So Where Are All the Pot Shops?
By Adam Mann
For decades, Berkeley has been a national leader in progressive marijuana laws: the city allowed some of the country’s first medical cannabis dispensaries to open in 1996, and in February 2018, the City Council voted to declare itself a sanctuary for prosecution against legal cannabis. So with recreational pot now legal, why aren’t there more dispensaries here?
According to The Oregonian, Portland had 167 dispensaries in 2016, and Denver, as reported by Business Insider, is home to at least twice as many dispensaries as Starbucks coffee shops. While Berkeley’s population is about one-sixth of either of those cities, it’s notable that, in a city that led the country in access to legal marijuana, there are still only three places to legally buy pot: Berkeley Patients Group, Cannabis Buyers Club Berkeley and Patient’s Care Collective.
Outside of Berkeley Patients Group. Photo Credit: Adam Mann
Rather than the explosion of dispensaries that other cities in the West have experienced post legalization, Berkeley’s approach is far more measured. The city has a Cannabis Commission, comprised partly of cannabis industry members, which makes policy recommendations to the City Council. According to the Commission’s website, the city has granted just three licenses for new dispensaries since 2016.
Aundre Speciale, director of Cannabis Buyer’s Club Berkeley, praised Berkeley’s process in an interview with The BCC Voice.
“The city had the foresight to put rules in place long before most other cities,” Speciale said. “We’ve had to follow really strict guidelines — the strictest testing guidelines in the country — for years. We have regular medical cannabis commission meetings where we have a voice, there are submission meetings where anyone in the public can come. So with the state rules coming in, we’re already set.”
Still, there are clearly barriers to starting up in the pot business, which, Speciale says, is a problem with the way the law is currently structured.
“I wish there could be an easier entry for the small craft growers, the small boutique growers … I hope as we move forward there’s going to be more of a carve-out for that kind of thing, a niche for those people to continue operating the way they’re operating.”
Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective (BC3)
2465 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley, Calif.
If you’ve been in Amoeba recently and wondered where the section that once housed jazz and dollar clearance went: it was relocated to make room for BC3, a dispensary led by Berkeley Patients Group co-founder and major pot industry player Deb Goldsberry.
2578 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, Calif.
With one location in San Francisco, The Apothecarium is set to open a second branch on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley — though, according to a Berkeleyside article published June 8, 2017, problems with the landlord have slowed the opening process, and the dispensary is now seeking a new storefront.
3243 Sacramento St. Berkeley, Calif.
Berkeley’s fourth licensed cannabis dispensary and the first to be approved since 2001. Owned by Sue Taylor, an African-American retired Catholic school principal, iCANN will focus on cannabis access for seniors.
Tips for buying legal weed:
You don’t have to have a medical card! You just need to be over 21 with a government-issued ID. Recreational pot does, however, cost more than medical due to higher recreational taxes.
Orders must be paid for with cash or, depending on the dispensary, a debit card.
Many dispensaries, such as Berkeley Patients Group, have an express line for users who know exactly what they want, or for online and phone orders, and a full service line for customers with questions. Some dispensaries even have pot vending machines! If you’re new, take advantage of the full service line.
From Aundre Speciale: “I’ve had conversations, especially with new people, where they’d had an anxious experience with smoking or felt like it was too strong. So we have really amazing CBD blends. I would recommend CBD options for people who are coming for the first time.”
Edibles are a different experience than smoking, and can be far more intense! Ask the folks behind the counter for a recommended dosage.
Dispensaries are not allowed to sell cannabis that’s intended to be distributed to a third party. So if you’re picking up for a friend, keep it to yourself.
At the top: A map of Berkeley’s current and proposed dispensaries. Image Credit: Maya Kashima