“Founded in 1999, BPG holds the distinction of being the nation’s oldest medical dispensary.”
Since 2012, Berkeley Patients Group (commonly known as BPG) has called a former A&W distribution facility in Berkeley, California home. Despite the area’s reputation for being progressive, BPG’s move from their first location was necessitated by the city of Berkeley, which was unable to successfully run BPG out of town, but did force the collective to seek a new address. Soon, they’ll be on the move once more to a more prominently located spot. One reason? The potential for an on-site consumption lounge. For now, the decently-sized store floor is elegantly arranged with waist-high display cases that group like products together. BPG offers a welcoming atmosphere, in part thanks to the local art and Goldleaf infographics on the walls. Nice lighting and dedicated parking spots further complement the experience of visiting BPG. At present, plans are to move into the dispensary’s newest location within the next year.
HISTORY & VALUES
The history of medical marijuana in the United States cannot fully be told without the story of BPG. Founded in 1999, BPG holds the distinction of being the nation’s oldest medical dispensary. Co-owner Etienne Fontan – who is also one of the founders for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access – is an Iraq War veteran who discovered Cannabis as an alternative to prescription opioids. At the time, he was desperate to find something that would effectively treat the wasting syndrome he’d contracted during his service. Cannabis was the answer. In his role with BPG, Fontan has strenuously advocated and innovated on behalf of better testing for Cannabis. Even in the days prior to Prop 64, BPG has always been extremely focused on the safety of their products and the patients who consume them. Fontan has also overseen the use of BPG as a blueprint for numerous other dispensaries, as well as a valuable source of educational information for government officials, prospective operators and their faithful clientele.
BPG has an excellent inventory that reflects the premium the operation places on safe and consistent products. One area of special focus are the CBD products for sale. BPG is very careful about what they’re willing to sell, offering a comforting base level of scrutiny that takes the burden off of their customers (for what it’s worth, Fontan himself enjoys Care By Design).
On the flower front, a consumer’s cornucopia of Emerald Triangle delights are readily available, with eighths ranging in price from $22 to $60. BPG’s enviably robust menu also includes a wide array of topicals, concentrates and edibles, in addition to a selection of beverages and other specialty items.
BUDTENDERS & SPECIALS
All new budtenders at BPG are offered a manual in hopes of helping them navigate the myriad questions, concepts and standards that come with employment in the legalized Cannabis industry. The customer-to-employee ratio is helped by BPG’s sufficient staffing, which means less waiting and more personal attention. All staff are further encouraged to engage in active listening, which can make a huge difference in ensuring patients feel both heard and welcomed. BPG also embraces open and inclusive hiring policies, which reflects the diverse demographics of their namesake city. Last, but certainly not least, they also offer their employees benefits and 401k plans.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that Berkeley Patients Group is the most important single dispensary in the legacy of California’s medical marijuana movement. Far from being but a historically relevant institution, BPG continues to lead by example today. From their hiring policies to the quality of the flower they’re selling, this pot shop is truly a gold standard for all other dispensaries to follow.
above: BPG Owner Etienne Fontan
Berkeley Patients Group
2366 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702
STORY by Zack Ruskin @zackruskin | PHOTOS by DANIELLE HALLE @SWEET.DEEZY