“We are not Wal-Mart.”’
Amoeba Records co-founder Marc Weinstein looks onward, upset by the comparison.
Weinstein is at Berkeley City Council’s meeting with other co-founders Dave and Yvonne Prinz. The duo and their team are here to advocate for and defend Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective, their plan for a medical marijuana dispensary within Amoeba Records. Tonight, two dispensaries will receive permits for Berkeley’s fifth and sixth dispensaries, respectively. A fourth dispensary, iCANN Health Center, was selected for Sacramento Street in May.
They sit in attendance with three other medical marijuana groups and their supporters tonight: The Apothecarium, Berkeley Innovative Health and the Cannabis Center. A fourth group was scheduled to appear but didn’t arrive.
The Compassionate Care Collective, also known as BC3, is set to be in the jazz room of Berkeley Amoeba Records’ 2465 Telegraph Ave. building, where Weinstein and Dave and Yvonne Prinz know music and marijuana will inevitably mix.
But the three Amoeba founders have been at this for more than a year, applying and adapting their plans for application to please City Council and the Medical Marijuana Commission’s standards and rules. This meeting is a continuation from the July 19 council meeting. It was only on July 12 that the council agreed to accept the Planning Commission’s recommendation to increase the number of dispensaries from four to six.
Factors for eligibility include the dispensary’s track record and neighborhood compatibility. Mayor Tom Bates asks the dispensary candidates to consider their potential contribution to their neighborhoods before each group promotes its case.
The City Council meeting is less than two months from November, when Proposition 64 will be on the California ballot. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act will legalize recreational cannabis consumption and cultivation, as well as hemp, for persons over 21 years of age. With the question of legalization looming over City Council, some factors dispensaries have to consider will be the effects of legalization on the city of Berkeley and their businesses, if passed.
The business models for current dispensaries and the newly approved dispensaries may face new obstacles with November approaching, but it left the applicants unphased. With November’s initiative, large-scale marijuana businesses will be prevented from receiving licenses for five years in order to prevent “unlawful monopoly power.”
Members of the crowd and various groups are dressed in T-shirts with logos supporting different dispensaries and causes, some in neon purple, some in vibrant white, others in suits and many in jeans. Amoeba’s supporters sit in the front with the Prinzes and Weinstein, all wearing shirts displaying the large stickers of “BC3.”
There is another conflict present tonight, but it isn’t between the four dispensaries competing for the two city permits.
BC3’s proposed dispensary is fewer than 1,000 feet away from Patients Care Collective at 2590 Telegraph Ave., which was started in Berkeley 15 years ago. PCC is worried that the proximity of a bigger operation will slow their business, if not end it.
And so, during BC3’s time slot allocated for hearing community support, PCC’s president Martin O’Brien reaches the front of the line and walks up to the podium. He says what PCC’s reality was.
To him, BC3’s plan is preposterous; giving a permit to build the dispensary within Amoeba is “deplorable,” O’Brien said during the meeting. PCC recently spent $225,000 to upgrade its facility to meet city ordinances, yet it is barely breaking even.
“Amoeba to me is like a Starbucks or a Walmart. You don’t open up Burger King across from McDonalds to do them a favor, it’s called predatory practice,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think Berkeley is the bastion of that type of practice.”
While O’Brien considers Amoeba’s proposed dispensary harmful, he says it matters because of the location. BC3 is a good applicant, he said, but the area is already being served by O’Brien’s company — BC3 will only negatively affect the traffic PCC receives.
The Amoeba dispensary plan has another opponent: District 2 Councilmember Darryl Moore. The team sits listening to him explain his stance. It’s been three hours of back-and-forth discussion and speeches — cannabis patients, business leaders and council members have all shared their opinions. Now, Moore speaks, using metaphors and explaining analogies to describe the potential detriment of Amoeba’s dispensary proposal.
“Goliath versus poor David.”
At hearing, “Walmart versus a mom-and-pop shop,” more jeering comes from BC3 supporters. Weinstein and the Prinzes sit listening.
Moore is referring to PCC, referencing its history in Berkeley as one of the first dispensaries.
He is worried that the opening of BC3 would hurt the Care Collective’s business operations, taking away money and disadvantaging its workers.
“Amoeba to me is like a Starbucks or a Walmart. You don’t open up Burger King across from McDonalds to do them a favor, it’s called predatory practice.”
Moore says that Amoeba Records is trying to prop up its business at the expense of another.
“At the detriment to a business that has been there since the beginning,” Moore says. “Are we going to really do this?”
But by the end of the three-hour discussion, council members and members of the public are done with comments. Mayor Bates conducts a straw poll to have a straw poll for the four dispensaries.
And Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective wins a permit. The Apothecarium wins the other.
For District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who oversees the Telegraph District, Amoeba is not just a records store. It is far more complicated than that. With many different communities served, Worthington says it has been a bedrock of support for the city and for Telegraph Avenue.
“I was really upset that anyone was attacking Amoeba, with them calling it Wal-Mart. It’s such a factually wrong and over-the-top attack,” Worthington said. “Amoeba is a Berkeley institution, really reflecting Berkeley values with how they treat employees and how they treat the neighborhood.”
Among the benefits of Amoeba’s new addition, Worthington touts that the presence of required storefront security will be “additional eyes and ears on the sidewalk,” looking out not just for the dispensary’s clients but for the whole neighborhood and other businesses.
Even more notable, Worthington explains Amoeba’s impact on the labor standards for other dispensaries — it was the first to reach a labor union agreement for its workers. At the time of the City Council’s decision, Worthington notes that all four present dispensaries later made contract agreements.
“(Amoeba) is a visionary force because for a lot of dispensaries, they don’t allow unions and don’t have unions,” Worthington said. “They blazed the trail in Berkeley for doing that, and once they did it, the other applicants thought they’re going to have brownie points for union policies, so maybe the other applicants should do the same thing so they can compete favorably.”
Jeff Ferro, a representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union 648, said during the City Council meeting that all the proposed dispensaries will be “head and shoulders” above the original three Berkeley dispensaries based on their commitment to labor practices. He expressed his hope that the UFCW 648 will work with the city of Berkeley in the future.
The dispensaries, according to Ferro, have all had peace labor agreements discussed and agreed upon; all they have to do is hire employees.
“We want to make it a partnership not just with the worker and the employer and us, but we want to be the example for a city whose allowing us this privilege in this industry to operate,” Ferro said. “It’ll be something the city is happy with.”
The Amoeba dispensary will come at a cost — some of Berkeley Patients Care Collective’s business. But they are “absolutely good neighbors” to the record store, Weinstein says. And he plans on being good neighbors with them, too.
But in defending his proposal for BC3, Weinstein adds that after 15 years of business, he would have imagined that PCC would have grown to a bigger and larger operation to better serve the community.
With turf to share, Weinstein doesn’t believe BC3 is predatory because PCC was “totally neutral all the way along.” It has a gourmet shop and will continue to specialize in cannabis products, he says, but they hardly serve the whole community.
Amoeba is a vital force in the Telegraph area, Worthington says. When other property owners were neglecting their properties and causing problems with rats, trash and noise, Amoeba Records had “upped the ante” by improving the safety of the neighborhood.
Worthington wants the Telegraph District to be as safe as possible, commending Amoeba’s prior efforts: The store has spent its own money on art, fixing murals and supporting the homeless, all for the safety of the area.
He considers the addition of another dispensary non-threatening, citing examples from other California cities with multiple dispensaries in the same district. Individuality and specific niches will help attract regular customers and medical patients to certain dispensaries. He argues that people in Berkeley would still make certain commutes and still travel to other cities such as Hayward or San Francisco to visit their dispensary of choice.
So, what’s going on inside the record shop pot shop?
“We don’t plan on blasting music. … There will be some background music.”
Inside the BC3 dispensary, Weinstein said there may be certain hours during given days where a feature DJ might be playing but only to help deliver different music tastes and “flavor for people” who would enjoy it.
“We want to make it a partnership not just with the worker and the employer and us, but we want to be the example for a city whose allowing us this privilege in this industry to operate.”
The layout of the dispensary is still developing, but the dispensary itself will act independently to Amoeba Records.
It’s going to be two separate businesses, side-by-side, Weinstein said.
Joining Weinstein’s team in promoting and managing BC3 is Debby Goldsberry, who is no stranger to Berkeley’s cannabis community. In 1999, Goldsberry co-founded Berkeley Patients Group, one of three currently existing medical marijuana dispensaries in Berkeley.
Goldsberry hopes to create a public/private partnership with the city of Berkeley in providing mental health services, support groups, therapy and counselors. She even notes that a registered nurse will be on-site with free appointments.
Alongside Goldsberry on BC3’s team is Amber Senter, chief operating officer at the cannabis dispensary Magnolia Wellness in Oakland. Senter also co-founded Supernova Women, an organization for people of color promoting equity. Her goal is to educate patients and non-consumers about the war on drugs and to create a POC perspective about the industry.
Under Senter’s direction, the Compassionate Care Collective will also serve as an educational model, where medical patients can learn about the health benefits of cannabis. BC3 even wants to develop a speaker program.
Within the dispensary, patients can opt to choose specific on-site and adjunct services, such as chiropractic relief and access to non-cannabis herbs.
“We’re not a chain coming from outside,” Weinstein said. “We very well understand the needs of the community.”
Amoeba Records has always been a big part of Berkeley, and Weinstein knows it himself. Even the mayor knows that or so Weinstein believes.
But he admits that BC3 has to get to know its clientele better.
If marijuana becomes recreationally legalized in the state of California, it will take at least 12 to 18 months to notice change in Berkeley, Weinstein says.
Legalization for Berkeley won’t drastically affect the city overnight. Councilmember Worthington agrees that they have to wait to see the effects of legalization happen in the city.
“We’re not leading the nation in any way,” Worthington said. “I think the whole City Council is going to be cautious the day after the election. We aren’t going to (hold) a council (meeting) and say let’s double the amount of dispensaries.”
To better deal with the upcoming election, Worthington says the newly permitted dispensaries will need a breathing period to adjust, to see what certain positive and negative impacts are upon their businesses.
Until November arrives, the next step for Amoeba is to construct its newly approved dispensary.
Robert Patrick Van Tooke is a writer for the Weekender. Contact him at [email protected]