Tag Archives: Berkeley Patients Group

Report: Berkeley Patients Group earned $15m in 2009

As Berkeley Patients Group prepared to shut its doors on May 1, it advertised its delivery services on a sign behind the reception desk. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Berkeley Patients Group took in $15 million and paid its top executives $911,000 in 2009, while only donating $18,083 to charities, according to a story released Wednesday by California Watch.

Etienne Fontan earned $357,529, Tim Schick earned $290,765, and Debby Goldsberry earned $263,299 in 2009, part of $3.3 million spent on labor costs, according to story. The medical cannabis dispensary, which operated at 2747 San Pablo Avenue until May, when the federal government forced it to close, spent $151,789 on security in 2009 and distributed $253,433 to marijuana advocacy organizations, according to California Watch. It made about a 40% profit on its products.

BPG officials had told the Oakland Tribune in 2009 that it donated about $300,000 a year to charities. … Continue reading »

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Sadness surrounds closing of Berkeley Patients Group

Security guards check the credentials of a patient on the last day of operations of Berkeley Patients Group. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The mood was somber Monday at Berkeley Patients Group as the 12-and-a-half-year old cannabis dispensary got ready to shut its doors.

Like every day, patients streamed in at a steady rate, handing over a doctor’s prescription and driver’s license to get inside. But many of them were also greeted with a hug and expression of gratitude.

“I want to thank you ladies for coming on our last day,” Joshua, a supervisor in the safety department who was working the security detail at the front door said to two patients. He asked that his last name not be used. “You will always be in our hearts and minds.”

Berkeley Patients Group is closing because the federal government informed its landlord, David Mayeri, in November that it might seize his assets if cannabis operations were not stopped. The letter from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag was part of a broad-based crackdown on cannabis operations around California, a push that has resulted in the closure of dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries. Berkeley Patients Group, which has 13,000 members, is the largest and oldest dispensary to be affected, however. … Continue reading »

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Concern over future location of cannabis collective

Front entrance to Berkeley Patients Group
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Last Tuesday afternoon, around 1:30pm, Rebecca, who describes herself as a “50ish” recent transplant from Los Angeles, headed over to the Berkeley Patients Group at 2747 San Pablo Avenue. For the past six months, ever since she moved north, Rebecca has gone to the medical cannabis dispensary once a month to get marijuana to help her with her insomnia brought on by menopause.

“It’s my favorite place,” said the Rockridge resident, who did not give her last name. “It just feels like a community place. The folks are very knowledgeable. I really rely on what they say.”

Rebecca does not know what she will do when BPG closes its doors on May 1, a casualty of the recent federal crackdown on dispensaries located within 1,000 feet of a school or park. She has visited other collectives, but none has made her feel as welcome as Berkeley Patients Group. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Patients Group says it is moving, not closing

Front entrance to Berkeley Patients Group
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Berkeley Patients Group, which had declined for weeks to confirm or deny that the federal government had told its landlord it had to move, sent out an email Thursday night saying it was not going out of business.

“Recent media reports have erroneously stated that Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest and well-respected medical cannabis dispensaries in California, is closing its doors,” Chief Operating Officer Sean Luse said in a press release. “The following statement provides accurate information on BPG’s status: Berkeley Patients Group remains dedicated to providing safe and affordable access to its patient-members, while working to preserve the jobs of its 70+ employees. BPG is not closing. We have been looking to relocate for several years and look forward to announcing our new site, soon. We are grateful for the level of support we have received from the Berkeley community over the years.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary to close May 1

Cannabis plants for sale at Berkeley Patients Group. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Medical cannabis patients in Berkeley will have a more difficult time getting marijuana after Berkeley Patient’s Group shuts down on May 1.

California Watch is reporting today that BPG has signed a legal agreement with its landlord, David Mayeri, to vacate the premises. The agreement came after Mayeri received a letter from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag warning him there might be financial or legal repercussions if distribution of cannabis did not cease at that location.

“Berkeley Patients Group agrees to cease all cannabis-related activities and remove all cannabis-related property from the premises by May 1, 2012,” a legal document filed Feb. 28 in Alameda County Court states, according to California Watch.

Berkeleyside reported yesterday that Mayeri had put his property at 2747 San Pablo Avenue up for sale for $2.55 million. … Continue reading »

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Federal letter may make Berkeley Patients Group relocate

Berkeley Patients Group on San Pablo Avenue
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The owner of the building that houses the Berkeley Patients Group has put it up for sale, further fueling whispers that the federal government sent a letter ordering the cannabis dispensary to shut down.

Gordon Commerical Real Estate is listing the property at 2747 San Pablo Avenue, which is owned by David Mayeri, as a development site for $2.55 million. The 17,500 square foot structure, built in 1953, is an old car dealership, and has a distinctive rounded front room with curved windows that once displayed automobiles. The property has permits in place for a five-story mixed-use building.

The East Bay Express reported in February that the head of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, said that BPG had gotten a letter from the federal government telling it to shut down. Officials from Berkeley Patients Group have declined to confirm or deny the reports that Mayeri received a letter from U.S. Attorney Melissa Haag. But well-informed sources who asked not to be named tell Berkeleyside that Mayeri got a notice in late November. … Continue reading »

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Cannabis dispensaries display a stylish flair

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
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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 … Continue reading »

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Does new cannabis body provide more accountability?

Marijuana plants for sale at the old location of Berkeley Patients Group
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After months of delay, Berkeley’s new Medical Cannabis Commission will meet for the first time on Thursday, ushering in, city officials hope, a new era of oversight and accountability.

For the past 15 years the medical marijuana business has operated in a gray zone, legal in the city and the state but at risk from crackdowns by the federal government, which does not recognize cannabis as medicine. Despite this uncertainty, the medical cannabis industry has flourished in Berkeley, spawning three … Continue reading »

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Berkeley cannabis lawsuit reveals bitter infighting

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Rebecca DeKeuster’s first job at the Berkeley Patients Group in 2004 was selling medical marijuana to patients for $14 an hour.

Within six years, DeKeuster was one of Berkeley Patients Group’s most powerful executives and visible representatives. She served on the city’s medical cannabis commission, appeared regularly at conferences around the country, and spearheaded the 2008 campaign to pass Measure JJ, an initiative to improve city regulations surrounding cannabis. By 2011, DeKeuster’s salary had shot up to $125,000 a year.

But in an unexpected turnaround, the Berkeley Patients Group has filed a lawsuit against DeKeuster – as well as a new organization she heads, the Northeast Patients Group – claiming DeKeuster breached a contract when the BPG sent her to Maine to set up a new string of medical cannabis facilities. DeKeuster stole the organization’s trade secrets, formed a secret alliance with a new financial backer, and failed to repay $632,195 in loans, according to the lawsuit.

As a result, the Berkeley Patients Group lost the inroads it had made into exporting its expertise and expanding into a new region of the country. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Patients Group owes $6.4 million in back taxes

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Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), the city’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, owes more than $6.4 million in back taxes and interest, according to the state’s Board of Equalization (BOE). The BOE confirmed their original assessment of taxes at its meeting in Sacramento this week. Berkeleyside revealed the tax dispute earlier this month.

Elisabeth Jewel, the lawyer lobbyist representing BPG in the case, told Berkeleyside that the group will apply to the BOE’s “offer in compromise” program. “There’s no way that Berkeley Patients Group can pay $6 million in taxes,” she said. “The purpose of the offer in compromise program is to come up with a plan that keeps a taxpayer in business.”

Jewel said that the BOE made clear in its hearing this week that it wanted to find a way to keep BPG solvent. The BPG application will be made soon, according to Jewel. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley cannabis collective struggles with back taxes

Two employees help patients select medical cannabis
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It’s been four months since the Berkeley Patients’ Care Collective on Telegraph Avenue received formal notice that it owes the state $639,000 in back taxes, yet the group still doesn’t know how it is going to pay its bill.

The medical cannabis group, which has deliberately kept itself small to retain its customer-friendly atmosphere, sells about $1.8 million of medical marijuana each year, according to its manager Erik Miller. While that might sound like a lot, by law the group cannot make any profits. Those funds just pay for the cannabis, the rent, and the salaries of 11 employees. There are no hidden or stashed funds with which to pay back the government, he said.

“That’s the perception, that we are rolling in money here,” said Miller earlier this week. “It’s not true. I drive an 18-year old car.”

Complicating factors are the new taxes that Berkeley is imposing on its three dispensaries. The Patients Care Collective must pay a 2.5% tax on the cannabis it buys and a 2.5% tax on the cannabis it sells – on top of the state’s sales tax.

So far, the group has not passed on its increased costs to customers, said Miller. He is not sure what will happen when the collective has to start paying back the tax.

“I just couldn’t see raising the price higher. We’ve absorbed the (tax). We’ve cut expenses. We’ve all taken a pay cut in order not to raise the price for the patients.”

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Berkeley cannabis collectives slapped with huge tax bills

Front entrance to Berkeley Patients Group
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The state Board of Equalization is contending that the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest and largest medical cannabis dispensaries in California, owes $6 million in back taxes, Berkeleyside has learned.

The board claims that the dispensary on San Pablo Avenue did not pay taxes on the medical marijuana it sold from July 2004 to June 2007 and now owes $4.4 million in taxes and about $1.6 million in interest.

The charges come on the heels of a September 2010 ruling in which the Board of Equalization determined that another Berkeley cannabis collective, Patients Care Collective, had to pay $639,000 for back taxes it owed from January 1, 2005 to September 8, 2008 on the sales of cannabis and marijuana cookies.

The Berkeley Patients Group, which has about 13,000 members and serves 800 to 1,000 patients each day, is contesting the charges, according to Elisabeth Jewel, whose firm Aroner, Jewel, & Ellis advises BPG on governmental regulations. Until February 2007, the laws regarding the collection of taxes for the sale of cannabis were murky, which is why the BPG did not pay, she said.

“There is no allegation of malfeasance in terms of collecting a tax and not paying it,” said Jewel. “The Berkeley Patients Group contends it was not clear to them that they had to pay sales taxes on what they consider medicine.”

The Board of Equalization will hold a hearing on the charges at its February 22-24 meeting in Sacramento. While the board would not officially confirm there is a claim pending against BPG, a spokesman did confirm the BPG hearing was on the agenda, which has not yet been made public. Berkeleyside learned about BPG’s late tax payments from a source close to the board, who asked not to be named.

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Berkeley exports its cannabis expertise

Mark Rhoades
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In a sign of the growing professionalization of the medical cannabis industry, Mark Rhoades and Ali Kashani, the owners of the Berkeley development company Citycentric Investments, have teamed up with Debby Goldsberry, a founder of the Berkeley Patients Group, to open a number of medical marijuana facilities around the East Bay.

Rhoades, Kashani, and Goldsberry have applied to open a cannabis dispensary in Albany and are planning to apply to open another in Oakland.

On Saturday, at the California NORML conference in Berkeley, the trio advertised their plans for a new Oakland collective they hope will combine an aesthetically appealing space with a large range of social services. They hung up a big banner on the second floor of the David Brower Center announcing the ARCH Collective, which stands for the Angel’s Retreat for Cannabis Health, to solicit prospective members.

There are only two large dispensaries in the East Bay, Harborside Health Center and BPG, and they are both over capacity, said Goldsberry. Since the rest of the dispensaries in the East Bay are small, there is an urgent need for a new large facility that can accommodate the growing number of medical cannabis patients, she said.

“There’s a war on drugs out there,” said Goldsberry, who along with Rhoades was a speaker at the conference, which looked at next steps for marijuana laws in California. “We want to make a gathering place that people feel comfortable hanging out in. We want to create a place to retreat, a place to come and get healthy, get recharged and then go out back in the world.” … Continue reading »

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