Amoeba Records Co-Founder Marc Weinstein on Getting Into the Pot Dispensary Business

Janet LaFleur
Amoeba Records in Berkeley, Calif.

Staffers at the California record retailer may soon ask customers: "Sour Diesel with your 'Dark Side of the Moon'?"

"It's one of the few products that a brick-and-mortar retailer can get into and consider making a living at," says Amoeba Records co-founder Marc Weinstein, who has submitted an application to open a 3,000-square-foot medical marijuana dispensary carved out of his music emporium on Berkeley's famed Telegraph Avenue. "We've added all kinds of T-shirts, merchandise and other stuff to our product mix and none of that amounts to enough -- it just barely pays our expenses at this point."

The bloodletting at music retail over the last fifteen years has been relentless; Amoeba's Berkeley store, according to Weinstein, now earns half the revenue it did in 2008, while its staff has been whittled down to 35 people, from 90. Part of Weinstein's belief in the economic power of pot is the revenues the Amoeba on San Francisco's Haight Street has generated following the 2014 opening of Green Evaluations which, for $44, allows "patients" to be examined by a licensed physician and obtain an ID card to legally purchase medical marijuana. While Weinstein won't give precise revenues, he says Green Evaluations' proceeds cover half of the Haight Street location's annual rent.

Amoeba, however, is one of six bids competing to open a new cannabis dispensary, as well as facing scrutiny from the Mayor, city council and the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission. If all goes well, Weinstein's bid will be decided in the coming months. "I'm familiar with Amoeba Records, I've spent a lot of money there and they've been a great addition to Telegraph Avenue, which is unfortunately a problem area in Berkeley " says Charles Pappas, chairman of the commission, referencing Telegraph Avenue's decade-long economic decline.

"I hope Amoeba gets that permit," says Debby Goldsberry, who has worked in the marijuana industry for 25 years and currently works for Oakland's Magnolia Wellness dispensary.  "I think they're amazing and I think they have an incredible vision for Berkeley, and they're right on Telegraph Avenue... this could actually save the area."

In addition to the economic and social benefits an Amoeba-owned cannabis dispensary might offer, there's also the intrinsic link between pot and music. "Arguably, there is a connection between marijuana dispensaries and music stores, in that they both can help people and their local communities stay healthy," says Michael Kurtz, Record Store Day's co-founder. "I can see why it would make sense for Amoeba to combine music sales with being a marijuana dispensary."

"We're actually considering how we're gong to integrate music into our model,"  says Weinstein, who recalled his own "pairings" in high school -- Dark Side of the Moon and The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore coupled with a product likely much cheaper and less potent.

"The cross-promotional stuff that we could do," says Weinstein, "would be amazing."

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of Billboard.