Tag Archives: Brad Senesac

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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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 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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Berkeley to move cautiously on marijuana grow facilities

Marijuana plants for sale at the old location of Berkeley Patients Group
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As Berkeley prepares to form a new medical marijuana commission to draw up rules governing the growth of cannabis, it must decide whether recent threats of legal retribution by the Alameda County District Attorney will nix plans for large-scale cultivation facilities.

In December, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley sent a letter to Oakland city officials alerting them that their plans to allow large-scale growing facilities would violate state and federal laws. The warning prompted Oakland to suspend plans to issue permits for the marijuana factories until Feb. 1. Oakland is also considering modifications to its law.

Now Berkeley, too, will proceed with caution, Mayor Tom Bates said on Saturday. Although the city did not directly receive a letter from O’Malley, the one sent to Oakland left a “cold chill” for elected officials, said Bates. O’Malley’s letter suggested that that public officials could be held personally and criminally liable if they move forward to open any of the six 30,000 square foot grow facilities authorized by the November passage of Measure T.

“It put a cold stake in the hearts of elected officials,” Bates said. “I guess the downside is we go to jail.” … Continue reading »

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Local business

Measures S and T would grow city’s cannabis industry

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Berkeley residents will vote on two ballot measures on Tuesday that could lead to a greatly expanded medical cannabis industry in the city – and hundreds of thousands of new dollars for the city’s coffers.

Measure T would increase the number of places that sell marijuana from three to four, and also permit six 30,000-square-foot indoor growing areas in the city’s industrial zone in West Berkeley. These places would not be open for customers, but would be used to grow cannabis, test it, distill it into tinctures or creams, or cook it into food products.

Measure T would also explicitly permit medical cannabis collectives to operate in residential neighborhoods, but limit the size of their grow operations to 200 square feet. Collectives are usually composed of a small group of people who come together to grow cannabis for their own use. Sometimes they sell their excess marijuana to the dispensaries.

Measure T would also dissolve the current Medical Marijuana Commission created by Measure JJ and replace it with one whose members are appointed by the City Council.

Measure S would place a tax on medical cannabis sales – up to 2.5% for medical cannabis and, if Proposition 19 passes, as much as 10% for recreational marijuana. Raising the tax from its current level of $1.20 per $1,000 of gross receipts to $25 per $1,000 of gross receipts would bring the city approximately $460,000 a year, according to a staff report. … Continue reading »

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