Can Legal Weed Save the Music Industry? 

Amid the collapse of physical record sales, the Bay Area's album mecca, Amoeba Music, is hoping to open a medical cannabis dispensary inside its Berkeley flagship store.

Amoeba's flagship store in Berkeley.

Courtesy of Amoeba Music

Amoeba's flagship store in Berkeley.

Everyone knows the music industry is in the dumps — shattered by the collapse of sales of physically recorded music. But what few people know is the surging weed industry is helping to prop things up.

Rapper Snoop Dogg is an investor in the leading weed delivery app, Eaze, and late last month, he launched the digital weed media empire Merry Jane. Willie Nelson, as well as the estates of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, are all readying branded pot strains.

Now, the Bay Area's recorded music mecca, Amoeba Music, is making a play. A one-year-old medical pot clinic in Amoeba's San Francisco store is helping to keep the iconic store from meeting the fate of other music retailers.

And this fall, Amoeba Music is seeking a permit for a medical marijuana dispensary inside the company's 25 year-old flagship store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Not to be too blunt, but can legal weed save music? "Yes," said Amoeba co-owner David Prinz. "Weed can help save music — absolutely. Here's a way."

Prinz co-founded Amoeba in 1990, competing against Tower, Rasputin, and myriad other record stores at the height of recorded music sales, which hit $38 billion in 1997. Amoeba expanded to three locations, adding vast, world-class stores to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The company has employed countless thousands of California musicians.

But Amoeba's expansion coincided with the rise of iPods and iPhones, which tore into CD sales. So Amoeba became the king of re-sales. The company created its own online retail platform, and commissioned deep biographies of artists. Amoeba sells vinyl, throws events, and publishes the last great guide to new music, Music We Like. But it's not enough. The Berkeley flagship is listing — badly. Global recorded music industry hit a new low of $14 billion in estimated sales in 2014. "College kids don't buy as much music as they used to," Prinz explained.

"Physical media is toast, I hate to say it," said Brian Zisk, founder of the annual SF MusicTech Summit, which returns to the Hotel Kabuki on November 10. "One problem is, people no longer have the means to play physical music," Zisk continued. "Once that happens, that part is gone."

As for an Amoeba dispensary: "I fucking love it." Zisk said. "Music and weed go together like — music and weed."

Louie Armstrong preferred tokers in his bands, Prinz pointed out. Notable legalization advocates include: Melissa Etheridge, Sting, Jack Black, Alanis, John Mayer, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Tony Bennett, Carlos Santana, and John Legend. Bob Marley sold 75 million records and was named the eleventh greatest artist of all time by Rolling Stone.

"People are already getting stoned and ending up at Amoeba," Zisk said. "They're going to spend four times as much."

Getting your cannabis recommendation at the region's premier record store is pretty sublime. We highly recommend it. You start out on Haight Street — a legendary district with a quirky rule that says doctor's offices can only be on the second floor of buildings. There is almost no second floor doctor's office space on Haight Street, but Amoeba had some, and needed the money. "It also fits in with what we do, who we are," Prinz said. "It's counterculture to a very high degree."

The medical cannabis office — Green Evaluations — is affordable, fast, professional, and has the best vintage rock posters of any clinic in the history of mankind. Prinz said the clinic also draws foot traffic into the record store.

When the City of Berkeley opened its application process for a fourth permit this year in the city, Prinz saw a chance to help Amoeba's flagship and fulfill a lifelong dream. "We need supplemental income," Prinz said. "That's the real truth. This helps keep us open and enables us to do some amazing shit."

Under Amoeba's dispensary permit proposal, the Telegraph Avenue store would undergo a renovation to add a dispensary in what is now the jazz room. "That street could really frickin' use this," Prinz said. "The whole neighborhood would like the street to be more civilized."

Amoeba is going up against five other groups seeking the city permit. After a round of public hearings, the city council will pick the winner. Prinz said he hopes Amoeba's track record as a time-tested retailer and stalwart community booster will be rewarded.

Plus, the synergies would be world-class: cannabis/music pairings and other events. Which begs the question, does Amoeba have any decent hook-ups?

"Amoeba has some really good friends who really grow some beautiful strains," is all Prinz would say for now.

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