Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

March 31, 2010
Fox News debate asks whether 'stoner tax' can save California

The Fox News Channel is framing California's November ballot showdown as a tussle over whether the Golden State should impose a "stoner tax" to balance its budget.

The network's characterization was used in introducing an on-air debate this week on the merits of the measure to tax and regulate marijuana for use by adults over 21.

The on-air exchange features legalization advocate Aaron Houston of the Marijuana Policy Project and former Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook, a critic of pot taxation and decriminalization. It can be viewed below.

March 31, 2010
'Take a Nap!' author's study says sleepy teens may turn to pot

Teenagers short of sleep are more likely to become marijuana users, according to a recent study led by a researcher from UC San Diego.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Aging and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, mapped the social interactions of 8,349 adolescents in grades 7 through 12.

It concluded that drug use among teens increased by 19 percent among those who sleep less than seven hours a night.

It also noted that sleep behaviors of teens are likely to assumed by their friends. While the study said the pot use of friends is a major influence for teens trying marijuana, it said picking up the habits of others by sleeping fewer hours is also a significant factor.

Dr. Sara C. Mednick, who headed the study, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. She is also the author of  "Take a Nap! Change Your Life."

To read the published study, click here.

March 30, 2010
Pro-legalization ad likely first salvo in cop vs. cop pot debate

Jeffrey Studdard is a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. His dad, a former Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, was an "officer in the classroom" educating students about risks of drugs and alcohol.

Now Studdard is the voice of the first campaign commercial for the newly-minted November ballot initiative seeking to tax and legalize marijuana in California. The spot is airing in Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area media markets.

"Like many other cops and law enforcement professionals, I've seen firsthand that the current
approach on cannabis is simply not working," Studdard declares in the ad, which can be heard on the Control & Tax Cannabis California 2010 site. "It's led to violent drug cartels, dealers in our schools and our streets, and cost millions of dollars - without reducing consumption."

Studdard goes on to say: "That's why cops support Tax Cannabis 2010, the initiative to control and tax cannabis.It will provide billions to fund what matters, and allow police to focus on violent crime. It's time to control it, and tax it."

The radio spot is the opening advertising pitch by legalization advocates seeking to convince the public that sanctioning pot use for California adults over 21 enjoys law enforcement backing. So far the "law enforcement officials across California" the campaign has lined up include retired Superior Court Judge James P. Gray of Orange County and Kyle Kazan, a retired Torrance Police Officer.

But expect thunderous opposition from much of California law enforcement.

The California Peace Officers Association has already vowed to lead opposition to the measure. And a Jan. 12 legislative hearing on the subject held by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, drew a packed a room full of cops determined to prevent legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

"I can tell you categorically that legalization of marijuana will only increase the challenges facing us," San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer testified at the time. "To balance the budget on the backs of the harm caused by illegal intoxication is mind-boggling."

But the opening ad shows that the pro-legal cannabis campaign is determined to advance its own public safety argument.

The campaign's public safety benefits fact sheet argues that legalizing marijuana in California will weaken Mexican drug cartels, save on incarceration costs for pot offenses and help police redirect resources to target violent crime.

Expect cop vs. cop advertising through November. The pro-legalization forces will have the biggest budget. But the loudest police voices will likely come on the "no" side. 

March 29, 2010
Film tells the story of medical cultivators for the terminally ill

It is a documentary about "an acquaintance with suffering."

That's the self-description offered for the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the subject of a new independent film,  La Vie En Verte.

The marijuana-growing collective, founded in Santa Cruz after the passage of the Proposition 215 medical marijuana law, catered to severely ill medical pot users, including dying AIDS and cancer patients.

But in 2002, heavily-armed Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the farm, rousting staff and patients and cutting down the crop. The collective, known as WAMM, sued the federal government.

In January, the U.S. Justice Department settled the suit. It assured WAMM and operators Valerie and Mike Corral that they could continue their work growing marijuana and helping terminal patients and others in their care.  

The new documentary, shot over four years in Santa Cruz, tells the story. La Vie en Verte was funded by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, a group that advocates marijuana's development as a prescription therapeutic medicine.

The movie, shown recently at the Santa Cruz Film Festival, is co-produced by Charlie Hall and Bevin Bell-Hall. Charlie is an anthropology graduate of UC Santa Cruz. Bevin is a Santa Cruz grad in film and digital media. She will appear in "Reefer Madness," an April 2-May 2 stage production at the Artistic Differences Theatre Company in Sacramento.

With permission of the producers, here is the trailer for La Vie en Verte:


March 26, 2010
California marijuana legalization vote stirs worries in Mexico

As California's medical marijuana market thrives and the state readies for a vote on legalizing pot for adults over 21, the developments are being closely followed in Mexico.

McClatchy Newspapers Mexico City bureau chief Tim Johnson reports that Mexican officials complain the developments are increasing the gap between drug laws north and south of the border and undercutting the battle against Mexico's violent drug cartels.

But Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group for alternatives to the drug war, told Johnson that medical marijuana laws and outright decriminalization would weaken Mexico's drug networks.

To read the story, click here.

March 26, 2010
Pot TV network backs cannabis car in Roseville NASCAR event


If you no longer notice the advertisements for Budweiser, Marlboro or Viagra on the cars NASCAR drivers thunder around the oval, this one might get your attention.

At the NASCAR-sanctioned K & N pro-series at the All-American Speedway in Roseville, one car Saturday night will be featuring a giant marijuana leaf.

The entry by Dynamic Motorsports of Sacramento will feature the logo of Cannabis Planet, a pot-themed television program that airs on cable stations in Los Angeles and San Diego and hopes to launch in Sacramento next month.

"NASCAR has sponsorships from alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals," said Brad Lane, executive producer of Cannabis Planet Productions of Sunset Beach. "We think it is high time that cannabis is represented."

Pictured: The Cannabis Planet stock car, billed as "the first cannabis car in motor sports history."

March 26, 2010
Weed-growing Mendocino retirees picket to get paid in capital

Lea Ananda and life partner Shar Ananda settled in Mendocino County for a leisurely retirement growing pot.

Lea, 61, a former insurance examiner and Shar, 65, a retired hospital lab worker, bought a 26-foot geodesic dome and invested Shar's pension to fill it with seedings.

Their medical cannabis venture took off. They became growers for dispensaries, including three in Sacramento.

But the pot trade can have unexpected events.

Lea Ananda complained the P Street Health Center in Sacramento never paid $14,500 it owed them for weed.

Dispensary manager Wade Brown, 34, pleaded he had an excuse: Officers in Merced County confiscated seven pounds of pot he had collected from patient growers. Without weed to dispense, the pot shop was short on cash.

A spokeswoman for the Merced County District Attorney's office confirmed Brown was stopped for a traffic violation Dec. 14 and arrested for investigation for felony possession of concentrated cannabis and felony possession for sale.

No charges have been filed - and no product returned.

So the Anandas showed up outside the dispensary Tuesday. They held picket signs and demanded payment.

An apologetic dispensary owner, Jesse Paquin, who paid them the first $1,500 last week, delivered another $1,500 on the spot. He promised to come up with the rest.

"I never had a penny in my life," he said. "I'm just trying to work this out."

Just another day in a business like no other.

March 25, 2010
North Coast pot grower fears legalization and 'factory bud'

RB Humbolt 1.JPGHumboldt and Shasta County medical marijuana entrepreneur Stephen Gasparas has long been conflicted about the idea of taxing and regulating marijuana for use by California adults over 21.

Interviewed for a Sacramento Bee report on the North Coast marijuana trade, he worried whether legalization would result in big agribusiness taking over the pot trade and people having to "buy factory bud."

Gasparas, who operates an Arcata dispensary and a Redding warehouse where he grows for medical marijuana patients, hails California pot growers whose unique weed offers a "spiritual experience." He figures his "Grand Daddy Purple Indica" deserves the same acclaim as a prize-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.

"I definitely will survive. Our personal touch will make us survive," he says.

Now Northern California's Emerald Triangle - a tri-county region named for its forests but known for its pot - is seriously grappling over potential impacts of legalization. In Humboldt County, a meeting this week by local pot growers stirred talk of rebranding the region as the Humboldt equivalent of Napa Valley - with weed tours and smokings akin to winery promotions and tastings.

RB Humbolt 3.JPGBut in today's Sacramento Bee article on the pot legalization measure qualifying for the November ballot, Gasparas says plummeting weed prices may be too much for small growers. "It's not going to work out. I've crunched the numbers," he said in the article.

Gasparas, content with the pot trade that is thriving under California's existing medical marijuana laws, says he wonders why someone would want to ruin a good thing by making it permissible for everyone else.

"I'm not going to stand up against it by any means," he says of the initiative. "But I feel like it's already legal."

Pictured: Above - Gasparas inspects seedlings as fiance, Valerie Rose, and her daughter Layla Rose drop in. Below - Sorting the finished product. Photos by Randall Benton/rbenton@sacbee.com

March 24, 2010
Manager, beloved 'like a grandson,' loses job to medical pot

Christian Hughes, a manager of a seniors complex near Redding for five years, definitely thought he had job security.

He says he got regular pay raises, "my resident retention was awesome" and the tenants "treated me like I was a grandson."

But the apartment complex was sold. The new owner required drug testing to keep his job. Hughes' test came up positive, and he was fired.

He says he smokes to dull pain of a jaw shattered in a car accident several years ago.

His new employer was unfazed by his physicians recommendation for pot.

As reported in today's Sacramento Bee, California's Proposition 215 medical marijuana law doesn't require employers to make accommodations or waive any workplace rules for legal cannabis users. A state Supreme Court ruling also affirmed that medical pot use can get you fired. Read the report here.

Hughes said his residents never knew he was a pot patient. More than 60 tenants signed a petition in an unsuccessful bid to save him from getting fired.

"I was doing a wonderful job," said Hughes, whose story was first reported in The Record Searchlight in Redding. "The marijuana never affected my job."

Except when it came to keeping it.

March 24, 2010
Clinton: Medical pot use not to blame for trafficking from Mexico
March 24, 2010
On 4th of July for pot, she'll urge going smokeless in Humboldt

April 20, which is something akin to the 4th of July for pot smokers, is inspiring an interesting pitch in the legendary California marijuana patch of Humboldt County.

That's the day when Mariellen Jurkovich, director of the Humboldt Patient Resource Center, a marijuana-growing dispensary in the college town of Arcata, will be out telling people not to smoke weed.

Jurkovich is an activist for smokeless marijuana consumption. So she will be present at Arcata's Redwood Park, where hundreds of people are expected gather April 20 to toke on marijuana from dawn to dusk and beyond.

April 20 - or 4/20 - has become a celebratory day for pot. It honors both the numeric nickname for marijuana and the legend of some San Rafael High School Students who used to meet after school every day at 4:20 p.m. to light up some joints.

But Jurkovich and her dispensary staff will be there to demonstrate "juicing" - the process of grinding up pot leaves (but not the high-octane buds) into a lower-intensity relaxant drink. She will also instruct pot smokers in alternatives, such as vaporizer machines, which deliver cannabis without lighting up.

"We want to educate people on the healthier ways they might want to ingest cannabis," Jurkovich said. "Some people say that hot plant matter is not good for your system. I just think people should know there is another, probably healthier way to do it."

Jurkovich is an interesting profile in California pot country. She says she doesn't even use the drug. And her non-profit dispensary, which lures thousands of medical marijuana users with its weed and seedlings grown on site, used earnings to lease and outfit a 5,300-square-foot community center in downtown Arcata.

Opened six months ago, the Humboldt Wellness Center works with local residents, including seniors and the handicapped. It offers classes in tai chi, yoga, art, cooking and dance and other weedless stress relievers.

March 23, 2010
Marijuana a growth industry for California mag publishers

Thumbnail image for Grow.JPGAmid slick pages and artsy, up-close photography of flowering marijuana buds, Humboldt Grow magazine raises some serious questions.

Writer-photographer Kym Kemp examines domestic violence amongst a male-dominated pot-growing culture. Another piece asks whether cultivators want their children to grow up in the family trade.

Founded in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, the bi-monthly magazine of editor and publisher Eric Sligh is among emerging mags proving that print isn't dead - at least when it comes to covering Golden State weed.

In Los Angeles, Kush, "Southern California's premier cannabis lifestyle magazine," is jammed with ads for marijuana dispensaries. The pot publishing network of Michael Lerner includes a magazine in Colorado and dailybuds.com, a social network he bills as "the Facebook of medical marijuana." He is also talking up a dating service "so people who smoke it can date people who smoke it."

Sligh, a frequent journalists' tour guide to California's north coast marijuana harvests, has since moved to West Hollywood. He says his mag, known as Grow, is close to breaking even.

Thumbnail image for Kush-2.JPGLerner, an activist-publisher, is bullish on the pot economy. "I think thousands of jobs are being created in the industry overnight," he said at a recent medical marijuana conference.

Sligh is an advocate for legalization, but insists on reporting on some excesses of the business. Past issues have covered diesel fuel spills and other environmental issues from indoor pot growing.

Both mags celebrate California weed.

Grow recently reported on a Northern California harvest featuring "a massive landing of Sour Diesel and Afgooey," two "psychedelic sativas" that are "absolute favorites."

The monthly "strain review" in Kush currently features Blue Dream, a choice weed among SoCal users it describes as a blend of "copius red red hairs and crystals" that "makes you feel like you're up in the clouds."

A page-turner for sure.

March 22, 2010
Duo moves from mortgage crisis to the capital cannabis crown
Thumbnail image for AA EL CAMINO POT1.JPG

A little more than two years ago, Nick Street and Sonny Kumar were crashing from a decidedly non-medicinal high.

The two men were financial officers working for separate firms when the mortgage meltdown hit. Their livelihoods sank with the collapsing economy.

But now the men are winning honors for their latest venture - as leading entrepreneurs in the Sacramento cannabis industry.

Their El Camino Wellness center, opened in September, 2008, was selected as the Sacramento Cannabis "Club of the Year" based on medical pot users' reviews in 2009. The award was given out by sacramentocannabis.com, an on-line consumers' guide to pot clubs in the capital city.

Along with its "Club of the Year" medallion, the Wellness Center lists an on-line description of its "beautiful Zen garden and waterfalls" and entices would-be clients "to relax in this safe and caring environment."

Tucked behind a used car lot in an industrial area, the place operates with tight security. Some three guards will greet you, and check identification and doctors' referrals, before you walk in.


Once inside, a multi-colored electronic sign board flashes names and prices of dozens of marijuana varieties. Bud tenders weigh and package thick stashes of California-grown pot. Kumar says the product passes muster at an Oakland cannabis laboratory before it is accepted at the dispensary.

The dispensary's published on-line patient reviews include five-star ratings from "Bobby V.," who wrote, "Great meds, great staff, great place. My number 1" and from "Harry M." who wrote, "I got some fire Ingrid, that is cheaper than I saw at another club, and some crazy Platinum OG."

But there are also a few dissatisfied customers. "Chris R" begrudgingly gave the establishment a single star. He wrote: "I wish I could give them zero stars...Their meds are low-grade at A+++ prices."

Even for the reigning capital cannabis king, it's a tough audience out there.

Pictured: Top - Pot patient checks the meds board at El Camino Wellness Center. Below - Some of the dispensary's featured buds. Photos by Andy Alfaro/aalfaro@sacbee.com.

March 19, 2010
Sacramento pot physician in deep legal weeds in Mississippi

PK_POTDOCS 0014.JPGOne of last times Dr. David Allen was seen in Sacramento, he had a packed waiting room of patients. They were paying $150 each to see the former Mississippi heart surgeon for medical marijuana recommendations.

To anyone listening, Allen extolled the virtues of a "miracle drug" he said he started using at 17. He also told a reporter he was currently treating himself with pot for decades of accumulated stress as an cardiothoracic surgeon - and for more recent anxiety over his million dollar Mississippi ranch getting seized over a few ounces of weed.

He said he was committed to his new career as a doctor legitimizing medical pot use in California. "Cannabis is a miracle drug that works so well for so many reasons, for so many people, that millions are willing to risk jail and property seizures to use the medicine," he said in a Sacramento Bee report last November.

Now Allen is jailed in Mississippi and facing up to 30 years in prison in a mounting legal battle.

He was arraigned in a Jackson County, Miss. court last week on felony charges of manufacture of a controlled substance, transfer of a controlled substance and possession of between 30 and 250 grams of pot, said Assistant District Attorney Cherie Wade.

Jackson County Sheriff's Lt. Curtis Speirs earlier told The Sacramento Bee: "In the state of Mississippi, whether you think it's for medicinal use or not, it's against the law."

Before his indictment, Allen responded with a YouTube video (below), blasting his alleged mistreatment by authorities. He told The Bee he wasn't in Mississippi when authorities raided his ranch, seizing $800 worth of marijuana and $1,000 in hash and arresting a sister and brother-in-law.

He has been in jail since authorities re-arrested him on a visit home in December, alleging that he was attempting to dissuade the others from testifying by suggesting they all get out of Mississippi.

His trial is set for June 1.

Pictured above: Dr. David Allen at his former Medical Cannabis Evaluations clinic in Sacramento. Paul Kitagaki Jr./pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Below: Allen argues his case.

March 18, 2010
Marijuana studies renew attention for acclaimed documentary

The widely anticipated results last month of an $8.7 million California study into the potential benefits of marijuana has given new life - and relevance - to a powerful documentary on the medical cannabis movement in California.

Jed Riffe's award-winning 2006 documentary, Waiting to Inhale, includes extensive footage of the first clinical study of medical marijuana users since the 1970s. It features Dr. Donald Abrams, the chief of oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Abrams conducted state and federally funded research that showed marijuana to be beneficial for patients with HIV and for pain from nerve damage. His research was part of the state-funded studies by the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at UC San Diego that supported marijuana's effectiveness for chronic pain.

Though the documentary was produced before the explosion of medical marijuana dispensaries and cannabis physicians' clinics in California, Waiting to Inhale stands as an essential primer to understanding the social, political, legal and medical forces behind California's current marijuana debate. It will soon be getting an encore, with upcoming showings due on Dish Network and Free Speech TV.

With permission from Riffe, here is a trailer from the documentary:

March 18, 2010
For pot roots, Meg Whitman is 'face of the enemy,' blog declares

Billionaire Republican gubernatorial Meg Whitman is surging through the GOP primary and leading against Democrat Jerry Brown, according to recent polls. But a marijuana advocacy blog today declares her the 'face of the enemy' for her opposition - posted on her campaign website - to legalization of marijuana in California.

The Weed Blog, a pro-pot site billed as the internet's "best resource for weed-related issues," goes after Whitman with a fury.
"To all Californians - THIS IS THE FACE OF THE ENEMY! -- Why wait until November to
start campaigning against her?" the site declares in its post today.  Why not get started now; hit the streets early and tell people how she feels about marijuana legalization. If she is already making comments in opposition to legalization, how do you think she will react to the initiative's passage in November?"

While the blog assails Whitman, Brown, California's attorney general, has stirred both sides of the pot debate.

His office published guidelines for medical marijuana last year that reinforced that "possession, sale or transportation of marijuana is ordinarily a crime under California law."

But Brown outlined a framework for legal pot transactions by patient collectives that share "labor, resources and money" in providing marijuana to medical users. At the same time, he suggested that pot dispensaries sprouting in California cities "are not recognized under the law."

March 17, 2010
A.G. contender supports medical pot, but not full legalization

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, a Democratic political contender seeking to replace Jerry Brown as attorney general, says she has "personally known people who have benefited" from the use of medical marijuana. But she doesn't want to see marijuana legalized for all Californians 21 and over.

To read Jim Sander's report in today's Sacramento Bee, click here.

March 17, 2010
Celebrity activist wages L.A. pot battles, seeks solitude in Sierra

Cheech Marin Cheryl Shuman Beverly Hills NORML90210.JPGIn Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, Cheryl Shuman was known as the optician to the stars - as the woman who got Tom Cruise to wear those dark sunglasses in "Risky Business." She also was a renowned marketing, public relations and product placement executive known for schmoozing with Jay Leno, Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts.

These days, Shuman lives two distinctly different lives. In Southern California, she is the executive director of the Beverly Hills chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws - and a raw-voiced speaker who railed against Los Angeles' crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries "as someone who is going to die."

In Northern California, where she is little known, Shuman is a cancer patient and medical cannabis user who finds her retreat from Los Angeles - and her activist life - on a Sierra foothills ranchette about 50 miles from Sacramento.

She fell in love with the region after a whitewater rafting trip on the south fork of the American River. She said she concluded: "If I were to die, this is as close to heaven as I can find."

But Schuman is repeatedly drawn back to her cause, she says, due to a disturbing discussion she had with a physician in Northern California. Shuman, who survived ovarian and cervical cancer in 2006, said she was diagnosed with new tumors in her liver a few months ago.

After she told her doctor she was a cannabis user, Shuman said the doctor replied: "That's a problem...We can't even get tests approved."

A Los Angeles television station aired a report on her illness and medical marijuana activism. And she delivered her stirring City Council testimony (see video below) about potentially being denied a liver transplant because she is a marijuana user.

Her insurer, Aetna, ultimately announced that Shuman's cancer treatments would be covered under company policy whether she is a medical pot user or not.

But Shuman continued setting out from her foothills oasis. She is a featured speaker at medical marijuana conventions as a cancer fighter advocating for patients while pondering how much time she has left. She says she was told she had terminal cancer four years ago but, "so far, I'm still alive."

Pictured: Back in L.A., Shuman hangs with actor Cheech Marin of "Cheech & Chong" fame. Courtesy Cheryl Shuman.

Video: Testifying before the Los Angeles City Council.

March 16, 2010
San Diego marijuana defendant covering his own trial

Maybe marijuana defendant Eugene Davidovich simply understands the woes of a downsizing news media.

If anyone needs to know what is happening in his trial, currently unfolding in a San Diego court room, the 29-year-old Naval veteran is ready with video, text and whatever relevant web links you may need.

Davidovich, a cannabis patients rights advocate, is a key defendant in an on-going San Diego County crackdown on pot dispensaries and services. He is charged with illegally selling marijuana and possessing weed in operating a medical marijuana home-delivery service.

Prosecutor Steve Walter said Davidovich was one of numerous pot sellers targeted by  Operation Green Rx, a crackdown on purported medical marijuana operations authorities claimed were illegal retail operations serving recreational users.

Want to know what Davidovich thinks? Check out his daily trial updates on his website.

Davidson will tell you that "Operation Green Rx was funded and executed to target medical marijuana patients, collectives and providers in San Diego."

Walter says the operation targeted people who use the Proposition 215 medical marijuana law "to hide behind and engage in the (illegal) sale of marijuana."

But breaking down his trial day by day and witness by witness, Davidovich - for now - has the final word on-line.

March 16, 2010
Fighter for Sacramento dispensaries seizes the pot light

RCB_20100311_Marijuana_ 113.JPGWith bandages running up both sides of his neck, Ryan Landers cast a poignant profile as he stepped into the old Sacramento City Hall last Thursday. He turned out for the hearing on a plan to cap dispensaries in the capital city at a dozen and impose strict rules on their operations.

"I think there is still a chance to work with them on this," Landers said as he prepared to address city staff on what to do about 39 registered marijuana dispensaries in Sacramento. "But we might have to get vocal."

On that front, he didn't disappoint. After interim Sacramento City Manager Gus Vina said the city was looking for measured input on "an emotional issue," Landers let loose.

"These proposal would kill me and other patients in similar situations," he said in an emotionally-charged speech.

Landers, the state director for the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, long ago learned how to seize the public stage for the cause of his life.

Landers, who said he was bandaged Thursday after 10 shots of pain killers for arthritis and swelling due to effects of shingles, was an AIDS patient and Sacramento County director of Californians for Compassionate Use during the 1996 campaign that passed the Proposition 215 medical marijuana initiative.

In a Sacramento Bee story on the local dispensary boom, he told reporter Gina Kim he believes he was infected as the result of a back-alley tattoo in 1995. He said he smokes pot to relieve intense nausea and boost his appetite.

In his profile for the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, he describes his unsuccessful attempt to open the Capitol City Cannabis Buyers Club, his test case arrest on smoking pot in public and his successful insurance claim for the loss of $10,000 of marijuana in a home-invasion robbery.

He casts himself now as a stalwart fighting to preserve the local medical pot trade.

"We're self-policing and self-regulating and we're trying to make sure neighborhoods are safe and secure," Landers said.

The City Council is due to weigh in, with a vote on a dispensary ordinance expected in April or May, on whether or not it agrees with him.

March 15, 2010
What's a 'typical stoner?' In ad campaign, they look like yuppies

Stoner 1.JPG

"Karen," who is "a typical stoner," just made full professor. She uses marijuana for insomnia.

And she is featured in an advertising campaign by the Medi-Cann cannabis physician clinics.

The medical pot network, which includes clinics in Sacramento, Elk Grove and North Highlands, advertises itself with glossy leaflets portraying medicinal marijuana use as a mainstream experience.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Stoner tennis.JPG

The ads for Medi-Cann, which operates 21 California medical cannabis clinics and has overseen medical referrals for more than 170,000 pot patients since 2004, pitch stories of medical users.

They are young professionals or students seemingly bound for success.

There is Karen, 40 in her library. There is "Josh," 38, an HIV patient and a "typical stoner" who is a "full-time law student and community volunteer."

There is a "typical stoner" named "Andy," 32, a plumber who smiles as he fixes a sink -- thanks to a back pain-relieving medical marijuana. There is "Tonya," 36, "a typical stoner" and real estate broker who soothes her anxiety with cannabis.

There is also a "typical stoner" named "Mary," 65, a grandmother and retired teacher who uses marijuana for arthritis but looks fit working out with a barbell.

Medi-Cann marketing director Kenneth Pettingill couldn't confirm if the profiles are actual patients "due to doctor-patient confidentiality." But he added: "We're portraying our patients as they are - regular people."

Linda Stokely, a public relations and marketing specialist for other marijuana businesses, including dispensaries in Sacramento, says such ad campaigns are needed in an industry still struggling for wider social acceptance.

"It's a good thing because people still have this old image of tie-dye shirt-wearing hippies," Stokely said. "This points out how many people who have full-time jobs and responsibilities are using medical cannabis for their ailments."

March 12, 2010
He went bust in Silicon Valley, now helps internet weed traders

Last April, John Lee, a 25-year tech industry professional, was laid off from his job as director of partner integration for an on-line music and video service. In the downtrodden Silicon Valley, he had few prospects to turn to.

So Lee turned to another passion: medical marijuana.

Now he has risen again as the CEO of an on-line business-to-business network that is taking pot trading to the web. Lee's PlainView Systems bills itself as a "Compassionate Care Marketplace."

He charges annual fees of $1,200 and up for medical marijuana dispensaries, depending on their size, and $300 for patient growers to connect on-line "to purchase or trade medicine."

His site, which claims 44,000 unique page views a month, also works with cannabis businesses on invoices and tax forms.

Lee, a Sonoma County resident and a medical user, says he never sees or touches any of the product that is distributed by patients and bought by dispensaries through his site.

He says simply, "I came up with a plan to buy, trade and sell cannabis on-line that is totally acceptable."

Attorney General Jerry Brown has declared that patients with doctor's recommendations and state seller's permits can be legally compensated for labor and expenses for cultivating and providing pot to patient-run collectives - the business model for most dispensaries.

Lee seems to be in the clear for merely providing the on-line hook-up.

And he has bigger plans.

He is an emerging activist. He speaks at medical marijuana conferences and trade shows. He advocates forming regional growers' unions to allow small marijuana cultivators to survive and thrive if pot is legalized in California for all adults 21 and over.

If that happens, he is hoping to thrive as well. He envisions his new venture as the eBay of weed.

March 11, 2010
San Diego case focuses debate on legality of medical pot sales

Now that a Sacramento jury has rendered a felony conviction in a criminal case that raised questions over reasonable personal use for medical pot, a major test stirs in San Diego over whether marijuana collectives are illegal sales operations.

Undercover police officers with physicians' recommendations for medicinal weed targeted Donna Lambert, a 49-year-old cancer survivor who ran a marijuana network that provided home deliveries to medical users.

Now Lambert, who operated "The Women's Health Cooperative," is due to go on trial April 13 on seven felony counts, including illegal sales of marijuana.

She is a major focus of a legal push by the San Diego County district attorney's office. It argues that medical marijuana dispensaries and other patient collectives have no right to sell their product.

"The model doesn't comport with the law," said Deputy District Attorney Steve Walter. "It is using the medical marijuana law to justify a lot of people getting high. All they're doing is paying their dues and buying marijuana."

Lambert has become a high-profile activist, celebrated by anti-drug war groups including the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana laws.

"This is very much a political issue in San Diego," said Marl Felsen, a NORML attorney representing Lambert. "There have been very targeted efforts to drive medical marijuana out of San Diego."

Lambert's trial is the second major pot case to come up in San Diego. In December, a jury acquitted Navy veteran Jovan Jackson of possession and sales of marijuana for operating a dispensary called Answerdam Alternative Care.

Walter said similar prosecutions will continue.

March 10, 2010
Prosecution memo: Airport pot carrier had large stashes before

A trial brief in the prosecution of Matthew Zugsberger, the medical patient convicted Tuesday of felony transportation for his three pounds of pot discovered at Sacramento International Airport, suggests he has been found with large quantities of marijuana on multiple occasions.

The trial memo said Zugsberger was riding in a car in Arizona last November when authorities discovered 28 pounds of marijuana.

Zugsberger says he began cultivating marijuana for personal use after he was severely injured in a oil rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I have seen his x-rays. They are disturbing to look at," said his attorney, Grant Pegg. "He is in so much pain, so much discomfort."

But he has been found with large quantities of pot before, according to authorities.

Zugsberger and his girlfriend last year had 10 pounds of marijuana returned to them by a judge in the state of Washington after pleading guilty to misdemeanor possession. He also faces trial in Louisiana for two pounds of marijuana allegedly sent to a former residence.

March 10, 2010
Proposed dispensary limit to stir Sacramento meeting, rally

PK_MONEY 0176.JPGDeliberations over how Sacramento will deal with its burgeoning dispensary trade are expected to heat up tomorrow evening at the old City Hall building.

Medical marijuana use advocates and dispensary officials were planning a pre-meeting rally Thursday at Cesar Chavez Park. Then, in a 6 p.m. session, city staff and representatives for pot stores are to discuss plans for an ordinance regulating local marijuana outlets.

The city imposed - and extended - a moratorium on new outlets after 39 dispensaries opened doors in town by last summer. The number of pot clubs that registered under the moratorium was twice what city officials originally thought were operating in town.

Though no decision is expected Thursday, a proposal being circulated could cap the number of dispensaries in the capital city at a dozen.

That concerns Sonny Kumar, co-founder of the El Camino Wellness Center, a dispenary that opened in 2008.

"The city was willing to admit our existence with a registration," said Kumar, who said his 6,000-patient marijuana collective was the 10th dispensary to open in Sacramento. "If they (dispensaries) were able to register with the city, they should be able to stay open."

Sacramento is grappling over how many dispensaries to allow and how to govern them as a major city to the south seeks to close as many 800 cannabis stores. Los Angeles' troubles have piqued interest in how the capital will handle the issue.

One local dispensary operator, Bryan Davies, who founded of the Canna Care dispensary in Sacramento five years ago, said he is already getting calls and drop-ins from people from L.A. wondering if it's worth trying to relocate to the capital city.

"The ones getting closed down in Los Angeles are coming up and feeling out the territory," Davies said. "They're asking: 'How is the climate?'"

It doesn't appear all too welcoming. A proposal being studied would both cap the number of dispensaries and set strict restrictions to keep pot shops from operating near schools, churches and youth facilities.

To view an interactive map on Sacramento medical marijuana facilities, click here.

Pictured: The medicine at a Sacramento dispensary. Paul Kitagaki Jr/pkitagaki@sacbee.com

March 9, 2010
Sacramento airport pot patient jailed after felony conviction

AA POT CONVICTION1.JPGMatthew Zugsberger, an injured former oil rig worker and medical marijuana user, was convicted today of felony transportation of marijuana for attempting to take three pounds of pot onto a Sacramento flight to New Orleans in December, 2008.

Zugsberger, 34, who had a Mendocino County physician's recommendation for five pounds of pot, was considered a test case for how much marijuana a patient may possess for reasonable personal use.

Last month, the California Supreme Court threw out California limits on the amount of plants or dried marijuana medical users can have at any time.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature improperly amended the Proposition 215 medical marijuana law without the consent of voters. Yet the decision still allowed authorities to arrest medical cannabis patients suspected of possessing pot for sale or exceeding state or local possession guidelines.

After intense deliberations that lasted twice as long as his trial, a jury acquitted Zugsberger of a felony count of possession for sale. But it convicted him of felony transportation as well as misdemeanor possession.

Zugsberger, who could receive four years in prison on the felony count, was immediately taken into custody in the courtroom.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Roland Candee set his sentencing for April 8.

For the full report in The Sacramento Bee and a video of an interview with Zugsberger, click here.

-- Peter Hecht

Pictured: Matthew Zugsberger, with his attorney, Grant Pegg, was convicted today of felony transportation of marijuana for attempting to take 3 pounds of pot onto a Sacramento flight in December 2008. Andy Alfaro/aalfaro@sacbee.com

March 9, 2010
Report: Californians consume 16 million ounces of pot a year

So how much pot do Californians smoke?

According to a recent state Board of Equalization report prepared for the Legislature, it's 16 million ounces a year. That's a little less than one-half an ounce for each resident in California, in case you're counting every man, woman and child.

The analysis was prepared for legislation by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, that seeks to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for use by California adults 21 and over.

Some other findings:

* California is America's top pot producing state, with an annual yield of 8.6 million pounds of weed valued at $13.8 billion. That's more than one-third of the cultivation across the U.S.

* Legalization of marijuana in California would cause the street price of pot to drop by 50 percent, but prompt 40 percent more Californians to turn to marijuana use. At least, that is, until a state tax kicks in.

* Once Ammiano's plan to impose a $50 per ounce tax is in effect, it would reduce consumption by 11 percent.

To view the BOE document, click here.

March 8, 2010
Hidden camera probe targets doctor-less medical pot referrals

A scathing report by a Los Angeles television station is stirring new questions over just how easy it is to get a medical marijuana recommendation.

The six-minute CBS-2 story by reporter David Goldstein includes undercover footage documenting a netherworld of purported medical clinics that dole out pot recommendations to people who never even see a doctor. To view the report, click here.

March 8, 2010
Sacramento pot tender eyes a different kind of medicine

PK_MONEY 0104.JPGAt the Canna Care medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento, the in-coming product must get past Don Davies and his microscope.

Davies, 23, who is closing in on a degree in bio-chemistry from UC Santa Cruz, inspects the weed Canna Care purchases from its patient growers.

He scans each plant variety - be it a "purple urkle" indica, a "cotton candy" sativa or a "golden kush" hybrid. He puts buds under his microscope and views a blown-up image on a computer screen, looking for signs of mold or fungus.

He seals the inspection with a smell test. He is well-trained for the scent of spoiled weed.

"Cannabis is something that will go bad over time," Davies says. When it does, he turns the grower - and their pot - away. "I sit them down and say, 'I sorry. But I believe you have powdery mildew,'" he says.

Davies' father, Bryan Davies, founded the Canna Care collective, which now has more than 5,000 patient members, five years ago. A devout Christian, he stocks its Del Paso Heights dispensary with Bibles and volumes on medicinal benefits of cannabis. Canna Care also hosts meetings for "Crusaders for Patients Rights," an advocacy group for access to medical pot.

Don Davies works behind a glass counter in a white lab coat, a signature for the dispensary's bud tenders.

He isn't sure how long he'll stay with the family enterprise. He wants to go to medical school.

"I hope he goes into cannabinoids research," says Canna Care director Lanette Davies, Don's mother, referring to properties in marijuana.

Davies said he prefers to become a general medicine physician - not a pot doc, particularly.

"I get bored easily," he says. "I have to switch to something new."

Pictured: Behind his ubiquitous microscope, Davies works the Canna Care counter. Paul Kitagaki Jr./pkitagaki@sacbee.com

March 8, 2010
Medical marijuana issues at the office? Share your stories

The Sacramento Bee is looking to write about medical marijuana in the workplace.

Are you an employee who has faced discipline or unusual treatment because you are a cannabis patient?

Are you an employer who has grappled with this issue?

We would like to hear on-the-record stories from all sides.

Please send a brief summary of your experiences and a telephone number to phecht@sacbee.com.

March 5, 2010
Dispensary operator tells young pot seeker to hit the track

Yamileth Bolanos, operator of the Pure Life Alternative Wellness Center and a plaintiff in Wednesday's lawsuit challenging Los Angeles' dispensary crackdown, insists she is no soft touch who simply passes the cannabis platter to any medical user who walks in.

Bolanos, a cancer and liver transplant survivor, tells of running off an fit-looking 18-year-old who came in seeking weed. He presented a doctor's recommendation and said he needed some medicinal help for insomnia.

"He looked too lively to me. I told him, 'Go out, run on a track and then see if you can sleep,'" Bolanos said. "I don't want people taking medicine from my legitimate patients. But there are some doctors who are abusing the system. That's creating problems for us. We're not supposed to turn people away. But we're turning them away."

March 5, 2010
School of pot founder funds marijuana initiative drive

MC_POT_LEDE.JPGRichard Lee, whose cannabis enterprises include a Oakland dispensary and a school for would-be marijuana entrepreneurs, is putting the earnings into a political cause: the legalization of pot in California.

According to campaign finance documents, Lee's Oakstersdam University and a business partnership that includes Oakland's Coffeeshop Blue Sky dispensary, have contributed nearly $1.3 million to the campaign to qualify a proposed November initiative to legalize and tax marijuana for use by adults over 21.

Lee's S.K. Seymour LLC partnership is billed as a "medical cannabis provider" and a "cannabis educator." With a battle cry of "No Taxation without Legalization," he has pushed to legitimize the medical marijuana trade and seek full legalization by promising the city of Oakland - and now California - a piece of the action.

His place in the state's great weed debate is discussed in a recent story in The Sacramento Bee's California Forum.

Meanwhile, another donor backing marijuana legalization is George Zimmer. The founder of the Men's Wearhouse retailer, known for his "you're going to like the way you look" guarantees in his clothing store commercials, has given $30,000 to the campaign.

Pictured: Lee, in the grow room at Oaksterdam University, is cultivating a political movement. Manny Crisostomo/mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

March 4, 2010
Report: Florida pot dealers selling California medical weed

Florida and California may squabble over who exports the best citrus. But when it comes to marijuana, apparently it's no contest

The Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported today that Florida authorities cracked a major marijuana smuggling ring that got weed from medical marijuana cultivators and providers in California to sell illicitly in the Sunshine State. The investigation accelerated after the arrest of a California man headed east with 33 pounds of prime Golden State pot.

March 4, 2010
Author of key pot legislation ponders the impact

The author of California's landmark - some say infamous - marijuana distribution legislation says he never anticipated it could bring a torrent of newly-opened dispensaries to communities in the state.
Former Sen. John Vasconcellos says he was trying to set a framework for getting cannabis to medical patients when he drafted Senate Bill 420, using the numeric nickname for pot smoking.

The bill, signed by Gov. Gray Davis, allows non-profit "collectives or "cooperatives" to distribute marijuana to members who are medical users and have a physician's recommendation.

 But Vasconcellos didn't envision burgeoning pot storefronts.

"I didn't think about it," Vasconcellos said in a recent interview at a Capitol news conference on medical marijuana. "We just knew that Proposition 215," which legalized medicinal cannabis use, "directed us to create a distribution system."

Now people such as District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in San Diego and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in Los Angeles argue that dispensaries are operating as for-profit retail stores. The L.A. City Council is directing police to comb the books of dispensaries for allegedly excessive salaries paid pot store employees.

Vasconcellos scoffs at the crackdowns.

"I think there's a rallying cry for making people politically popular," he said. "People that run non-profits get paid."

While many pot advocates push for full legalization, Vasconcellos says the time may be ripe for the Legislature to add clarity to the still hazy environment for medical marijuana.

"It would help," he said.

March 3, 2010
Pot spiritualist, advocate cashes in as expert court witness


Chris Conrad is no doctor and has no medical training. He isn't a lawyer either.

But he sure knows his way around California court rooms. And he earns an handsome income as an expert witness on how much pot may be deemed appropriate for personal use or could be considered possession for sale.

He is also an unabashed advocate of marijuana legalization and an author who celebrates using pot as a spiritual quest and in religious sacraments.

Conrad has been called as expert witness in 300 marijuana court cases and has consulted with lawyers and defendants in as many as 1,200 cases.

For that, the 56-year-old El Cerrito cannabis activist earns $140,000 a year as a consultant, including $40,000 a year as a direct witness in court -- always on the side of marijuana defendants.

That is according to Conrad's own testimony Tuesday in the Sacramento trial of Matthew Zugsberger of Upperlake.

Zugsberger, a medical marijuana patient, was charged with possession for sale and illegally transporting marijuana. Conrad was called by Zugsberger's defense lawyer - for a $1,500 fee.

He testified the three pounds of marijuana Zugsberger was carrying through Sacramento International Airport was appropriate for personal use, particularly because Zugsberger asserted he intended to consume his pot in food.

"I think it's a common dosing amount," Conrad testified.

Conrad, who holds a fine arts degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills, says he has spent tens of thousands of hours studying weed and its medicinal benefits in California, Amsterdam and beyond. On his website, he bills himself as an "internationally respected authority on cannabis, industrial hemp, medical marijuana, cultivation, garden yields and cannabis culture."

But prosecutor Satnam Rattu aggressively challenged his impartiality and credentials in the Sacramento case.

And Conrad conceded that only three times in 300 trials he has agreed with authorities that marijuana was being possessed for sale. He also suggested that any amount up to 30 pounds may be appropriate in the hands of medical users.

Conrad, author of pro-marijuana books including "Hemp For Health" and "Hemp Lifeline to the Future" and another book examining whether Nostradamus predicted 9/11, is on the faculty of Oakland's acclaimed school of pot, Oaksterdam University.

He teaches political science and history, including this view from his writings: "Just as slavery is the great injustice of the 19th Century, so is marijuana prohibition in the 20th Century."

He's available to testify to that.

Pictured: Conrad at a cannabis college in Amsterdam. Photo by Mikki Norris.

March 3, 2010
It's weed to the rescue for Orange County leasing agent

The recent experiences of Santa Ana office and leasing agent Blanca Moreno may trigger discussions on whether the cannabis trade is helping California's struggling economy - or growing because of it.

Moreno had a sparkling new office building in south Santa Ana - and no tenants to fill it. "Business was so slow. I put an ad on Craigslist and wasn't getting any hits," Moreno said.

Then a few weeks ago, somebody called and asked if they could put a pot dispensary there. "That just kind of turned the light on for me," she said.

So she put out another ad: Medical marijuana space available.

"I was just overwhelmed with calls, and instantly motivated," she says.

Moreno and the building owner soon leased out three prime spaces for marijuana shops.

She also started getting inquiries from people such as Jesse Rankin, 29, a Southern California patient who said he cultivates a few "white widow kush" plants for his personal use. Rankin said he wanted grow space to become a "caregiver" earning compensation cultivating for other medical users.

"I wasn't really open to it," Moreno said.

But she said would put a call into her attorney.

"If the attorney says go ahead and do it, yes we'll do it," she said in a recent interview. "Most definitely."

March 2, 2010
New lawsuit challenges Los Angeles dispensary crackdown

An advocacy group for medical marijuana patients filed suit today to stop the city of Los Angeles from shuttering hundreds of pot dispensaries.

Last month, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance to dramatically scale back on pot shops sprouting in business districts and near neighborhoods and illuminating the night with shimmering neon marijuana leaves.

But in a lawsuit filed today, the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access charged that the L.A. dispensary ordinance is so restrictive that it could force every dispensary in the city -- estimated at up to 1,000 -- to close.

The organization's chief legal counsel, Joe Elford, said in a statement that the ordinance "undermines the due process" for "otherwise legal medical marijuana dispensaries."

To read the lawsuit, click here.   

March 2, 2010
Insurers cover a growth industry and a smoking pot expo

The Sacramento Bee's Mark Glover has a compelling story in today's newspaper on a Rancho Cordova company that launched the first nationally available insurance coverage for the medical cannabis trade.

Glover previously wrote about the topic in depth in a December story documenting insurers' attraction to the burgeoning marijuana dispensaries and legal grow houses in California cities and counties.

Now, Mike Aberle, the commercial insurance agent featured in Glover's story today, has lined up a provocative client. His Medical Marijuana Dispensary unit will be the insurer for a teeming medical marijuana exposition in San Francisco, The International Cannabis & Hemp Expo at the Cow Palace April 17-18.

The Cow Palace event will feature leading medical marijuana advocates, exhibits and even an on-site, private "patient consumption area and VIP lounge" for product testing - sort of like wine tasting for pot.

Aberle says he is "not insuring the smokers...just the show and the premises."

March 2, 2010
Trial starts for medical pot user caught with three pounds

Was Matthew Zugsberger illegally transporting marijuana for sale with his luggage - and pants - stuffed with three pounds pot as he passed through Sacramento International Airport?

Or was he a medical user, entitled to take his stash from Sacramento to New Orleans under California law and a Mendocino County physician's recommendation that said he could possess as much as five pounds and 25 plants?

In opening arguments this morning in a felony trial that could land Zugsberger in prison for four years, prosecutor Satnam Rattu argued this is a case of such excess that it leads to only once conclusion: Zugsberger intended to sell a lot of pot.

"Ladies and gentlemen, medical marijuana is legal in California to a certain extent," Rattu told the jury. "This case exceeds those limits. There is no reason to be traveling with three pounds of marijuana to Louisiana."

But Zugsberger's defense lawyer Grant Pegg told jurors Zugsberger, an ex-deep sea diver who has treated himself with marijuana since he suffered crushed vertebrae in an oil platform accident, had ample reason to be carrying that amount.

He said Zugsberger, who has difficulty smoking, was taking the marijuana to a Louisiana master chef. He said the chef was to mix it into pasta and ice cream dishes so that Zugsberger could ingest the drug.

Pegg chided the prosecution for seeking a felony conviction with neither evidence of marijuana sales or intent nor knowledge of Zugsberger's "actual medical needs."

"He has a valid medical marijuana permit," Pegg said. "He doesn't use marijuana for kicks."

A Sacramento police detective later testified that Zugsberger, who turned 34 today, had more than enough pot to smoke every two hours, every day, for a year.

Rattu used a projection screen to show jurors Zugsberger's medical referral - a recommendation from Dr. Milan Hopkins from Upper Lake who wrote: "Any one of my patients may need to grow 25 mature plants and possess five pounds of cannabis for their yearly medical needs."

Zugsberger later took the stand in his defense, telling jurors he ingests at least 13 grams of pot a day, "some smoked, mostly eaten." He said he consumes up to a quarter pound on days of extreme nausea or pain. "My tolerance is up there," he testified.

March 2, 2010
What's in a name? It's all taxable just the same

Thumbnail image for RB Humbolt 2.JPGThe semantics of medical marijuana transactions can sound so good-hearted, down right communal. Since state law doesn't allow for profit-making operations, many cities declare the word "sale" to be a four-letter word for dispensaries.

 But the state Board of Equalization says all pot store transactions are treated the same as taxable sales.

 And it doesn't matter to the BOE if the transactions are legally defined as "in-kind contributions" or "reimbursements" or "reasonable compensation" for expenses of cultivating and providing medical pot.

 "No matter what you call it, it is tangible personal property and therefore is taxable," said BOE spokeswoman Anita Gore.

The BOE publishes tax guidelines for legal marijuana sellers and a link for obtaining sales permits.

Gore said the state estimates that medical marijuana dispensaries currently generate $98 million in sales and $8 million in annual sales taxes in California. The figure, revised downward from an initial estimate of $200 million in sales and $18 million in state sales taxes, may seem paltry for California's manic marijuana market.

Last year, Betty Yee, the BOE's chairwoman, famously said an agency analysis suggests California could reap $1.3 billion a year - based on a $50 per once retail tax - if marijuana is legalized for adults 21 and over.

There may be plenty more to collect from the current, thriving medicinal circuit.

Pictured: Pot offerings priced at a dispensary in Redding. Randall Benton/rbenton@sacbee.com

March 1, 2010
Leno's medical pot advocacy a personal story

BB DEMCON TWO  295.JPGState Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, convened the media recently "to deliver some good news."

In an announcement at the state Capitol, Leno and other medical use advocates hailed the preliminary results from $8.7 million in state-commissioned research on potential benefits of medical marijuana.

The studies, conducted since 2000 by the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, concluded that marijuana can provide relief for neuropathic pain caused by injuries, infections, diabetes, strokes and other medical conditions affecting the nervous system. The findings were covered in The Sacramento Bee and the full report can be found on-line here.

For Leno, who introduced the UC system researchers at the press event, the matter was personal. The openly gay lawmaker said he had watched sufferers of AIDS and HIV, including his own life partner, obtain relief from cannabis use. His partner, Douglas Jackson, died from complications related to AIDS in 1990.

"As someone who has been at the bed sides of so many dear friends, as well as my life partner who died," Leno said, "this study confirms all the anecdotal evidence."

Pictured: Leno during his 2008 Senate campaign. Brian Baer/The Sacramento Bee

March 1, 2010
L.A. dispensary case stirs probe of toxic buds

A poignant issue lurks in the pot club saga in Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood: whether unhealthy levels of insecticides are winding up in some medical weed.

First the back story:

Los Angeles City Attorney Carman Trutanich is trying to close the Hemp Factory V dispensary. He argues it is a retail sales operation - not a legal "collective" distributing amongst patient members.

On Jan. 29, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant granted an injunction stopping dispensary operations, invigorating a legal fight over whether medical pot transactions may constitute illegal sales.

Now the rest of the story:

Authorities say laboratory tests on marijuana varieties undercover officers bought at Hemp Factory V reveal levels of an insecticide, Bifenthrin, registering 170 times "tolerable" guidelines that the Environmental Protection Agency sets for human food or animal feed.

They claim the cannabis also contains traces of insecticides banned in the United States, stirring law enforcement speculation that some dispensaries may be selling pot smuggled across the border or grown illicitly.

In court documents, authorities said Hemp Factory V employees "claim that they did not grow the marijuana, do not know the conditions in which it is grown" and were unable to label their products for pesticides. But legal papers also reported that dispensary president Gevork Berberyan and six other patients grew pot for the operation.

Regardless of the circumstances, the insecticide discovery may send tremors through medical marijuana country. Most dispensaries boast of offering pure, healthy organic medicine grown directly or purchased from certified patient cultivators.

Assistant Los Angeles City Attorney Asha Greenberg said the Hemp Factory investigation brings a consumer warning - pot buyer beware: "You may have no idea what it's been treated with."