How Berkeley’s oldest dispensary will celebrate the ‘end of marijuana prohibition’

Berkeley Patients Group/Courtesy

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The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which legalizes the use of recreational marijuana in California, will go into effect Monday. The law was introduced as Proposition 64 and approved in November 2016. Berkeley Patients Group, or BPG, one of the first California dispensaries to receive its retail license for adult-use marijuana, will open its doors Monday. The Daily Californian sat down with Sean Luse, BPG’s chief operating officer, to talk about the end of marijuana prohibition.

Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

The Daily Californian: Can you explain what BPG is doing Monday?

Sean Luse: Yes, absolutely. Jan. 1 will mark the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in California. On the first, we’re going to have a big celebration. It’s going to be a very festive event — we’re going to have a ribbon-cutting with the mayor at 6 a.m. and a little press conference and photo op. Ultimately, it’s going to be a celebration … that legal marijuana is finally here in California.

DC: Why is BPG one of the first dispensaries receiving a license for recreational cannabis?

SL: Berkeley Patients Group is the oldest continually operating dispensary in the country, founded in 1999, so it’s only fitting that we’re one of the first medical dispensaries and now … one of the first adult-use stores in California.

DC: Why has it taken so long for dispensaries to receive licenses after Proposition 64 was passed?

SL: Jan. 1 was always the expected start date for legal sales. That was written into Prop. 64, but the reason it’s been 14 months since the vote to the actual beginning of adult-use sales is because the state of California has work to do in finalizing the laws and regulations. There were a couple of bills passed this summer to merge the medical marijuana market with the adult-use market, and then there was a whole rule-making process that had to happen over the last year.

DC: How do you explain the shift in popular opinion toward favoring the legalization of recreational marijuana?

SL: I think it’s a combination of things, but I think primarily it’s education. People are learning the truth about marijuana. They’re realizing that the “reefer madness” and all the propaganda of years past were lies and that marijuana can be a very helpful medicine. I think it’s also a bit of a generational change. As more millennials and younger people are now becoming voters and decision-makers, they’ve grown up with their own experiences and they know that marijuana is a fairly harmless substance.

DC: Are there drawbacks to using recreational marijuana?

SL: Yeah, I’d say that like anything, marijuana’s not for everybody, so it’s not going to be a good part of everyone’s lifestyle. Like (with) anything, one should practice moderation. Too much of a good thing can be problem. Certainly for some people it just doesn’t work. The good part about it, though, is there’s no overdoses on marijuana. So even if it doesn’t work for you … it’s not going to kill you luckily, unlike alcohol.

DC: What do you mean there’s no overdosing?

SL: If you drink three gallons of vodka, you’d probably die. But you could smoke 100 joints, and other than maybe having a headache and a dry mouth, you’re not going to die from that. Not that I’d recommend anyone smoke 100 joints, but just to say, there’s never been found any fatal dose of marijuana. It doesn’t seem to exist.

DC: How does the legalization of recreational cannabis impact BPG, the city of Berkeley and California as a state?

SL: I’d say one of the biggest impacts is going to be that increased tax revenue is going to be important. Right now there’s plenty of unregulated, untaxed marijuana in California. I would venture to say that most anybody who wants to get marijuana in California could get it, but the problem that currently exists is that marijuana is not regulated and taxed. Now we’re going to have it tightly controlled. It’s all going to be tested, we’ll be checking ID, and we’ll be paying taxes on those sales. For us at BPG, it’s hard to tell exactly what this all means. There very well may be an increase in business, but it’s hard to say.

DC: How will this legislation potentially affect other states?

SL: I think California is definitely a bellwether state. It’s influential … and it’s kind of the leading edge in the United States. As goes California, so goes the country and perhaps even the world. I do think that this will influence other states and even countries to legalize marijuana as they see it working in California.

DC: Has BPG taken any notable actions to push for the legalization in the past of recreational cannabis?

SL: We’ve always been involved in the policy work, in the movement around central drug policies, so we were there on the forefront of the fight for medical marijuana, and we’ve certainly been advocating for legal marijuana for all adults. We’ve certainly done what we can to run a good business and to be an example of what legal regulated sales can look like. We’ve done our best to educate the community about these laws and why it’s important to end marijuana prohibition.

DC: Is there anything else that readers should know?

SL: I’m just going to end with highlighting that Jan. 1 is going to be a historic day in California. It’s going to be quite the celebration at BPG, so I’d invite everybody to come down and check it out.

Contact Elise Ulwelling at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @EMarieulwelling.