Rapid growth of cannabis collective raises concern

Kareem Cokes at the Forty Acres lounge, where he helps patients select medical cannabis. Photos: Frances Dinkelspiel

In the 21 months since it opened, the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective has seen its membership jump to more than 7,000 people, making it one of the fastest growing and largest cannabis businesses in Berkeley.

From a set of rooms located above the Albatross pub on San Pablo Avenue, Forty Acres has become more than just a place where people can obtain and consume medical cannabis. Started by African-Americans, run by African-Americans, Forty Acres aims to bring diversity to the medical cannabis movement and use the rapidly growing industry as a way to open up opportunities for the poor and disenfranchised.

The leaders of the collective actively reach out to marginalized young adults and encourage them to enter the group’s training program, where they can learn the nuts and bolts of bud tending, cultivation, patient intake methods, and how to assess product.

“There is a population of kids, high school dropouts, who are coming to us to learn,” said Toya Groves, a director and one of the four co-founders of the group. “This is a way the unemployable become employable.”

The size and composition of Forty Acres has quickly turned it into a force to which city officials pay attention. In January, City Council member Max Anderson appointed Groves, 35, a graduate of Albany High and UC Berkeley, to both the Medical Cannabis Commission and the Zoning Adjustments Board. Many observers believe that when Berkeley hands out a license for a new dispensary sometime this year or next, it will go to Forty Acres. Currently, only three dispensaries are licensed under city law.

“They made a strong case that the African-American community deserves a spot in the emerging cannabis market and they would represent those who have not had access over the years,” Anderson said about Forty Acres. “They are representative of efforts to diversify the movement. They represent something very positive.”

But the respect officials have for the group may have also led the city to overlook some troubling aspects of Forty Acres, including the fact it appears to be violating zoning laws (somewhat ironic since Groves is in charge of interpreting zoning laws), is staying open later than permitted, and is acting as a retail dispensary rather than a private cannabis collective.

“They don’t have to follow any rules since they are illegal,” said one prominent member of the cannabis community, who like everyone else interviewed from that industry, asked to be anonymous. “Forty Acres is a place where you join and money exchanges hand for marijuana. It’s a dispensary.”

City law states that collectives, a group of people coming together to cultivate and share cannabis, shall only operate in residential parts of Berkeley. Forty Acres is run out of a former residential apartment, but one in a commercial zone on San Pablo Avenue.

In addition, critics point out that Forty Acres’ sheer size makes it more like a dispensary than a collective. Forty Acres actively recruits members online and at hemp fairs, has 21 staff members, sells bongs and other retail goods, and advertises its services online and in newspapers.

The collective also appears to be operating outside the time parameters the city sets for dispensaries. Berkeley law only permits dispensaries to be open until 9 p.m., but Forty Acres is open until 10 p.m. during the week, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

In addition, Forty Acres is not paying city taxes on the thousands of dollars of cannabis it sells, giving it an unfair business advantage, according to critics. Measure S, adopted by voters in 2010, requires collectives to pay taxes.

“Everybody has a problem with this,” said a member of one of Berkeley’s three dispensaries who asked not to be named. “We all have to pay our taxes, pay fees, get licenses. They are not doing any of these things. Everybody else is doing things above board. They are running a dispensary without a dispensary permit.”

The Forty Acres booth at the International Hemp and Cannabis Expo in Oakland in September.

Forty Acres is paying state taxes, and would like to pay city taxes as well, but was turned down for a business license, said Groves. “We would love to pay city taxes,” she said. “We are asking how we can pay taxes to the city of Berkeley?”

Concern about Forty Acres runs high because the stakes are huge. In November 2010, Berkeley voters authorized the creation of a fourth medical cannabis dispensary. Numerous groups intend to vie for the permit, but many think Forty Acres will have an advantage because Berkeley city officials are impressed by the collective’s size and diversity.

“They believe that by building a following it will make it that much harder for the city to say no to them,” said one member of the cannabis community who also asked not to be named. His group intends to apply for the fourth dispensary permit.

The competition is so fierce that at least two Berkeley dispensaries sent some of its members to surreptitiously join Forty Acres and scope out their activities, according to a source.

Wendy Cosin, Berkeley’s Interim Planning Director and the former secretary of the Medical Cannabis Commission, said it came to her attention in February 2011 that Forty Acres was advertising, and she wrote Toya Groves and Chris Smith, its director, an email requesting they stop:

“Hi Chris and Toya,

“I saw an ad in the East Bay Express for 40 Acres and am again concerned that you are illegally operating a dispensary. When we spoke a few months ago, you assured me that you were a residential collective. I don’t think a residential collective would advertise as you are doing. In addition, while I understand that you may be operating from a residential apartment, the ordinance does not allow collectives (other than dispensaries) in commercial districts. San Pablo is Commercial-West (CW), which is a commercial zoning district. By advertising, you are bringing attention to what technically may not be allowed, even as a residential collective. Please let me know what is going on.  Thx.”

Groves replied to Cosin later that day:

“We appreciate your concern and are currently looking into it.  We will follow up with you after the holiday.”

This Forty Acres ad ran in the East Bay Express.

Cosin did not talk further with Groves about the matter, she said. Forty Acres continued to run its ad in the East Bay Express for another six weeks, according to a check of the papers.

Cosin said she did not refer the matter to the zoning department because she never got a formal written complaint about Forty Acres.

“Enforcement happens if we get complaints or someone is causing problems with neighbors,” said Cosin. “If we received a complaint they were acting as a dispensary we would follow up, but we don’t go looking for violations. We respond to it, but don’t do it proactively.”

Some of the people working at Forty Acres. From left: Patrick Brown, who is in the training program, Craig Hiliard, one of the DJs, Chris Smith, a founder, and Toya Groves, a founder and member of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission and Zoning Adjustments Board.

Numerous members of the cannabis community said they had complained to the city and that Forty Acres’ operations were an open secret.

Groves, who became a cannabis patient in 2009 after her right arm was almost severed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver,  told Berkeleyside that she and Chris Smith, another founder, had once lived in the apartments now used by Forty Acres, so she thought that made them qualify to stay there. Also, they set up shop before the passage of Measure T in November 2010, which clarified the law on where collectives can operate. She also said there is no law prohibiting a collective from advertising.

Some people in the cannabis community think the city is taking a hands-off approach because officials want to encourage diversity in the industry. While the patients in the city’s three dispensaries are all races, the leadership is primarily white.

“They don’t know what to do,” said one dispensary member. “The people who run Forty Acres made a big stink [during meetings to talk about the ballot measures for November 2010] about how there wasn’t enough diversity in the medical cannabis community. They are hyping up that they are African-American owned and run and none of the other three dispensaries are.”

Groves disagrees with this assessment. “I am uncomfortable with people bringing up that we are playing the race card,” said said. “We are being ourselves. Our intentions are good.”

This dispensary member is concerned that permitting Forty Acres to violate zoning laws will set a bad precedent and lure dozens of other collectives to open up in commercial areas in Berkeley. If the city cracks down on the new businesses, they could just point to Forty Acres and say there is a precedent.

“If word gets out you can open a dispensary in Berkeley by not calling it a dispensary, we will have a 100 opening just like in San Jose,” said the man. “When everybody finds out Berkeley is open season, there is going to be mayhem. My worry is we are going to have a Wild Wild West kind of thing.”

City Council member Kriss Worthington had not heard reports that Forty Acres might be violating zoning regulations, but does not think the city is deliberately ignoring what is going on there. When Berkeley was considering placing new cannabis measures on the ballot, it became clear that there were many gray areas surrounding collectives, he said. While the city closely monitors dispensaries, it takes a hands-off approach to collectives.

“I don’t think the city bureaucracy is paying attention to what ethnicity a collective is,” said Worthington. “I think the city is not paying attention to collectives and has not been called upon to differentiate between collectives and dispensaries. If people are asking questions, then the city might be required to find out what the difference is.”

Groves, who is vice-chair of the Medical Cannabis Commission, has said one of her goals for the commission is to create a how-to handbook for collectives and dispensaries to eliminate confusion over what is and what is not permitted. She said the line between collectives and dispensaries in California law is not clear.

“There is nothing now that says what a dispensary should act like,” said Groves. “We don’t have a storefront (Forty Acres operates out of a second-story space) so we are not regulated via the retail laws.”

In the meantime, Forty Acres is trying to operate a safe space for people who benefit from medical cannabis. The African-American community, traumatized by poverty, discrimination, and violence, has been self-medicating with marijuana for generations, long before it was called medical cannabis, she said. People were forced to smoke pot in secret, and Forty Acres is trying to show people both how cannabis is a medicine that can help anxiety, depression, and post traumatic disorder from violence, and that it can be prescribed by a doctor, said Groves.

When Groves, Smith and the other co-founders started Forty Acres in December 2009, they found that many African-Americans did not know they could get a prescription for cannabis. To jump start the collective, Groves and Smith paid for 200 people to go to the doctor to see if they qualified for medical cannabis, she said.

One of the goals of Forty Acres is to change the equation, from where African Americans were consuming cannabis in secret, or dealing it on the street, to out into the open, said Groves. That’s why Forty Acres reaches out into the community and takes people are unemployed and trains them as cannabis entrepreneurs, she said.

“We don’t want to be illegal,” said Groves. “We want to be legal, to be transparent. We want to provide for our families. We want to open the door to other people.”

Clarification: 10.03.11: Berkeleyside changed the word “youth” to “young adult” to clarify that Forty Acres does not have anyone under 18 in the training program. When Toya Groves used the word “kids,” she said she was referring to people who may not have completed high school but were over 18. This may not have been clear. The words have been crossed out and replaced in the above article.

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  • William

    I’m currently a graduate student at UC Berkeley, arguably one of the the best and most competitive public universities in the world, and I frequently used marijuana as a teenager.  I would have loved an opportunity to work at a dispensary/collective like this after school — that said, my background and motivation would probably be very different from these kids.

    If we take it as a given that the kids are high-school drop outs, they’re already at high risk for criminal behavior.  Pushing them towards entrepreneurism rather than crime might not be a bad idea, and could even motivate them to further their studies.

  • Maureen Burke

    Let’s see….7,000 members dropping a minimum of $200/month there, that’s $1.4 million/month gross at least. I don’t see a young person exposed to this type of easy but fleeting money becoming motivated to further their studies. All the talk of helping disadvantaged minority youth or people with medical problems is more than ridiculous–it harms those very groups. It’s a moneymaker for the owners and they should be ashamed to suggest any operating principle other than lining their own pockets.

  • Heather W.

    I’m not sure how bud tending, cultivation, patient intake methods (huh?) and product assessment — is a way to “make the unemployable become employable”. Rather, spending a few years enmeshed in pot cultivation and pot sales are likely to produce more pot growers and drug sellers. At what point is saturation of this job market reached?  

  • Heather W.

    Heck, one-quarter of that amount is an enormous amount of money on a monthly basis.  

  • They should be, but they aren’t.
    They’re shrewd businessmen and very willing to abuse the system to their advantage.
    They say it’s “for the kids” to try to get support for their extra-legal business, and I’m sure it won’t be long before cries of “RACIST!” start flying around.

  • Anonymous

    ” two Berkeley dispensaries sent some of its members to surreptitiously join 40 Acres and scope out their activities, according to a source”

    Is it ethical for dispensary owners to in-filitrate, document, and record legal medical marijuana patients, at any location, without their permission? Seems unethical if not illegal? 

  • Anonymous

    I cant believe you would joke like that in Berkeley. 

  • Anonymous

    Truth Speaks

  • Anonymous

    This article seems supported by people or entities who see Forty Acres as a threat to their business endeavors, doesn’t it? 

  • Anonymous

    In this day and age with more people loosing their jobs and universal health care  less and less talked about, it seems like a decent gesture.  Any of you ever pay for 200 people to see a doctor for anything? However this article does seem sensationalized, 

  • Anonymous

    I have never seen a kid at forty. I think she meant young adults 18 and up. I agree unemployment is at an all time high across the nation but specifically and increasingly higher in urban areas.

  • Anonymous

    Your children will pick their own destiny honey. You wouldnt encourage your children to stand up for what they believe. To help others. To give back. To learn their culture and embrace others.  

  • Anonymous

    Yes she ran as advocate for at risk youth and brought attention to the disproportionate number of black and brown kids suspended and expelled from busd and the achievement gap. 

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Right on Bruce! 

  • Anonymous

    Gentrification means the intentional take over of traditional black and brown neighborhoods.  Lets not forget how crack got to urban areas like Oakland and Harlem and how it destroyed neighborhoods and people of all races.  What if it meant shutting down houses that had alcoholism, or pill poppers!

  • Anonymous

    Please do your research Laura and Heather! Forty Acres was established before her appointment! 

  • Anonymous

    You dont know your laws. Look at California State attorney Guidelines, SB420, and prop 215. If they are a nonprofit collective registered with the state, have a resale license, have a verifying system for patients, and are accountable and responsible for all transactions…they are legal by state law.

  • Anonymous

    There is a huge amount of administrative tasks in running any organization . Training in the Medical Marijuana Industry includes knowing sativa from indica which have different effects.  Oakland has an entire University dedicated to this type of education, called Oaksterdam! Check it out

  • Anonymous

    Do your research more thoroughly. I believe they have all those things except a business license because the city has not opened the dispensary permit application process.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing in that article mentions Ex-Felons at Forty Acres.  I think you revealed your racial bias because they are Black Medical Marijuana Providers!  Cash registers actually reveal greater financial accountability! They pay State Taxes so they need to keep track of all transactions. 

  • Anonymous

    I can see why your not on any board.  You lack objectivity and are clearly biased about things that are new to you. 

  • Anonymous

    Additionally the homicide rate of African Americans is the highest across the state, Blacks die quicker from cancer, have the highest number of AIDS cases, and are the most highly criminalized.  When you say decrease it may actually mean disapear. Did you hear about the state execution of a 14 year old African American boy in North Carolina?

  • Anonymous

    I think she meant kids like an auntie refers to young adults. High School Dropouts can be adults as well. Medicines such as ritalin and antidepressants and other over the counter prescription meds have side effects that may interfere with studies as well. Forty has an education program which shows that they do know the value of education. I see students of all races studying in the lounge all the time.  The halls at Forty are decorated with people of historical significance, there is always a political conversation going on, Ms. groves suggests the uses of operational handbooks for collectives and dispensaries, she ran for school board.  I think they do value education, it shows!

  • Anonymous

    I feel you Berkeley student

  • Anonymous

    Providing and economic opportunity enhances the probability for youth to attend junior college and higher education.  The cost of education is increasing.  Forty has college students who ligitimently and financially support themselves via their work at Forty and go to school. A collective has no owners and according to state law must be a nonprofit organization. 

  • Anonymous

    Your numbers are off!

  • Anonymous

    Blacks are the highest criminalized group, die first from cancer, have the most AIDS cases and the highest homicide rate . Forty Acres is addressing these issues.  It seems like they have found an avenue that may actually help  alleviate all those statistics.  They are taking an issue in their community and trying to fix it.  Racism still exists in 2011 honey.  And if you look at the primary leaders of dispensary  there is  lack of color.  Forty acres did not beg for the current dispensaries to fix the issues that affect poor and black communities, they took it upon themselves to address the issues within their own community.

    Do your research Sharkey because I truly don’t believe that sharks are as dumb as they were portrayed in Finding Nemo! 

  • Anonymous

    There is a whole University in Downtown Oakland dedicated to medical marijuana education and certification programs! 

  • laura

    I know and I did not make the comment you complain about.  I heard Toya and associates speak at the medical cannabis commission meetings I attended as
    a legitimate caregiver (non-user) of a disabled family member whose
    disease MAY get some relief from cannoboidnoids.

    I spoke about the dispensaries and collectives emphasis on profits from recreation
    drug use and  and the problems of obtaining med pot for the
    extremely low income truly disabled folks.

    Some neurologists support  the use of the drug for relief of  some of debilitating symptoms of the disease , others feel strongly that marijuana  worsens cognition in all users. As the caregiver I have seen evidence of both sides, easing of muscle pain and insomnia,  and negative affects causing  problematical  behavioral and cognitive functioning.

     I look forward to a the use of Functional MRIs to help explain the action of pot on the brain.

  • What does any of what you said have to do with what I was talking about?

  • Beme

    come one 40 acre staff member, they break zoning and hour limits.  It’s not a black or white thing..its a follow the rules or screw the pooch for everyone who does.  

    And the issue is about an individual’s right to choose their own path as long as it does not directly harm another person.  If someone wants to choose cannabis over vicoden or cannabis over Jim Beam….its their right to choose.  Why should it only be a choice between oxycontin or Moonshine?

  • I know what the technical meaning of gentrification is. However what happened with B-Town was not an example of gentrification.

    The use of alcohol and prescription medication don’t violate Federal law when done in compliance with local & National law.

    But if it meant shutting down businesses and homes that were pushing alcohol and pills in ways that were illegal, I would absolutely be in favor of that.

  • Heather W.

    All the worse for the City of Berkeley. I don’t knock Toya and Christ for opening a collective or dispensary, really — it’s up to the City to enforce it’s own laws and regulations. If they appoint a person to commission positions that are directly in-line with a business venture that isn’t run by the City’s own regulations, then it’s bad on the city. Let me be clear here; I have nothing against a pot dispensary, nor do I have anything bad to say about this particular collective/dispensary — it is simply not doing business in line with the City of Berkeley’s regulations and the COB isn’t enforcing their own laws. That’s really my only problem. 

  • Heather W.

    But not if they are not operating under the regulations of the City in which they do business. 

  • Heather W.

    My understanding is that Toya feels it is helpful to ex-felons and others with troubled pasts to learn the marijuana dispensing trade. Please forgive me if I am mistaken.  My reference to ex-felons has nothing to do with race, in fact most of the felons I know are family — oh, and white. 

  • Heather W.

    In which case, the dispensary shouldn’t be in operation; they don’t have a dispensary permit. 

  • Heather W.

    I’m glad that 40 Acres is a proponent of education — of all kinds I hope. I think a lot of discussion here is more the usual discussions batting around pros and cons — always a lot of cons. I stand by my cynicism about City of Berkeley’s non-actions. In many cases I’ve seen them arbitrarily decide to turn a blind eye to some infractions and not to others. It is their business to enforce their own laws and regulations. On a positive note, I spoke with a friend of mine who works at the Albatross. This person has had ample opportunity to see people coming and going, whether or not they are loitering and/or causing problems — and he says that it is very quiet, even during the DJ nights. He said that “the people who run it” are very nice and polite. He also said that it is interesting to watch the patrons of each business keeping a wide berth from each other. Thus far, he notes there haven’t been any problems. By any chance are you Ms. Groves?

  • Heather W.

    Laura posted an interest in more sensitive MRIs — the SPECT scans are far more telling in the neurologic affects of drug and/or alcohol abuse. Dr. Daniel Amen is an expert in this field (I have done neuropsych reports using his data). The link for the SPECT images are here. They do include the images of pre- and post-marijuana use. 

  • Bruce Love

    An expert, eh?   Which of his “Nutraceutical Solutions” (TM?) or self help DVD’s do you recommend?


    “In turn, Quackwatch.org argues that “satisfaction rates” have nothing to do with success rates, and that Amen allegedly has never made data about either available for scrutiny. According to its website, Amen Clinics charges $3,375 for a “comprehensive evaluation,” which includes the patient’s history, two SPECT scans, a physician consultation, and a 30-minute treatment follow-up appointment. Follow-up scans after treatment are $795 each.”

  • Heather W.

    There is no universal health care, so more and more people aren’t losing anything that they didn’t already not have. Would it be more productive to pay for 200 people to see a dentist and spend $200 each? Yes. Would it be more productive to pay for 200 women to have pelvic exams? Yes.  Would it be more productive to go to 200 people who need food and provide a bag of groceries worth $200? Yes. Would it be more productive to feed 200 people’s kids breakfast for a month or more than spend $200 per marijuana patient for a card? Yes.  So no, I don’t think there’s anything heroic about paying for 200 people to get marijuana vouchers so they can buy weed at a dispensary. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who need it, or benefit from the medicinal qualities of the products, but I’m saying that on a community level, there are FAR better ways to help 200 people. 

  • Heather W.

    You’d have to be in the spectrum of neuropsychology to understand, Thomas. While you naysay, based upon your layman’s limited understanding, Dr. Amen offers services to people who suffer from chemical intolerances, toxic exposure, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as well as many other maladies that are greatly misunderstood. His SPECT scans have been inordinately helpful to people who  no longer have viable employment because of brain damage due to a variety of environmental illnesses (which the Berkeley City Council seems to accept, via their “no fragrance” rules), and Dr. Amen is an advocate for those who suffer illnesses that are hard to discern, and he also does studies on brain injury from chemicals and drug abuses as evidenced by the SPECT Scans. His work is viable and sustainable. He supports many people in our community who had to fight hard to obtain disability status (like those who really require medical cannabis) but have had no luck with the generally accepted Western Medical community. Two sides to every coin; he has done good research and the scans are accepted within legal and medical communities — even when the diagnoses are not. 

  • Heather W.

    One more thing — it’s not a matter of satisfaction rates; I’ve seen the largest Insurance companies fold to Dr. Amen’s reports, in conjunction with medical and neuropsychological reports for people with brain injuries and toxic injuries that the western medical community was formerly able to fend off. Thanks to Dr. Amen, many people with elusive medical issues have gotten disability and workers’ compensation. Maybe if they’d all just smoked some splif they’d have been okay… 

  • High Anxiety

    I find it more than suspicious that the sources for opposition to 40 Acres are from an anonymous “prominent member of the cannabis community,” and “a member of one of Berkeley’s three dispensaries who asked not to be named.” The operating members of 40 Acres identified themselves and apparently stand behind their collective. I think the unidentified sources are likely affiliated with other Berkeley dispensaries which currently charge three arms and six legs for product they pay only an arm and a leg for — and you must admit, two arms and five legs is too much profit for a small amount of vegetable matter. 

    Cannabis costs an arm and a leg, because it has to be produced covertly, with expensive equipment and lots of electricity. Dispensaries and collectives have traditionally priced their product slightly higher than the black market. Even though they have huge overhead, dispensaries are able to make significant money, because they often charge over 100% more than they pay for the cannabis they dispense. In cities with few dispensaries and much regulation (such as Berkeley, Oakland and San Francsco), dispensaries have little competition. They can charge outrageous prices and get away with it, as they are the only legal games in town. In cities with many dispensaries (such as Sacramento and San Jose), dispensaries and collectives must compete for patients, just like Wallgreens, Walmart and CVS. In the Sacramento area, which has well over 100 dispensaries, prices are 20-40% lower than they are in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, because they must compete to pay the rent. The bad ones close quickly, and the good ones set the standard for competition.

    Berkeley has had three dispensaries for a few years. The one on Telegraph dispenses most of its cannabis for $20 per gram or $60 per 1/8 oz (3.5 grams). It has no shortage of Cal students to keep it in business. The one on Shattuck has a many fewer patients. It dispenses most of its cannabis for between $45 and $55 per 1/8 oz, but the price goes down as quantity goes up. The big one on San Pablo sells cannabis for between $10 and $60 per 1/8 oz. and they’ll knock off 10% if you buy 1/2 oz. or more. The quality varies greatly, but in order to get something which is both effective and palatable, one must usually spend roughly $40-$55 per 1/8 oz. It is one of the biggest dispensaries in California and has many more members than all the berkeley dispensaries combined. It often has a line of over 20 patients being seen by as many as eight “budtenders.” Despite its huge overhead (it employs many people and pays decent benefits), it must be socking away profits by the millions. A visit to guidestar mght shed some light on the profits of these dispensaries, as it lists the salaries of the top three officers of non-profit organizations, which are required to be disclosed by law. 

    At 40 Acres, members can get more medicine of higher quality by donating less than they would at Berkeley dispensaries. I imagine that the reason a prominent member of the cannabis community is concerned about 40 Acres, is because 40 Acres successfully competes for members. This drives down the “profits” of the dispensaries, and pressures them to lower their prices. This is a good thing, as patients shouldn’t have to pay three arms and six legs for small amounts of a plant nicknamed, “weed.” 

    If other dispensaries were to open in Berkeley, prices and profits would come down even more. That would be an even better thing — except for the dispensary owners, which is probably why there is so much anonymous “concern” being expressed over 40 Acres (after all, the easiest way to compete with others is to eliminate them altogether).

    As for being located in an apartment, it is not an apartment. It is more like a suite of offices, as there are no common areas, just a hallway with rooms. Even if people were living there in the past, it shouldn’t be considered an apartment. The block of San Pablo it’s located on is in a commercial district, but so are the three dispensaries in Berkeley. What is the problem with that? It’s location over the Albatross is perfect, as there is much foot traffic on the block, so it doesn’t have the feel of being the neighborhood drug dealer. The only significant problem with 40 Acres is that it isn’t accessible to people in wheelchairs, which I assume forces them to use the more costly dispensaries instead. 

    I don’t know how much profit is made at non-profit dispensaries. But I do know how much profit is made at non-profit HMOs like Kaiser: A LOT! In the last five years Kaiser has made over $5,700,000,000 in profits (http://labornotes.org/2011/09/23000-strike-giant-california-hospital-chains) — no doubt socked away for a time when it can be stolen properly reinvested. In the mean time, it’s top executives make millions, while cutting benefits for doctors, nurses, and other staff. Indeed, the nurses went on strike just a few weeks ago in order to protest proposed reductions in their own health benefits.

    Because Berkeley dispensaries have all but a collective monopoly on grey market cannabis sales in Berkeley, their executives must be taking big salaries and socking profits away for later opportunities — just like Kaiser, but on a smaller scale. That’s why this article pisses me off. 

    I can’t figure out why you came to write this article, Ms. Dinkelspiel. Did some dispensary owner convince you that 40 Acres was a problem? Are you a naive pawn in the middle of all of this, or do you have some friend or family member who stands to benefit in some way from your article?

    I am a cannabis patient. I use it under the supervision of my doctor and the reasons I use it are none of anybody’s business but mine. The medical pot laws we have in this state are crooked, but better than nothing. At least patients can get it and use it without much fear of reprisal. Dispensaries and collectives are usually more expensive than the black market. However they are also more convenient, and they offer a better selection and a more civilized purchasing experience than most black market dealers. 

    In addition to being a member of many dispensaries and collectives all over Northern California (including all the three Berkeley dispensaries), I am a member of 40 Acres. I started donating to 40 acres after getting something from Berkeley Patients Group that was so unpalatable that I couldn’t stand smoking it. It still sits unused in my medicine cabinet because BPG doesn’t accept returns of bad medicine — no, I didn’t try to return it, because I had to agree to their no return policy when I became a member. When I started going to 40 Acres, I was pleased to find that I could get more high quality cannabis by making a smaller donation there, than I could at any Berkeley dispensary. This was welcome to me, and I have been using 40 Acres happily ever since.

    Today, I stopped by to pick up some cheap cannabis. I heard people talking about the article on Berkeleyside. So when I got home, I checked it out for myself and decided to post this (longer than anticipated) comment. 40 Acres didn’t ask me to write this and doesn’t know I’m writing this. They will surely see it posted here, but they will have no idea who wrote it, and I will receive no remuneration of any kind for it. My only affiliation with 40 Acres is that of a patient who wants to spend less money on cannabis. Saving money is my only financial interest in 40 Acres. I hope that they continue to lead the way to lower prices in Berkeley. 

    I also hope there will be somewhat of an explosion of dispensaries in Berkeley, as well as elsewhere in California. A recent report (http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2011/RAND_TR987.pdf) by the non-partisan (read: very conservative) RAND corporation found that not long after many dispensaries in Los Angeles were forced to close, crime in the areas surrounding the closed dispensaries was as much as 60% higher than it was in the areas surrounding dispensaries which had not been forced to close. For such numbers to come out of a conservative study which was probably designed to show the opposite, a pretty good argument can be made for the benefits of dispensaries to their communities.

    Downtown Oakland is a perfect example of this. Not too many years ago, downtown Oakland was losing businesses. Crime was increasing and few people dared go there after dark. But since cannabis businesses started opening up in the wake of Prop 215 and SB-420, downtown Oakland has seen nothing less than a renaissance. Even in this tough financial climate, new businesses are opening up every week. There are more shoppers and business people on the streets during the day, the beautifully renovated Fox Theater and and attached School of the Arts have brought much needed traffic to the area and there is now a thriving night club and restaurant scene developing. Without the dispensaries, downtown oakland would be depressingly empty during the day, and all but a ghost town at night.  

    FWIW, 40 Acres collects sales tax on all donations. I’m sure the operators are sincere about wanting to collect Berkeley cannabis tax too. Hopefully the city will recognize the value of collectives like 40 Acres, and license them to become dispensaries. Until then, anonymous “members of the cannabis community,” living in what amount to glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones — don’t read anything nefarious into this; it’s not a veiled threat, it’s just a simple metaphor; I’m not a member of the cannabis community.

    Ideally marijuana will be legalized soon. When it’s legal, it will be able to be produced outdoors with a miniscule carbon footprint, the natural law of supply and demand will takeover the market, and the price will fall well below an arm and a leg. Until then, we should have as much sympathy for “prominent members of the cannabis community” and “non-profit” “dispensary” “owners” whining about their competition, as we do for corporations like general electric and exxon getting huge government contracts along with huge tax subsidies while paying lobbyists to whine about high corporate taxes. 

    Why did you write this article, Ms. Dinkelspiel?

  • Heather W.

    That was a good post, High Anxiety. Thanks for writing that. 

  • MJ



  • John Holland

    This comment thread is a great example of why I believe it’s important not to say things that are untrue about medical cannabis.

    It is my opinion that all collectives and dispensaries in Berkeley should operate under the law. That includes 40 Acres and Perfect Plants Patient Group. I am not alone in this regard. In fact, in this thread alone, I’ve counted as least 14 other people who seem to feel that way. My guess is that a majority of Berkeley feels this way.

    It’s important not to make mistakes towards that end. For the majority of us that want all dispensaries legal, we do not want our arguments weakened, our credibility tarnished, and our efforts sabotaged. It is difficult enough to keep cannabis safe and legal, without rogue citizens undermining that effort

    As it stands, if I were 40 Acres or Perfect Plant Patients Group. Here is what I would say in my 3 minutes at the next Medical Cannabis Meeting:

    Some people … have been spreading lies on the Internet in an attempt to discredit 40 Acres and Perfect Plant Patients Group, and damage our reputation.

    “In an attempt to scare people, they have been making false claims about the prevalence of gun violence at collectives and dispensaries. In fact, you are far more likely to get struck by lightning then to be a victim of gun violence in a collective or dispensary.

    “In an attempt to stigmatize sick people, they have been saying that a majority of our patients are illegitimate recreational users. In fact, there isn’t a single piece of reputable, peer-reviewed research to support that claim.

    “They have also been claiming to support their assertions with vast amounts of national research, where none exists.

    “Don’t just take my word for it, look it up on the Internet, and see for yourself. Then decide who you want to believe.”

    They’d be wise to just print out the above statement and read it at the next Medical Cannabis Committee meeting.

    This is the last thing I want them to say, because I would hate to be dismissed by the commission as sloppy, shrill, and hysterical. Political strategy aside (strategy: not getting caught spreading lies), 40 Acres or Perfect Plant Patients Group sound like fair people; it’s important for me to be fair back to them.

    The irony is that in an attempt to discredit 3pg with bogus facts left uncorrected, those of us that believe all collectives and dispensaries should operate under the law are left vulnerable to criticism. It undermines our effort.

    We do not wish to be discredited. And 40 Acres or Perfect Plant Patients Group could easily do that, just by printing out the above statement, and reading it at the next Medical Cannabis Commission meeting.

    That’s what I’d do, if I were them.

    :-( sad face.

    This comment has been moderated

  • Actually it’s a terrible post full of false information. But whatever?