March, 2010


One of the most controversial issues in Berkeley today is the 'Scharffen Berger marijuana store'; however, this name is misleading. It should be called 'the marijuana store in the former Scharffen Berger factory.' Scharffen Berger, which is owned by Hershey, is not going into the marijuana business, but it is easy to see why this store is getting so much publicity.

1. This store will be huge. Most marijuana stores are fairly small. Marijuana is a compact product. At $400 an ounce, you don't need a lot of floor space to display your merchandise, but this marijuana store will occupy the whole Scharffen Berger factory. A spokesperson for Wareham Development, which owns 22 buildings around the Scharffen Berger factory, and which strongly opposes the project, calls this store 'the Walmart of pot.'

2. This store will be one block from the Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, the East Bay's most prestigious bilingual French-English K-8 school. It's a very nice school. I once taught a business course there, and I've donated chocolate Eiffel Towers to their auctions. See the photo of the school's administrative offices. It looks like an old train station, doesn't it? In 2008, Berkeley voters passed Measure JJ, which prohibits marijuana stores within 1,000 feet of public schools; however, the Ecole Bilingue is a private school, so marijuana stores can move right next door.

3. This store will be doing a lot of business. The Berkeley Patients Group, which is planning to move into the Scharffen Berger building, already has 8,500 registered customers at their present location, which they have outgrown. They point out that they sell high quality mold-free and pesticide-free pot, but this argument has not won over the folks at the Ecole Bilingue. One parent said: "The fact that they will be selling high quality marijuana next to our kid's school doesn't make everything OK with us."


As soon as the Berkeley city council figured out that this new marijuana store will be taking in a lot of money, they decided to cut out a slice of the pie for themselves. Last month, Berkeley City Attorney Zack Cowan announced plans for a new 'floor tax' on marijuana stores of $10 per square foot per year. This tax will be paid principally by just one marijuana store, the one in the old Scharffen Berger factory. The so-called 'Scharffen Berger marijuana tax' will cost this one pot store $280,000 a year based on the size of the building.


Marijuana stores prefer to be called 'dispensaries,' and they don't like it when people call them 'stores.' The reason I call these places stores is because that's what they are. Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines 'dispensary' as 'a place for the dispensation of free or low cost medical treatment.' Well, marijuana 'dispensaries' don't give away marijuana, and at $400 an ounce, it is not low cost medical treatment. Marijuana 'dispensaries' don't dispense marijuana; they sell it. They are, in fact, retail drug stores. They are not free clinics.


In 2007, a local man was sent to prison for 70 months for manufacturing marijuana filled candy just a few blocks away from the Scharffen Berger factory. According to the D.E.A., the man was mass producing Keef Kat, Rasta Reese's, Mr. Greenbud, York Puff-A-Mint Pattie, and Stoney Ranchers; wrapped in packaging designed to look like Kit Kat, Reese's, Mr. Goodbar, York Peppermint Pattie, and Jolly Ranchers; all Hershey products.

Here's is a photo of a D.E.A. evidence bag containing a Rasta Reese's candy bar. The '3X' on the label was designed to let the buyer know how much marijuana is in it. Look at the York Puff-A-Mint Pattie. Doesn't the chocolate look perfect? (I can't imagine where he was getting his chocolate molds.) I have to give this guy credit for one thing. He produced really good looking products. Unfortunately, Hershey's lawyers didn't see it that way. They did not feel that he deserved credit for making high quality, marijuana-filled, counterfeit Hershey candy. Predictably, they sued him for trademark infringement - and won.


Last month, I ran an article titled 'Chocolate truffle class for tenants.' I should have said 'Chocolate truffle class for MY tenants.' A few days after I sent out the newsletter, I got this e-mail: "I want to take your truffle class and get a kit. I am a tenant. My landlord does not have truffle classes. I asked him, and he said No." That landlord must have thought that was a very odd question.

My tenants sometimes ask me some very odd questions. One of my tenants, a college student on Milvia Street, once called me on the phone and asked me: "Do you know how to cook a deer?" I said: "Why are you asking me this question? What have you been up to?" My question made him nervous. He said: "Oh, no reason. I was just curious." Then he hung up the phone. I never did find out what that was all about, but the next time I went over to Milvia Street, I noticed that there was a big dent in the hood of his car. I think he was planning a road-kill dinner, but I can't prove it.

But I digress. My truffle making kit contains 3 pounds of chocolate, a tub of cocoa, a professional truffle scoop, and several other things. I sell this kit to my tenants for $5. It should be obvious that this kit costs me more than that. I am not going to sell this kit to the general public for $5. I received a letter from somebody in Idaho, a total stranger to me, that said: 'enclosed is $5. Please send a truffle kit to.....' I returned the $5.


Most smoke detectors contain Americium 241. Americium is a synthetic element made from plutonium. It is far more radioactive than plutonium itself. Americium 241 has a half-life of 432 years. The National Fire Protection Association, which writes our fire alarm building codes, recommends that smoke detectors be replaced every 10 years, so the old ones can really pile up. I used to take old smoke detectors to the Alameda County Hazardous Waste Disposal Site, but they recently changed their policy about this. Their policy is now: "We no longer accept radioactive waste." I e-mailed them and asked: "What should I do with my old smoke detectors?" Their answer was: "Dispose of properly." That is what it is says on smoke detector boxes as well, "dispose of properly," but what does that mean? It is illegal to put smoke detectors in your garbage can, so where is the proper place to dispose of something that will remain radioactive for 432 years? I suppose I could store my old smoke detectors in my shed and just wait 432 years until they are no longer radioactive, but it is possible that I won't live that long. The only place in the East Bay that still accepts old smoke detectors is the Alameda County Computer Resource Center here in Berkeley, which is where I now take them. I have no idea what they do with them. You should never try to repair a smoke detector or open up the radioactive metal chamber inside. If you have a defective smoke detector, let me know, and I will replace it.


'Hairbrained' This word is correctly spelled 'harebrained,' meaning foolish or lacking common sense. People spell this word 'hairbrained' because they make a mental connection between 'hair' and 'brain.' Yes, hair grows over your brain, but this word refers to hares, not hairs. Hares (rabbits) are not noted for their intelligence. This word is misspelled more frequently than correctly.

'Miniscule' This word is correctly spelled 'minuscule.' It is understandable why so many people misspell this word. Minuscule means 'extremely small', so it seems like this word should begin with 'mini,' but it doesn't.


A few weeks ago on The Simpsons, they said that gum drops are made from 'the hooves of the oldest and sickest horses.' A lot of people believe that gummy candies are made out of gelatin from horse hooves, but that isn't true. Horse hooves are made out of keratin, the same stuff that your fingernails are made out of, and you can't make gelatin out of keratin. Most gummy candy, including gum drops, gummy worms, and Jujyfruits, are gummy because they contain food starch or pectin, an extract of citrus fruit. The biggest selling brand of gum drops in the U.S. is 'Dots', which is a vegan product. I know of no food product that is made out of horse hooves. They used to make glue out of horse hooves, but that's largely been replaced by synthetics.


One of my tenants, a Cal student, recently asked me if I knew anything about the 'dead roommate rule.' He heard that at some colleges, if your roommate dies, then you automatically get a 4.0 GPA (grade point average) for the semester and you don't have to pay rent for the rest of the school year either. He wanted to know if U.C. Berkeley was one of those colleges. It is amazing how many people have heard and believe some variation of this ridiculous story. The dead roommate myth has been around for a long time. The reason it never fades away is because it is constantly restated as fact in movies and TV shows. In the movie 'Dead Man on Campus,' two college students who are on the verge of flunking out try to find a suicidal third roommate and then nudge him over the edge in order to get straight As for themselves. There are a number of other movies that are similar to this one. In an episode of The Simpsons, 'Lisa the Tree Hugger', Lisa appears to have been killed by lightning, so Principal Skinner tells Bart that 'naturally you will be receiving straight A's for the year.' In several TV crime shows, including 'CSI' and 'Law & Order', a college student murders his roommate and then frames someone else in order to get a 4.0. The truth is that no college anywhere will give you a 4.0 (or anything else) if your roommate dies, and you won't get free rent either. If you want a 4.0 at U.C. Berkeley, you will have to earn it yourself. Sorry, but that's the way it is. If colleges actually did give students straight As when their roommates died, I think there would be a lot of suspicious fatal accidents around campus at final exam time.


Tilex Commercial Mildew Remover. I've received several phone calls this past month from tenants with mildew problems. This happens every year during the rainy season, and this year, we have had more rainfall than normal. For more information about mildew, go to my web page on this subject at: Mildew. I am now offering free commercial mildew remover to tenants (that is, MY tenants). This stuff is a little stronger than the mildew remover they sell in supermarkets. If you want a bottle, just come over to my chocolate room and get it.

Mark Tarses

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