Marijuana goes mainstream - Page 8

Take a tour of the Bay Area's best cannabis clubs, which are proving that prohibition is the problem, not pot

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Once inside this tiny club, I could see why people might have been backed up onto the street at times. But the staff was friendly and seemed to have a great rapport with the regulars, who seemed be everyone except me. The knowledgeable manager walked me through their 20-plus varieties, most costing the standard street price of $50 per eighth, or more for stronger stuff like Romulan.

On the more affordable end of the spectrum was the $10 special for Jack Herrer Hash, named for the longtime legalization advocate who wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes, a classic book on the history of the movement.

Buds weighed at purchase

Open for: eight years

Price: Moderate

Selection: High

Ambiance: Small, like a converted apartment

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Moderate

Access/Security: Tight

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COFFEE SHOP BLUE SKY

Blue Sky (377 17th St., Oakland)is based on the Amsterdam model of combining marijuana dispensaries with coffee shops, although it suffers a bit from Oakland's ban on smoking. Still, it's a cool concept and one that Richard Lee sees as the future of marijuana-related businesses because of the synergy between smoking and grabbing a bite or some coffee.

Most of Blue Sky is a small coffee shop and smoothie bar, but there's a little room in back for buying weed. "We've got the best prices around," said the guy who checked my ID, and indeed, $44 eighths and $10 "puppy bags" were pretty cheap. Customers can also sign up to do volunteer political advocacy work for free weed.

The only downside is the limited selection, only four varieties when I was there, although the woman at the counter said the varieties rotate over the course of the day based on the club's purchases from growers.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: 14 years

Price: Low

Selection: Very limited

Ambiance: A fragrant little room behind a coffee shop

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Easy

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HARBORSIDE HEALTH CENTER

I have seen the future of legitimized medical marijuana businesses, and it's Harborside (1840 Embarcadero, Oakland). With its motto of "Out of the shadows, into the light," this place is like the Costco of pot — a huge, airy facility with a dizzying number of selections and even a "rewards card" program.

All new members are given a tour, starting with sign-up sheets for daily free services that include yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, reiki, consultations with herbalists, and classes on growing. Then we moved to a section with the clones of dozens of pot plant varieties available for purchase (limit of 72 plants per visit), along with a potted marijuana plant the size of a tree.

Harborside is also blazing the trail on laboratory services, testing all of its pot for contaminants and THC content, labeling it on the packaging just like the alcohol industry does. Some of the smaller clubs don't like how over-the-top Harborside is, and they complain that its prices are high. But those profits seem to be poured back into the services at this unique facility.

Prepackaged buds

Open for: three years

Price: High

Selection: Huge

Ambiance: A big, open shopping emporium

Smoke On Site: No

Thug factor: Low

Access/Security: Tight

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