Crowds gather at 6 am to celebrate first sales of recreational cannabis in Berkeley

Mayor Jesse Arreguín snips a green ribbon to officially kick off the sale of recreational cannabis in Berkeley. From left, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Sean Luse, COO of Berkeley Patients Group, Arreguín, Tim Schick, the executive director of BPG, and Sabrina Fendrik, the director of government affairs for BPG. Photo: Pete Rosos

It was dark and cold but a little discomfort didn’t seem to matter for the dozens of people who lined up before 6 a.m. to be among the first to buy recreational cannabis in Berkeley.

With a snip of a green ribbon, Mayor Jesse Arreguín officially opened sales at Berkeley Patients Group, the nation’s oldest medical cannabis dispensary at 2366 San Pablo Ave. Two miles away, the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley also threw open its doors.

“I’ve witnessed the tragic consequences of marijuana prohibition firsthand and am proud to represent a city that has been a leader and model example for regulation and reform in California as well as across the country,” said Arreguín, who was joined by State Senator Nancy Skinner and officials from BPG. “I support legalization 100%.”

For BPG, which fought many actions by the federal government to intimidate it and shut it down, including an asset forfeiture case, the occasion marked a victory.

“This historic occasion represents a culmination of dedication, perseverance, and an unwavering commitment to social justice,” Sean Luse, BPG’s chief operating officer, said in a press statement. “We have been fighting long and hard to get to where we are today, and the significance of this moment cannot be overstated.”

People lined up at 2366 San Pablo Ave. before 6 am to buy recreational cannabis. Photo: Pete Rosos.
People lined up at 2366 San Pablo Ave. before 6 am to buy recreational cannabis. Photo: Pete Rosos.
Big Mike Barnes, a friend of the BPG, being interviewed before the ribbon cutting. Photo: Pete Rosos
BPG cashier Sue Gardea checks the IDs of the first-ever purchasers of recreational marijuana in Berkeley, Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris.

Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, longtime cannabis activists, were the first two customers to purchase some “adult use” cannabis. They had to show a federal identification card and pay with cash in order to buy three joints for $45.37 since BPG and other dispensaries don’t take credit cards. (Banks won’t do business with cannabis businesses since the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal substance.) BPG had selected Conrad and Norris to be the first customers. The next was Anthony Moraga, 28, who had driven from Merced in time to line up at 4 a.m., according to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Chris Conrad holds up his purchase, which, by law, must be sealed in child-resistant packaging. Photo: Pete Rosos
Mikki Norris holds up her purchase and the receipt. Photo: Pete Rosos

Monday afternoon, there was a line snaking out of the entrance to CBCB, and inside a celebratory atmosphere prevailed. The dispensary serves a free New Year’s Day brunch every year, and this year Aundre Speciale, the CBCB director, said her conversations with customers had been “amazing.”

“This is so emotional,” she said. “There are people telling stories like ‘I got arrested for a joint in the 1970s or I got kicked out of college for smoking a joint in the 1970s.”

Speciale was also excited that a whole new set of people might now try the product she created, called Specialé. It comes in a small purple-blue box with gold lettering and features an indica strain called Cherry Kola.

Beth Schwartz had come to Berkeley from Miami to accompany her partner as he eases into a three-month position at UC Berkeley. She is a long time cannabis activist and works for NORML, a cannabis advocacy group, and said she was thrilled that recreational cannabis was legal. She had purchased two bags of cookies and some other edibles.

“It’s amazing we can come in and just like at a bar where you sit down and order a drink, we can order our ganja of choice,” she said. “It’s not being treated like Prohibition.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated around 4 p.m.