeley iCann Health Center, addresses the Medical Cannabis Commission on Feb. 4. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

On May 10, the council selected iCann Health Center on Sacramento Street as the fourth dispensary. It will focus on providing medical cannabis to seniors. On July 12, the council voted to increase the number of permitted dispensaries in Berkeley from four to six. (Council members Lori Droste and Linda Maio abstained from the vote). There will be a second reading of the ordinance, as required by law, on Tuesday. At the same meeting the council will consider a measure to select another two dispensaries.

To help select the dispensaries, the Medical Cannabis Commission had ranked the six applications and had forwarded the top three to the City Council. The council is expected to select the other two finalists. They are the Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective at 2465 Telegraph Ave, an offshoot of Amoeba Music, long a mainstay on the avenue. The owners of Amoeba have said selling cannabis will allow them to support their record business. Many council members expressed support for their application in May. The other finalist is Berkeley Innovative Health, at 1229 San Pablo Ave.

The three other applicants are The Apothecarium at 2578 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley Women’s Cannabis Alliance, dba Blum Boutique, at 2067 University Ave. and The Cannabis Center at 1436 University Ave.

But the council’s unexpected decision to expand the number of dispensaries from four to six has prompted a number of people in the industry to call for the city to reopen the selection process.

Martin O’Brien, the co-founder and president of the Berkeley Patients Care Collective (PCC), the city’s oldest dispensary 2590 Telegraph Ave., wrote a letter to Mayor Tom Bates that said a new dispensary at Amoeba Records would destroy their business. Amoeba is only 612 feet away from PCC, said O’Brien. The collective, established in 2001, is struggling financially, he wrote. The collective gets 150 patients a day, recently expanded its staff from 12 to 33 people, and paid $80,000 in taxes to Berkeley last year, he said. O’Brien thinks there is a limited market for medical cannabis in Berkeley and Amoeba would certain take a chunk of that market, which might irreparably harm PCC, he said. The market is about $40 million a year; PCC has about 12% of that market.

“Locating BCC in Amoeba Music is analogous to a new Walmart opening a few hundred feet from a Mom and Pop retailer,” O’Brien wrote. “It may be legal for a larger business to force a smaller one to close, but that scenario does not reflect the values of our city or our hopes for the future of our Telegraph Avenue neighborhood. That is exactly what we feel would happen if BCC are allowed to open at that location.”

Debby Goldsberry, who is part of the team working to get Ameoba a dispensary license, said her team has been taken by surprise by PCC’s opposition. Until recently, PCC had never expressed any concern that there might be two dispensaries close together.

“There is, in fact, no proof that having dispensaries near each other limits the ability of any to serve,” Goldsberry wrote in Berkeleyside’s comment section. “In San Francisco, there are three dispensaries near Mission and 4th, and all are always busy. In Denver, dispensaries work together to point out each other’s locations and to build great neighborhoods. In Berkeley and Oakland, both have eliminated laws requiring dispensaries to locate any distance apart, as in dense cities, this is the way many services are moving.”

O’Brien also pointed out that opening the selection process again would ensure that the dispensaries are more geographically diverse than they are now. Most are clustered in the south part of Berkeley, he wrote.

Another person pushing to reopen the selection process is Charles Pappas, the chair of the Medical Marijuana Commission. Pappas had a dispensary in San Francisco for years, but he had to close it after U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag cracked down on marijuana operations too close to schools. Pappas submitted an application to open a dispensary in Berkeley, but city staff ruled that it was incomplete by the deadline, Pappas’ application was disqualified for what he regards as a technicality. He would like the council to reopen the process so he can resubmit, he said.

See the list of all six dispensary applicants, and find links to their applications to learn more.

This story has been updated to include comments by Debby Goldsberry.


Berkeley names iCann as the fourth cannabis dispensary (05.11.16)
Berkeley commission shortlists 3 for cannabis dispensary (02.05.16)
Finalists pitch for Berkeley’s fourth cannabis dispensary (02.01.16)
6 groups vying for dispensary permit hold meetings (11.10.16)

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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...