Medical Marijuana Group Loses Chance to Relocate Dispensary

Photo: The Berkeley Patients Group, shown in its current location, can no longer move to the former Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker factory after the Wareham Development company purchased the vacant factory property Thursday.
Jeff Totten/Photo
The Berkeley Patients Group, shown in its current location, can no longer move to the former Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker factory after the Wareham Development company purchased the vacant factory property Thursday.

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The Berkeley Patients Group lost its chance to move its medical marijuana dispensary to a West Berkeley chocolate factory after a development company bought the building Thursday in an effort to protect the reputation of its nearby businesses.

Wareham Development, a company that owns seven other buildings on the same street as the factory and 22 others in Berkeley and Emeryville, said in January that it would sue the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission if the dispensary was allowed to move into the vacant Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker factory.

"We were forced to purchase this building because of the lack of action of the City Council in Berkeley," said Tim Gallen, spokesperson for the company. "However, we are happy to have it in our portfolio."

The group, which cultivates, tests and distributes medical marijuana, had planned on moving into the factory at 914 Heinz Ave. in West Berkeley to expand its services to include acupuncture and massage therapy.

Currently, there are two other cannabis dispensaries in Berkeley and four in Oakland, according to Brad Senesac, communications director for the group.

Senesac said the group has been trying to move to a larger building for the past five years.

"We don't have enough space," Senesac said. "We're busting at the seams here."

He added the dispensary is looking to further regulate the business of cannabis medicines.

"With that, we would need a certified bakery and licensed commercial grow area for growing the medicine," Senasac said in a e-mail.

According to Senesac, the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission granted the dispensary the right to acquire the permit, but the dispensary declined due to possible lawsuit claims from the development company and a nearby French school, Ecole Billingue.

Medical marijuana dispensaries currently operate under Measure JJ, which passed in November 2008. The measure states that dispensaries can obtain a permit to operate anywhere in Berkeley without a public hearing as long as it is not within 1,000 feet of a public school.

The French school was opposed to the move because the old factory is less than 600 feet away from its Heinz Avenue campus. Since the school is private, it is not protected under the measure.

"Now that it looks like the (dispensary) won't move to the location, we're not in the loophole anymore," said Jennifer Monahan, communications manager for the school. "But in the long term, we would like to see that loophole closed so that all schoolchildren in Berkeley are equally protected."

Although the development company bought the old factory to protect nearby businesses, Gallen said the company will used the space to expand its presence on the avenue.

"We do have a design team in place already (which is) trying to figure out what we're going to do with the building and how to make it the most viable and sustainable (location) for our portfolio," he said.

While the dispensary needs more space for its daily operations, Senesac said the group plans to stay at its current location at 2747 San Pablo Ave. in West Berkeley.

"The building was sold so it's no longer a viable option for us," he said. "We're just going to stay at our current location and work from there."


Contact Kaori Zinke at [email protected]

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