The renovated lounge area at BPG. The frosted covering on the windows was removed to make the place feel airier and more open. Photos: Frances Dinkelspiel

After the Berkeley Patients’ Group’s plans to move into the old Sharffen Berger chocolate factory on Heinz and Seventh Street fell through in 2010, the medical cannabis dispensary turned its attention back onto its San Pablo Avenue home. If the organization, which serves hundreds of people a day, wasn’t going to be moving into larger digs, what could it do to make the experience better for patients?

In a word, remodel.

Over the last year, Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary has been sprucing up its space. It replaced its old razor wire fence with a handsome iron one, laid blond wood throughout the building, stripped off the frost window coverings, and set out sleek tables and chairs for people to relax in, hang out, and medicate. Berkeley architect David Trachtenberg helped with the plans.

In addition, BPG bought a building across the street and moved its social services – free acupuncture, massage, Pilates, and other services – there. The group is also constructing a new, freestanding lounge in its parking lot, which will give the staff of 75 a place to eat lunch and relax.

“One of the reasons for the remodeling is to better serve our patients,” said Brad Senesac, the group’s media spokesman.

The efforts have paid off. The East Bay Express named BPG “Best Dispensary Lounge,” in its 2011 Best of the East Bay edition.

BPG is not the only dispensary in Berkeley with a sense of style. The Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Berkeley, better known as CBCB, moved into a new building on Shattuck Avenue near Woolsey in late 2009. The structure had been a pet store that sold fish and aquarium supplies, and it needed to be completely redone. The members of the cannabis collective were instrumental in transforming the space, said Aundre Speciale, the executive director of the dispensary, which has about 3,500 members. The lounge is decorated with colorful couches and fringed umbrellas. There are two turntables on a counter, because a number of members who are DJs like to spin music, she said.

Berkeley’s third dispensary, the Patient’s Care Collective, has a colorful photo splashed against one wall, but there is no lounge because members cannot consume cannabis on site.

The entry into Berkeley Patients Group on San Pablo Avenue.
A BPG employee confers with a patient in the store area. Customers can buy cannabis plants, pipes, bongs, vaporizers, T-shirts, and more. The medical cannabis is distributed in a different section of the building.
Brad Senesac, director of communications, and Sean Luse, BPG’s general manager, stand before the flat screen that advertises which strains of cannabis are available. BPG is about to launch its own line of edibles, including a macaroni and cheese plate.
Succulents adorn the outdoor entrance to the Berkeley Patients Group.
The lounge and dispensary of CBCB on Shattuck Avenue.
Interior of CBCB
Aundre Speciale, the director of CBCB.
The underwater mural on the exterior of CBCB reflects the building’s former incarnation as a fish store.
The poster adorning one wall of Patients’ Care Collective, which does not permit cannabis consumption on site.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

Join the Conversation


  1. I have the choice of taking Percocet (which leaves me mentally fuzzy, psychologically depressed, and unable to get out of bed, most days — or MM, for my surgically-created pain. I didn’t have a choice about the surgery. But I would prefer not to take Percocet unless I really cannot find relief any other way, and I don’t do well on most painkillers (half a tab of Vicodin can make me vomit for 24 hours). I won’t deny there are recreational aspects to use. But it’s much better, IMHO, to enjoy my pain relief than to dread it and its attendant side effects. I don’t know why anyone else uses it, and there are probably too many young, healthy people who have “prescriptions.” But I have not found anything else quite so effective that lets me enjoy my life, and anyone who wants to take it from will literally have to pry it from my cold dead hands. I’m not giving up the only thing that stops my pain AND makes me feel good.

  2. Maybe you should “remodel” the lung-damaging schwag you dispense to the impoverished under the guise of “compassion.”

  3. Actual215 reader, I just urge you to please read the Attorney General’s office understanding of this.

    I’ll try to sum up the salient points for you:

    Consumers and providers are entitled to organize among themselves.  They are authorized by law to form coops and collectives.   The word “collective” occurs in SB420 but is not clearly defined in CA law.   Broadly speaking, the AG understands the law to mean that patients and providers can organize for economies of scale.   For example, a single grower can grow a much larger quantity than is normally authorized if that grower is acting as a provider to a correspondingly large number of patients.  In this case, SB420 authorizes such a provider on the grounds that the provider has assumed consistent responsibility for the health and safety of the patient.   

    In the part of the law you summarize, you have to carefully parse the “or” in “housing, health, or safety”;  you have to take a broad reading of “consistently assumed responsibility”;   you have to note that “primary” is contextual and does not imply some broadly exclusive role;  and you have to note that when the law says “includes” that the list that follows does not directly imply any exclusions.

    And so what is a “collective” such as Berkeley Patients Group?  As a practical matter, the patients and providers can use non-profit business entities to organize their conduct (according to the AG).    There are other laws that restrict for-profit business entities from this activity but, in the absence of any specific prohibition, a licensed non-profit mode of organizing is “by right”.   The AG’s office offers some guidance about how these non-profit businesses ought to operate.   For example, they ought not be store-fronts (hence the lack of signs, the lack of window displays, the guards controlling who can come in).  Another example, if someone who owns or works for one of these dispensaries is designated as a primary care provider — which they may be — the claim should be verified (e.g., checking the validity of the patient’s card) and solemnified (e.g., by getting the patient to sign an agreement to not divert supplies).    It goes on like that. 

    The legislature, the AG’s office, and so far the courts all agree with this interpretation.  Your interpretation is the odd man out.

  4. Exactly, the only way it can be legally cultivated in large quantities is if a primary caregiver, or group of caregivers, comes together and grows the allowed number of plants for their patients.  These storefronts are not primary caregivers.  They are for profit retail locations.  If I run a “co-op” and set my own salary as +100k per year, live in an Oakland Hills Mansion and call my self non-profit I am not complying with the letter or intent of SB420.

  5. From SB420:(d) “Primary caregiver” means the individual, designated by a
    qualified patient or by a person with an identification card, who has
    consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or
    safety of that patient or person, and may include any of the
    following: (goes on to list hospices, residence homes, etc.)A marijuana store cannot be a primary caregiver. These walmarts are a perversion of the law.

  6. Big signs, an open door, a window display … these things would all suggest a “storefront” dispensary.   The state attorney general’s office explicitly discourages storefront dispensaries — and holds that what these places do instead is basically authorized by prop 215 and SB420. 

    Attracting foot traffic to drum up business is anathema to the coop or collective forms authorized by law:  it suggests a casual retail relation between buyers and seller.  Instead, the idea of these places is that they merely facilitate economic cooperation among a membership comprised of patients and providers.

  7. Actual215reader, you should actually read Senate bill 420 and the State Attorney General’s guidelines for its interpretation.   Essentially, the law seems to authorize these collectives and coops, and the state’s attorney agrees.

  8. More to the point: as a forty-something with 30 years of experience with cannabis, I can tell you that it is at best a temporary solution to medical problems. While I would certainly think it preferable to pharmacological chemicals, I would hope that you are looking into more profound alternative therapies such as yoga or chi gong to address the cause of your headaches.

  9. If anything merits indignation here, it is that some very cynical and quasi-criminal elements have subverted the true healing potential and legitimate applications of cannabis in the name of obscene profits. If you doubt this, just try out the nasty schwag handed out as “compassion” by the Berkeley Patients’ Care Collective. They might as well pass out bags of oregano as that disgusting garbage.If anyone wants to talk about showing *genuine* compassion to the sick and powerless, I will be glad to check my cynicism at the door. But this whole article just reflects the shady money/dope focus of this whole subculture.

  10. I’m not “judging” you, or in fact saying anything whatsoever about any particular person.  I’m making a reasonable general inference based on 10+ years of personal experience with the “cannabis community,” on both the user and supplier fronts. Get over it.

  11. Who says it’s legally grown?  Read 215 and 420.  Show us all where large commercial grows are legal.  Show us where it’s okay to grow marijuana for people you’ve never met.

  12. I didn’t see any beds, or a cafeteria.  Why did you leave those pictures out?  Or, is it possible that these places are not primary caregivers for anyone and are in fact operating against state law?

  13. I am a twenty-something that suffers from migraines. My only remedy from the pain that doesn’t give me side effects is marijuana. How dare you judge me!

  14. As a young disabled person whose disability is not visible, it’s extremely insulting to see this kind of sentiment echoed once again. Just because someone is young and hangs out around BPG does not mean that they do not have a medical condition that necessitates the use of medical marijuana.

    What exactly are you judging people in the parking lot for that makes you think you’re qualified to say whether they have a disability or not? Just because someone is a certain age or dresses a certain way or has tattoos or god knows what else does not mean that it’s okay for someone else to presume to know their disability status. Not everyone with a medical condition or disability is 70 and/or in a wheelchair.

  15. CBCB is one of the worst “dispensaries” in the area. One visit was enough to show me they are just looking to make a quick buck ala a street dealer. Terribly rude service to patients. It feels very sketchy and shady inside.

  16. I don’t think true practitioners of any of those techniques would say that being automatically biased against 20-something stoners was a valid medical opinion.

    I generally agree with your comments, but this is a silly issue to pick fights over.

  17. Yes, we need to jettison the ancient diagnostic techniques of Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Unani Tibb, etc..  Good point.

  18. I doubt the want to advertise too boldly. A robbery at that location allows for a swift get away down Shattuck into Oakland.

  19. People need to stop trying to diagnose people and recommend treatment based off of the way they look.

  20. Accepted – A man walks into Walgreens and picks up his prescription for Vicoden.  He goes into a corner store later in the day for a sandwich, beer and pack of smokes.  

    Not Accepted – A man walks into a dispensary and buys an 1/8 of cannabis.

    Big Pharma + alcohol + tabacco  vs cannabis

    Both will be impaired from baseline normalcy.  Both might feel less pain and help take the edge off the day.  But one will be messing will known killers if in excess…the other may get very dizzy and then take a monster nap.

    As long as both aren’t allowed to drive a car and kill innocents, why is one worse than the other?

  21. Anyone who spends a half an hour in the parking lot of the BPG should get my point. I do value edibles as the only workable remedy that I have found for the pain of an acute kidney stone attack.

  22. Looks like a coffeeshop to me. While healthy people have no other source other than buying their weed from the street – and unwillingly supporting drug dealers and the Mexican cartels – these sick people can buy legally-grown and sold weed without ever contributing to crime. Let’s end the madness that’s making our children unsafe and allow supermarkets to legally sell marijuana to adults.

  23. I appreciate your snark, and get your point, but why should someone have to be “severely disabled” in order to  have access to medication? Is everyone who goes up to the counter of your local Pharmacy “severely disabled?”

    And if you think the profits to be had on medical marijuana are outrageous, you should take a look at Pfizer’s annual profits.

  24. It’s heartbreaking to see the parade of severely disabled 20-somethings that pour into these unprofitable bastions of medical necessity.