Despite objection from UC Berkeley administrators, a new cannabis dispensary, Apothecarium, is set to open less than a block away from the UC Berkeley campus, at the current location of Sam’s Market on Telegraph Avenue, the City Council decided at its regular meeting Tuesday evening.
The 2312 Telegraph Ave. location, lying within 200 feet of the Southside entrance to campus, was approved with a 5-2 vote, withstanding public health concerns of student exposure and worry that it would put other nearby dispensaries out of business. The San Francisco-based cannabis company will be the city’s third dispensary located on the six-block length of the Telegraph commercial district, and it will be open “within a matter of months,” according to Apothecarium spokesperson Eliot Dobris.
“The Apothecarium’s many customers and patients in Berkeley and across the East Bay travel to San Francisco for their medical marijuana needs,” said Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email. “I’m excited for them to bring their business to Telegraph.”
In an unusual attempt to weigh in on the City Council’s decision, four UC Berkeley vice chancellors and the campus registrar sent a letter to the city’s Cannabis Commission, warning that the nearby dispensary could target students under stress and social pressure.
“For us to locate a huge, well-run, attractive cannabis location literally two doors away from the most heavily pedestrian-trafficked entrance and exit to this great university is a terrible message for us to send, both to the students and to their families,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who voted with Councilmember Susan Wengraf against the location.
The process the city pursued to court and finally approve Apothecarium was shaped at every stage by the 2014 cannabis ordinance, setting the criteria the city used to select Apothecarium in 2016. The City Council had previously approved a different location for Apothecarium on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Parker Street, but it was forced to reconsider after facing issues with the landlord, according to Dobris. The Tuesday evening vote granted the dispensary the green light to open up shop on Telegraph Avenue.
Marc Weinstein, co-founder of Amoeba Music and owner of the adjacent cannabis retailer Hi-Fidelity, has been working on Telegraph Avenue for almost 40 years. Weinstein sees the opening of Apothecarium — which entered into an agreement to be bought by Canadian cannabis producer TerrAscend for $118 million dollars about two weeks ago — as an “existential threat” to Hi-Fidelity, which he says already barely breaks even. Both Hi-Fidelity and Berkeley’s other dispensary, Patient’s Care Collective, are locally owned.
“(Apothecarium is) a growing chain, so they are looking for branding and visibility. No one who works at Apothecarium knows Berkeley at all — they are just from San Francisco,” Weinstein said. “They looked on some kind of map that shows where’s the most concentration of humans, and they ended up making a provisional deal to rent Sam’s Market.”
Dobris said a combination of buffer zones around schools and other dispensaries from Berkeley’s cannabis ordinance, low vacancy rates and legal barriers at the federal level made setting up a dispensary particularly difficult. Dobris also contested the campus’s assertions that the dispensary, only 200 feet away, will have negative public health effects.
“I would say that cannabis has long been part of campus life at Berkeley for 50 years or more, and the presence of a dispensary nearby is not really going to change that significantly,” Dobris said.