Berkeley Amoeba to Open Pot Dispensary in Its Jazz Section

The record shop believes the bold move will strike a high note.

Since the days of smoking grass to extended Grateful Dead jams during the Winterland Ballroom, music and marijuana have always gone hand-in-hand in the Bay Area. Now, Amoeba Records co-founder Marc Weinstein is ready to take the concept a step further. Starting in June, the expanded real estate that currently serves as the Telegraph Avenue location’s jazz section will reopen as Berkeley’s Compassionate Care Center, or BC3.

It’s a project six years in the making.

The opportunity resulted from the 2010 passage of Berkeley’s Measure T, which allowed for an additional dispensary to join the three existing businesses already operating in the city.

“Those three had been in place for almost 10 years by the time the new legislation came into place,” explains Debby Goldsberry, BC3’s managing director and an integral force behind Measure T’s passage.

“The theory was that the membership base had increased in that period of time,” Goldsberry adds, “and several of those dispensaries had become overprescribed, which meant long lines, no room for growth, and no opportunity to move to new locations. So the demographic fit the need for a new dispensary in Berkeley.”

As is often the case with bureaucracy, the process to award the new permit moved at a glacial pace. In fact, it wasn’t until 2014 — two years later — that Amoeba even entered their name for consideration.

In 2016, it was not Amoeba, but Sue Taylor’s iCANN that received the coveted permit. But in the same proceedings, Berkeley’s City Council acknowledged that the wealth of qualified candidates meant that they felt two more permits should also be established. After a review from the planning commission and two public hearings, the city council amended the law and revitalized the permit process. Of the four candidates that endured throughout the entire four-year plus process, Amoeba was one of two to be awarded a permit.

Weinstein sees the new nonprofit — which will be operated as a separate entity from the record store but share many of the same key players — as a natural extension of the business he’s already in.

“A primary reason why we started Amoeba, why I got into the record business in the first place is because it’s a product that’s spiritually uplifting,” he says. “It’s healing, it brings joy all that stuff makes music a product that was one of the few I could even identify that I would be interested in selling in my life. I couldn’t name too many others, but one of those certainly would be medical cannabis, now that it’s possible to do that.”

As BC3 awaits approval on their building permits, Weinstein says he hopes the opening of this new dispensary will help to revitalize the sluggish sales that have left many business owners on Telegraph Avenue struggling.

“That’s part of what we’re extremely excited about: to actually have an opportunity to do what we once did before, which is bring everybody on Telegraph up with us,” Weinstein says. “When we first started Amoeba, Telegraph was particularly decrepit at that time. The building we were in was literally occupied by homeless people. When we opened in 1990, we obviously brought a whole new crowd of people to Telegraph and now we have an opportunity to do that again.”

Weinstein also notes that Amoeba customers are “very excited” about the incoming dispensary, both because there is likely a large overlap in those who love music and those who use medical cannabis, but also because BC3 represents a viable way for Amoeba to keep its doors opens at a time when rising minimum wages, health care costs, and competition from online retailer behemoths have taken a major toll on the bottom line.

“Cannabis is obviously a place where we’re not going to be going up against the likes of Amazon, as we have been all these years,” Weinstein adds.

As the executive director of Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, Goldsberry is also looking forward to what two dispensaries working in support of one another can provide.

“Our idea for BC3 is to take the same great values that we have at Magnolia, because we are a non-profit community organization driven by helping people. I’ve learned a lot from Magnolia — all of the hard knocks of running a dispensary. It’s not easy.

Now I can take all that knowledge and bring it to BC3.”

Given the time it’s taken Goldsberry, Weinstein, and their partners to see their new dispensary come to life, it comes as little surprise that their expectations for the enterprise are sky-high.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to become one of the nation’s favored dispensaries,” Goldsberry says. “For us, it’s a great partnership to help open the new facility, to help open people’s minds and expand the good feelings that marijuana and music bring together, and to be a part of what looks to me like it’s going to be an absolutely historic project. We’re also going to have the best marijuana possible at that place. Everybody loves music, and the idea of bringing music and marijuana together is just a winning combination. People will feel better.”

Zack Ruskin covers news and culture for SF Weekly.

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