Debby Goldsberry, who has just written a book about how to open and run a cannabis business, holds two marijuana plants. Photo: Mary Rees

Debby Goldsberry, co-founder of Berkeley Patients Group, wrote Idiot’s Guides: Starting and Running a Marijuana Business in a brisk five months, and it hit bookstore shelves in June.

The timing couldn’t be better, as the adult recreational use of marijuana becomes fully legal in California on Jan. 1. But that’s not what motivated Goldsberry, now executive director of Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, to write the book.

“I had just been reading an article that said the best way to build your brand is to write a book,” Goldsberry said, so she raised the idea with the Magnolia marketing director. On Facebook a few days later, one of her friends posted, “Does anyone want to write an Idiot’s Guide about starting and running a marijuana business?”

Spurred on by that coincidence, Goldsberry fleshed out the publisher’s skeletal table of contents, submitted a sample chapter, and won the book contract. She was off and running.

“My idea was to provide the best resource for our community that I could, and that meant going out to content experts and bringing them into the book, too,” Goldsberry said. “I did not write this thing all alone.”

For example, Goldsberry worked with the author of Drug War Facts for the chapter on state and federal laws. He had been researching and writing about the issue for a dozen years and had gathered all the data into one book, Goldsberry said.

Starting and Running a Marijuana Business describes the differences between dispensaries and cultivation facilities and discusses operating as a non-profit or for-profit business. It offers practical advice on topics such as setting up a welcoming reception area, raising initial capital (bank loans to marijuana businesses are almost unheard-of), training knowledgeable staff and adhering to local and state laws.

Though DK (Dorling Kindersley Limited), the publisher of Idiot’s Guides, came up with the idea and the initial table of contents, they also allowed Goldsberry some latitude.

She wanted to include information about the 10,000-year history of medical marijuana, for example, as well as the story of the struggle to end the prohibition on cannabis. The publisher let her do that.

“If you’re coming into the industry, you have to be a part of that struggle,” Goldsberry continued. “If we don’t change federal law, we don’t get marijuana businesses, so if you’re not ready for that fight, then you probably shouldn’t be here.”

“I’ve had the same basic philosophy my whole career: we’re fighting a prohibition on a plant that’s very helpful; it makes no sense,” Goldsberry said. “Government’s supposed to make laws based on science, logic, and fact, and instead they made a prohibition based on fear, a lack of science, and downright lies about the effects of medical marijuana.”

In 1999, Goldsberry co-founded the Berkeley Patients Group medical cannabis collective, Berkeley’s largest and best-known dispensary. It grew into an example of what a cannabis dispensary could be: a place that dispensed quality medicine, often at reduced costs to its lowest-income clients, as well as support services such as massage and yoga to help clients. BPG had about $15 million in annual sales and was the largest cannabis taxpayer in Berkeley. After 10 years with Berkeley Patients Group, Goldsberry left.

“I realized that my goal of ending prohibition required me to step outside of one brand,” Goldsberry said.

Goldsberry decided that helping people get permitted and regulated coincided with her personal goals. So she started a small-business management consulting company helping smaller collectives and smaller manufacturers get their licenses.

“When I left Berkeley Patients Group, it was with the idea that there’s Oakland licenses coming available, there’s Berkeley licenses coming available; if I leave the brand, I can maybe apply for both cities,” said Goldsberry.

Among those she has helped is Marc Weinstein, owner of Amoeba Music. Weinstein and his partners, who include Goldsberry, plan to open a medical cannabis dispensary called Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective, or BC3, next door to Amoeba Music on Telegraph Avenue. Goldsberry helped BC3 get its license – one of three new medical cannabis licenses issued by Berkeley – a process that took six years, said Goldsberry.

“Debby was there to really help consult with us,” Weinstein said. “She knows all about the laws and politics.”

Debby Goldsberry worked with Marc Weinstein of Amoeba Music to get a permit for a new Berkeley dispensary. Photo: Tom Dalzell

BC3 will be located in the building that used to house Amoeba’s classical music section. All of the Amoeba collections have been moved back into the original building, Weinstein said. The two buildings will have separate entrances.

They are “just about to break ground,” Weinstein said, “and we’re looking at a four-month construction period.”

Like the upcoming BC3 dispensary, most of the city’s dispensaries are in south Berkeley, Goldsberry said.

“If you know Berkeley, there’s certain neighborhoods that have this NIMBY attitude, not in my backyard, or they’re afraid, because of prohibition, that marijuana dispensaries bring crime,” Goldsberry said. “All of the data shows otherwise; dispensaries stop crime. And in fact our latest dispensary that opened in Oakland [at Telegraph and 33rd], they had a drastic drop in any kind of crime within a thousand feet of the dispensary.”

In addition to the increased street lighting, security guards, and people on the lookout around dispensaries, Goldsberry explained that people want their neighborhood dispensary to succeed.

“It’s good economically — it’s cool — we’re making marijuana legal! Everyone wants to be a part of that,” Goldsberry said. “We know what’s happening. Slavery ended; Jim Crow ended; marijuana prohibition started. That’s a crime; that’s what we all are working against: People of color in Oakland being sent to jail for nothing more than possessing or using cannabis.”

Overall, “Berkeley and Oakland are both great, because the city governments understand medical marijuana,” Goldsberry said. “They understand that the dispensaries are non-profit organizations in general that give back to the community. They’ve invested time and energy in making workable local regulations, leading up to workable state regulations.”

However, the California regulations for adult recreational use are still nebulous. In less than five months, cannabis for adults will be legal without a prescription, but state regulations for production, marketing and sales have not yet been hashed out.

One currently proposed regulation that Goldsberry says needs to change is the requirement that marijuana production facilities elect to serve only one market or the other — recreational users or medical cannabis users.

“If you choose to get a permit for adult-use for your manufacturing facility, you can no longer sell at the dispensaries only,” Goldsberry said. “Who’s gonna be left to supply the medical marijuana dispensaries…? Unless the state changes the regulations and says that your manufacturing facility can serve adult use and medical marijuana.”

In Washington, when the same stipulation to produce cannabis for just one market went into effect, all of the production facilities chose adult use, and now there is no medical marijuana left in the state.

Nonetheless, Goldsberry is optimistic that the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, in working with industry groups, existing manufacturers and dispensary businesses, will fix that one.

“The adult-use regulations come with large excise taxes and increased taxation rates. We don’t want to penalize our medical marijuana users,” Goldsberry said. “This is their medicine. It’s already so expensive and not covered by health care.”

Even after Jan. 1, the state regulations will likely need tweaking, Goldsberry said.

Marijuana businesses in California may still be vulnerable to federal prosecution if the state does not establish clear laws for its regulation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions intended to go after medical marijuana facilities, but the Senate Appropriations Committee voted this summer to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, which prevents the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses in states where medical marijuana has been legalized.

“They’re not supposed to spend money enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have strong state laws and regulations and the businesses are regulated by the state,” Goldsberry said. “That means they should be out of all these medical marijuana states, except California doesn’t have a strong state law yet, and none of us have state permits, so we’re kind of in a gray area.”

Sessions has also directed federal prosecutors to resume pursuing stiffer mandatory sentencing guidelines for drug infractions.

Despite federal law that criminalizes the use of marijuana, the National Institutes of Health have underwritten research on medical marijuana by an Israeli chemist for the last 50 years, according to U.S. News and World Report. The NIH recipient, Raphael Mechoulam, helped discover the human endocannabinoid system of receptors.

Further, the abstract of an NIH paper lists the various ailments which activating the endocannabinoid system can help treat. Among them are mood disorders, Huntington’s disease, hypertension, and osteoporosis, according to “The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy.”

Post-publication, there will be no book tour; the Idiot’s Guides publisher doesn’t do that. Instead, Goldsberry is focusing on the expansion of the Magnolia Wellness facilities in Oakland. Magnolia has acquired another 5,000 square feet that will be remodeled into “a marijuana-infused restaurant and performance space, [and] a vaporizing lounge,” Goldsberry said. They’re currently fundraising for the effort.

“My goal with Magnolia has been to ‘scale the model,’ so that we can provide an easy path for other companies,” said Goldsberry, “so we’re also doing small-business consulting for a number of companies who want to have their own dispensary and need expertise.”

Legalization of cannabis in California has already attracted the interest of big tobacco and big alcohol companies, which have tried to influence legislation in their favor. Goldsberry’s book may just help some of the smaller entrepreneurs stay in business.

“The book is really meant to identify that nexus, our own people who’ve been mom-and-pop or been in the industry and don’t have the skills yet to run their own company or start a company or to apply for their permits — the book is meant to be a step-by-step guide,” Goldsberry said. “But at the same time, it’s trying to teach the new entrepreneurs who are coming from the outside: there’s a philosophy here, and the philosophy is helping people, giving back, changing federal prohibition, ending prohibition, keeping families together, getting people out of prison; and if you’re not willing to do that, we don’t want your business.”

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