01 Jun A long and renowned tradition of compassion, care, and success: Berkeley Patients Group
By Rob Meagher
CBE Press had the good fortune of landing an exclusive interview last week with Tim Schick, Executive Director of Berkeley Patients Group, and we had the privilege of learning from one of their longest employees/contractors who helped create the best practices that have made BPG “the nation’s longest continuously operating medical cannabis dispensary.”
Founded as a not-for-profit C Corporation back in October 1999 by visionaries Jim McClelland, Debby Goldsberry, and Don Duncan, BPG is now also one of the largest operating medical dispensaries in the U.S., grossing over $15 million in revenue last year. That’s not bad for an operation that was bootstrapped from the beginning and traces its early beginnings to a small back-office established to help those that needed medicine and relief to deal with the onslaught of the AIDS and HIV epidemic. It was the AIDS virus that took Jim’s life in 2000.
BPG’s founders and management team, standing alongside thousands of activists, have sacrificed and bled for the cause of ending cannabis prohibition. They have survived both Republican and Democratic administrations (at the local and national levels), the efforts of an overzealous DEA and U.S. Attorney, and even having their assets frozen and being forced to move their dispensary. All this while operating as a model taxpaying business that serves Berkeley’s medical patient community in Northern California.
The original vision for BPG is reflected in its current mission statement: “Our vision for legal integrity, coupled with our mission to provide compassionate care, has made BPG one of California’s most reputable and successful dispensaries. BPG operates in full compliance with California’s medical cannabis laws and is regarded as an industry leader in self-regulation and the development of industry best practices.”
Many other firsts come to mind with BPG:
- They were one of the first dispensaries to provide free cannabis to patients-in-need through their Helping Hands program, established in 1999.
- BPG was one of the first dispensaries to offer integrated holistic health services like therapeutic massage, acupuncture, support groups, peer counseling, educational events, legal assistance, and end-of-life palliative care.
- Its co-founders formed Americans for Safe Access in 2002, a non-profit patient advocacy group which today has offices in California and Washington, D.C., and chapters in all 50 states.
- BPG is one of the only (if not the only) dispensaries to have been given a “day” of recognition by local government. In 2009, the City of Berkeley, California declared October 31 to be “Berkeley Patients Group Day” for their 10 years of service to the Berkeley community.
- BPG is the only dispensary in America with the honor of having received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from a standing US Congressperson. The Honorable Barbara Lee presented BPG with this award on the dispensary’s 15th anniversary.
Tim Schick joined BPG in 2009, leaving his first job as a mortgage banker after a friend asked him to move to California to join a team at the forefront of the medical cannabis movement. He was an independent contractor in the early years, working as a project manager responsible for supplying inventory to the BPG collective. He was part of the original Helping Hands formulation team and became BPG’s lead cultivation expert. Tim was also part of the team that put together the product mix that BPG carried from its inception, which originally included only flowers, but has since grown to include one of the widest selections of medical cannabis products in Northern California.
In 2008, Tim joined BPG as a full-time employee to help with BPG’s relocation efforts, and he formally became executive director in 2009. In this role, Tim oversees the day-to-day operations, along with Sean Luse, COO, and Roger LaChance (Operations). Tim has navigated the myriad of legal issues and attempted closures that BPG has had to deal with over the years.
BPG recently received a stay in U.S. Federal Court that should keep their doors open until well after the 2016 vote in California when many believe that the state will legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis. Long-time co-owner and VP Etienne Fontan (he’s No. 77 on the 2014 CBE 100) heads up product management and product development. In preparation for a state regulated program. BPG has also developed and maintains its own proprietary Point-of-Sale system.
Etienne Fontan, BPG Co-Owner
BPG patient acquisition efforts are led by Victor Pinho, Director Marketing & Communications.
BPG is no longer a vertically integrated facility as it was in the early days, and focuses on its mission to provide affordable, lab-tested medicine to its loyal customer base. Its menu includes well-known brands like Cheeba Chews and Kiva Chocolates, and a variety of flowers, hybrids, oils, extracts, and tinctures.
The City of Berkeley is considering adding six cultivator licenses to the licensee mix, but current zoning requirements are making that difficult because there are limited sites with the proper zoning to have a 30,000 square foot grow that would be able to supply the city’s three licensed medical retailers (and potentially a fourth).
Tim would like to see the BPG brand expand its footprint if, and when, its legal issues end, and he and some of the management team members have been successful as part of a separate entity, NuLeaf Inc., in winning retail and cultivation licenses in Nevada. They also participated in the attempts to launch Maine Wellness (the largest medical dispensary chain in Maine) until Maine instituted a residency requirement.
In the meantime, it will be business as usual for BPG, continuing a long and renowned tradition of compassion, care and success.
Company Name: Berkeley Patients Group (BPG)
Year Founded: 1999
Ownership Structure: Not-for-profit C Corporation
Management Team: Tim Schick, Executive Director; Etienne Fontan, Vice President and Co-Owner; Sean Luse, COO, Roger LaChance, Director of Operations
Headquarters: Berkeley, California
Industry Segment/Category: Medical Retailer
Current Markets/States Served: California
Current Number of employees: 70
Mission/Goal: “The mission of BPG is to provide the purest, most effective, and affordable medical cannabis. BPG creates and maintains the highest standards of excellence in all that we do. We foster a compassionate community that advances understanding and inspires action.”
Number of Customers: BPG has served over 106,000 medical patients in California
2014 Revenues: $15 million
Expansion Plans: Stick to their original knitting and mission while keeping their eyes open for possible brand and footprint expansion in the future.
Financing strategy: To date from founder’s capital and operations
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