First sales of recreational marijuana in Berkeley usher in ‘whole new era’

Mikki Norris, right, with her husband Chris Conrad are longtime marijuana advocates, and were the first to buy recreational marijuana in Berkeley at 6 a.m. on Jan. 1.
Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff
Mikki Norris, right, with her husband Chris Conrad are longtime marijuana advocates, and were the first to buy recreational marijuana in Berkeley at 6 a.m. on Jan. 1.

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Just hours into the new year, dozens of California residents lined up on a “green carpet” outside the country’s longest-running dispensary to be the first to purchase recreational marijuana in Berkeley.

In a city with a history of advocacy for marijuana legalization and decriminalization, the pre-dawn ribbon-cutting ceremony at Berkeley Patients Group was a victory celebration of what has been decades of activism and lobbying efforts by many in the community. In November 2016, California approved Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana sales for adults 21 and older.

At 6 a.m. on the dot, Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, longtime cannabis experts based in El Sobrante, made the first purchase of legal recreational cannabis at the dispensary, breaking a crisp $100 bill to buy a chocolate bar and three joints containing the marijuana strain “Jack Herer” — named after a friend who was colloquially known in the industry as the “Emperor of Hemp” before passing away in 2010.

“I feel like it’s a huge accomplishment,” Conrad said. “Marijuana should never have been illegal in the first place, so to have gotten to this moment feels like a huge advance.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, along with State Sen. Nancy Skinner, also attended the ceremony. Arreguín called the day “a long time coming.”

“These are definitely high times for Berkeley and California,” Arreguín said at the ceremony. When later asked, he added that he had no plans on buying marijuana for personal use.

Though California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the first state to do so, Berkeley had been a bulwark for legalized cannabis use many years prior. Since 1979, city laws have directed local police to bump marijuana law enforcement down as its lowest priority.

Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

“When I think about how many people have been incarcerated due to drug laws — and especially marijuana laws — and the havoc that that had created on neighborhoods and families, I’m really glad this prohibition has been lifted,” said Skinner, who helped coordinate the 1979 initiative.

While the fight for marijuana legalization in California may have been won, Roger LaChance, operations manager at Berkeley Patients Group, said there are still plenty of challenges for the marijuana industry to overcome in the weeks and months to come.

Citing prohibitively high tax rates and regulations that require farmers and distributors to “preselect” whether to handle medical marijuana products or adult-use ones — despite the two often being virtually identical — LaChance said the dispensary plans to be at the forefront of additional policymaking efforts in Berkeley and in California.

It’s almost surreal. We’re entering a whole new era, and there’s a lot that still needs to be worked out,” said Sabrina Fendrick, the dispensary’s director of government affairs. “But as we continue to develop the industry, it’s going to be a symbiotic relationship with everybody.”

Per Prop. 64, customers will pay a 15 percent state excise tax on cannabis products, which could generate $1 billion or more for California per year. In Berkeley, there is an additional 10 percent sales tax on adult-use cannabis.

In addition to Berkeley Patients Group, recreational cannabis can be purchased within the city at Berkeley Patient’s Care Collective and Cannabis Buyers Club Berkeley. In October, City Council passed temporary rules that allowed these previously licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational pot in time for Jan. 1.

Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

Despite the high prices and cold temperatures of the early morning, many of the customers lining up on New Year’s Day said they were excited to be part of the ushering in of a new era ending marijuana prohibition.

Serving as the ceremony’s hype man, cannabis advocate Mike “Big Mike” Barnes, who was decked out in a marijuana-patterned suit, pins and beads, said he had been looking forward to Jan. 1 but added, “ironically, all of tonight and today I haven’t smoked a damn thing.”

“Hopefully we’ll blaze a path forward that will not only decriminalize but also embrace this new economy,” Arreguín said at the ceremony.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.

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  • I love Trump!!!

    Keep your stinking weed smoke away from me! I don’t want any side stream smoke from this stinking stuff!

  • Grandpa Dino

    I will laugh I watch the stoned morons drive Kalifornia into oblivion.

    BTW: I am a native son and Cal grad. I left in 1974.

    • BerCaley

      Your departure is noted.

      • lspanker

        Fools like you haven’t figured out you’re chasing out the wrong people. California is going to look like Venezuela with legalized MJ the way it is going…×403.jpg

        • BerCaley

          Booby! Broski! Dino says he left in 1974. The GDP of CA has grown around 20 times since his taking leave of the Golden State.

          • lspanker

            The debt has grown faster than that. Now, with sanctuary status and left-wing kooks, it’s on the way to becoming the American Venezuela. Don’t believe me? There are several square miles of LA that look no better than the barrios of Caracas…

          • BerCaley

            Has it? Population has only doubled since 1974 when were blessed with Dino leaving. Debt as a percentage of GDP has been decreasing since the Democrats took over in 2010.


            You just cited Gateway Pundit. Do you know anything? Supposedly you live here. But perhaps you could find greater opportunity in say Mississippi.

            I actually think you’re just a Russian troll but in any case you’re an idiot.

          • lspanker

            Has it? Population has only doubled since 1974 when were blessed with Dino leaving.

            You haven’t noticed that the poverty level in California is higher than in 2/3 of the rest of the country, and that as the working stiffs you despise such as Dino leave the state, they are being replaced primarily by individuals who are net tax recipients, not taxpayers. You think the situation is going to get any better with California being declared as an open sanctuary state? Do tell us what benefit will be provided to anyone other than the Democrat political hacks who depend on importing poverty in order to maintain their political majority.


            You just cited Gateway Pundit.

            I provided a link to a protest sign erected by a disgruntled taxpayer. What’s your problem with me doing such again?

            Do you know anything?

            I know a lot of things, including how to recognize when a snarky little liberal child has no point to make.

            Supposedly you live here. But perhaps you could find greater opportunity in say Mississippi.

            Mississippi has always been poor for a number of geographic and historical reasons. The difference is that California was once a prosperous state that is being run into the ground by idiotic liberal social and economic policies.

            I actually think you’re just a Russian troll

            California native, born when Moonbeam’s daddy Pat Brown was governor and our license plates were yellow with black lettering. Where are you from, carpetbagger?

          • BerCaley

            “poverty level in California is higher than in 2/3 of the rest of the country” Umm, yeah, except for NM, all of the states that are below CA are Red States and CA at 16.4% isn’t so far from the US at 14.8%.

            However, the absolute dumbest thing you’ve said, and there is a long list, is:

            The difference is that California was once a prosperous state

            This one is hilarious. GDP has improved 20 times since Dino left. We’re the 6th largest economy on the planet. Our debt, rising during Republican governorships (just like it rises during Republican presidencies), is falling as a percentage of GDP during a Democratic supermajority. Dude, you have to have at least half a brain and noticed some of this. Or is it all Breitbart all the time?

            But please, the Magnolia State beckons. They’ll think you’re smart.

  • A Freedom Fighter

    I have to laugh at anyone still swimming upstream against the fact that cannabis is far safer than alcoholic beverages or tobacco products. Data at the Center for Disease Control website proves beyond a doubt that alcoholic beverages and tobacco products are much more dangerous than cannabis. If you find errors with the numbers posted below please present your data and sources as I am trying to be as accurate as possible.

    Average number of deaths per year in the United States extracted from the U.S. Federal government Center for Disease Control posted below.

    * Tobacco: 480,000
    * Prescription Drugs: 237,485 + 5,000 traffic fatalities
    * Alcohol: 88,013 + 16,000 traffic fatalities
    * Cocaine: 4,906
    * Heroin: 7,200
    * Aspirin: 466
    * Acetaminophen (Tylenol): 179
    * Marijuana: 0, none, not a single fatal toxic overdose and almost no traffic problems. Cannabis is not perfect, in an extensive search of news articles over the last 5 years articles cited 4 traffic fatalities in which cannabis was suspected to be the sole intoxicant involved. There were approximately 5 fatalities with non traffic accidents associated with cannabis consumption and one apparent suicide in Colorado.

    So, which is safer????

    • lspanker

      If you find errors with the numbers posted below please present your data and sources as I am trying to be as accurate as possible.

      Here ya go, stoner boy:

      The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show. A Denver Post analysis of the data and coroner reports provides the most comprehensive look yet into whether roads in the state have become more dangerous since the drug’s legalization.

      Increasingly potent levels of marijuana were found in positive-testing drivers who died in crashes in Front Range counties, according to coroner data since 2013 compiled by The Denver Post. Nearly a dozen in 2016 had levels five times the amount allowed by law, and one was at 22 times the limit. Levels were not as elevated in earlier years.

      Last year, all of the drivers who survived and tested positive for marijuana use had the drug at levels that indicated use within a few hours of being tested, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which compiles information for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

      • BerCaley

        Imagine that AFF said that traffic laws shouldn’t be enforced.
        Well, you’d need to imagine that because he didn’t.

        Booby, are you in favor fo repealing the Twenty First Amendment as well?

        • lspanker

          Go take a night course in reading comprehension. He asked if anyone could correct his stats, I did.

          • BerCaley

            You didn’t correct them. You just shifted the goalposts.

  • I love Trump!!!

    People who can’t handle reality use pot. It’s just that simple. Pot is the opiate of the masses. It’s high priced and then taxed heavily to boot. Why choose pot?

    • A Freedom Fighter

      Too darn funny! A guy with a I love Trump Avatar talking about not being connected to reality! Ever have a beer, glass of wine or cocktail after a long day trumpo? if you do you’re a massive hypocrite

      • I love Trump!!!

        Clean and sober over 38 years FF. I don’t need a weed to succeed!

      • California Defender

        Trump supporters are well connected to reality. But I wouldn’t expect someone who has their faculties dulled by mass media, globalist consumerism, Berkeley group-think, and perhaps a little weed to see that.

        You do have a point about alcohol, but the OP is not a hypocrite per his/her post below. Did you know President Trump does not smoke or drink either?

        Looks like your side is in trouble. Not sure what you’re fighting for, but it isn’t freedom.

    • BerCaley

      Opioids are the opiates of the masses.