East Bay medical cannabis patients have a new access point for their alternative herbal remedy of choice. Phytologie Wellness Center opened for business late last year on Enterprise Way near the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum complex. And the new medical pot dispensary is a model for cleanliness, security, and professionalism.
While most East Bay cities ban dispensaries because of inaccurate fears about crime, Oakland is part of a compassionate constellation of cities — including San Francisco (which has about two dozen clubs), Berkeley (which has three clubs), and Richmond (which also has three clubs) — that has embraced medical weed. Oakland began regulating medical cannabis outlets in 2004 and collects roughly $1.4 million in annual taxes from them.
Amid the federal-state medical pot crackdown of 2011, Oakland again went against the grain and doubled its number of operating permits issued to dispensaries from four to eight. About a dozen groups applied for the new permits, including a Montel Williams venture called Abatin Wellness.
Abatin failed to win one of the new permits, but became an alternate while four groups with conditional permits looked for space to lease. Months passed, a group with a conditional permit backed out, and it was Abatin, now dubbed Phytologie Wellness, that managed to find a spot off the Hegenberger Road exit of Interstate 880, just off Edes Avenue, behind a Day's Inn and a Jack in the Box.
It's easy to get lost in the rugged, heavily industrial maze off Hegenberger. Oakland's seventh licensed dispensary is also very low-profile. The establishment hasn't courted publicity, and it doesn't have street signage. But the club's incongruity with the neighborhood gives it away nonetheless.
The outlet is meticulously landscaped, power-washed, and litter-free, ensconced behind a new, green-screened chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Shiny, white, antennae-like cameras protrude from the roof of the Seventies-style, one-story office building. On a recent visit, two security guards directed traffic to free onsite parking.
Past the metal detector, Kendrick Lamar's "ADHD" played in the lobby, and intake took a few minutes with a valid state ID and a physician's recommendation. Everything shined brand new, from the stained, hardwood floors to the white walls and fluorescent office lights.
Past the locked door to the main room, Phytologie has a smelling station that features several strains and an info guide. Product displays lined a side wall and a line of patients formed down the middle of the space. Heavy dudes with neck tattoos and work boots, graveyard-shift workers in hospital scrubs, and businessmen waited for their turn at the two budtending stations. Two menus posted on flat-screen monitors on the back wall were jam-packed with product. We counted about twenty indicas, seven sativas, and twelve hybrids, plus several dozen concentrates, edibles, and topicals.
"Phytologie" riffs on the Greek-language root words for "plant" and "to grow," and the club's herb looked and smelled like it was produced by some expert cultivators. Top-shelf strains such as Pincher's Creek, Old Amsterdam, and Classic Trainwreck went for a maximum of $55 per eighth-ounce. On the day I visited, business was booming due to Phytologie's $50, half-ounce special — a fresh, THC-rich house mix of popcorn buds and shake in a big canister.
The club also had crowd-pleasers, such as A-grade Blue Dream, along with some epic Super Cookies priced to move at $40 an eighth. Other signs of greatness included Ed Rosenthal Select Sativa Blend MediCones for $17 each and Rump Wax's galaxy-class shatter for a pricey $70 per gram.
How can such a new dispensary have such an amazing lineup just six months in? The helpful, knowledgeable clerk said the folks from Cannabis Buyer's Club of Berkeley were directing operations. That explains the trademark Pincher's Creek strain that the club had on sale. As for Montel Williams, he has been out of the picture for months, she said.
Phytologie is cash-only due to federal interference in banking related to medical cannabis. An onsite ATM charges a token fee. Customers who refer others to the dispensary get 10 percent off — as do same-day Coliseum event ticketholders.
Seeds and Stems
A historic bill to regulate California's medical cannabis industry got some much-needed amendments and passed a key committee hurdle last week. State Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) removed from his Senate Bill 1262 onerous doctor rules and an ill-advised proposal to have county health departments play an enforcement role in medical pot dispensaries. The cannabis industry-friendly amendments led to the bill's unprecedented endorsement by patient advocates at Americans for Safe Access and California NORML. The California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) withdrew its opposition to the bill and has now taken a "neutral" stance on it. The Senate Health committee passed the bill in a 6-0 vote, and the legislation heads to the Appropriations committee next.
SB 1262, however, has yet to spell out important regulations. The legislature and the governor will still have to agree on whom they want in charge of policing the state's multi-billion medical cannabis industry.