Mind and Body

Legal Pot May Be the Side Hustle That Keeps Record Stores Rocking

Amoeba Music in Berkeley, California is up for a medical marijuana license. We talk to an owner.

The first Amoeba Records, founded in Berkeley, California in 1990, might be stocking its shelves with a new product soon: medical marijuana. The store owners see an avenue for extra income and, in doing so, might’ve just paved the way for something of a paradigm shift in the record store biz. Medical and recreational marijuana has been a boon for warehouses, soil producers, and lighting manufacturers. Is physical music next? I called up co-owner Marc Weinstein at the Hollywood location of Amoeba for the latest.

What’s going on with the Berkeley application process now?

We’re one of the last three as chosen by the medical marijuana board of Berkeley. But there are still six applications that are technically still alive. They recommended three out of six at the last meeting, of which we were one. The competition is between a bunch of fairly qualified applicants. What we have going for us is that we’ve been there for 26 years and we are also the only real locals spending our own money to open a dispensary. We want to do the Berkeley community justice and do it as Berkeley would want — not just sort of a cookie-cutter, chain-store-style dispensary. That’s what we’re offering the city: An opportunity to have local retailers do something that reflects Berkeley’s style and belief system. Most of the other applicants are coming from outside of the Berkeley area to take advantage of the opportunity businesswise more so than caring about the community. We think we have a good shot.

If you were granted the license, would you continue to sell records?

Absolutely. We would keep our record store open and just carve a portion of the side jazz room out to do a dispensary of about 2,500 square feet.

Would you consider doing it at your other two stores?

We would love to have that opportunity. Right now, the San Francisco store is not really in a “green zone.” So, we’re not able to do it there, even though we think it’d be very appropriate. We think it’s a classic instance of the law preventing something that should happen right in that very spot. There really isn’t any good reason why. And probably not in Los Angeles because there are so many dispensaries here and we’re right on Sunset [Boulevard], where we’re still busy.

Amoeba's L.A. location

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Zoning and location might not be the only reason a record store couldn’t pull off marijuana sales. When I called up an employee of Wax Trax Records in Denver, Sherry told me, “I think it’s a great idea. But we couldn’t do it for three reasons: A) We don’t have the space. B) We don’t have the space. And C) We don’t have the space.” Ditto for, say, Other Music in New York City or Dave’s in Chicago. But for the Amoebas of the country, who can tick off boxes that could allow for it, pot could bring in enough money to keep the turntables a turnin’. And you could get all sorts of creative with it. Selling a high energy sativa? That’ll pair well with Daft Punk’s Discovery. Couch buzz on an indica? Try out Mingus Ah Um. They’ll have to order extra Animal Collective vinyl, no matter what.

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