Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

April 30, 2010
Mediation lawyer brings harmony to pot business disputes

IMG_0046.JPGIf California's medical marijuana trade were just one big harmonious smoking circle, attorney Daniel Marc Bornstein might be out of business.

The veteran civil litigation lawyer formed Confidential Mediation Services so that marijuana dispensaries, cultivators and patients can resolve disputes.

He offers himself as a peace facilitator for a trade that isn't always comfortable with settling things the old-fashioned way of going to court and suing.

So Bornstein, who has offices in San Francisco and Beverly Hills, says he is the man to call when a dispensary selling weed for a grower refuses to pay for the crop because it is found to contain mold three weeks later.

"The cultivator said (to the dispensary) it was your responsibility to inspect the product," Bornstein recounted.

His solution? "Compromise. Compromise. Compromise. Negotiate a reduced payment."

In another case, Bornstein says he worked with a marijuana patient who wanted compensation for "personal injury" from an adverse reaction to a pot cookie bought at a dispensary. "She didn't want to go public in a traditional litigation environment," he said.

Bornstein said the matter was resolved "confidentially" with a settlement and no court action.

Though the matters may never be recorded in any public record, Bornstein says his mediation services help pot business see the light about negotiating grievances.

"I am offering a way to resolve disputes that is both professionally responsible and out of the darkness," he says.

Pictured: Daniel Marc Bornstein pitches mediation to help pot professionals and patients get along. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

April 29, 2010
Message to cities from L.A. pot shop fight: Expect lawsuits

As Sacramento and other California cities look to roll back the number of marijuana dispensaries flowering in their midst, they insist they don't want to become the next Los Angeles.

Now L.A.'s fight to drive hundreds of pot shops out of town is serving up a cautionary tale of what is in store for other cities just hoping to get a few dozen to go away.

If L.A.'s battles are any key, expect lawsuits - and more lawsuits.

In two suits filed last week, attorneys for 21 Los Angeles dispensaries challenged the city's attempt to disallow any pot shop that didn't register with the city in 2007.

One lawsuit charged that the city "arbitrarily and capriciously provided certain medical marijuana collectives the ability to regulate and operate...while precluding other similarly situated collectives."

Attorney David Welch asserted that Los Angeles' dispensary ordinance violated the state constitution by depriving medical pot establishments of due process and equal protection under the law. The office of L.A. City Attorney Carmen A. Trutanich asserted that the city's new pot law will withstand the challenge.

In March, several medical pot outlets that opened in 2007 sued the city. Even though they were allowed as registered dispensaries, the clubs claimed they will have to move or close due to strict rules imposed by the city.

April 28, 2010
Prosecutor assails pot measure, backers say 'marijuana is here'

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who has assailed medical marijuana dispensaries as illegal, profit-reaping operations, is targeting the legitimacy of the November ballot initiative to legalize recreational pot and allow local governments to tax and regulate its use.

In a letter to attorney general Jerry Brown, Cooley charges that the title and summary for the measure is "wrong and highly misleading" and should be disallowed.

Cooley, a Republican candidate for state attorney general, charges that the initiative offers false promises of providing "major tax and other fiscal benefits" for the state and local governments and regulating marijuana like alcohol.

Cooley argues that the burden will fall on "local governments to promulgate comprehensive cannabis-related regulations." He said that will "unduly burden local governments" and "lead to a chaotic and confusing result."

He also argues that the measure, which would allow Californians over 21 to grow pot in 25-square-foot residential spaces, would also "create an absolute right to cultivate marijuana on private property" and, possibly, on public lands.

Cooley's April 13 letter was followed 10 days later by a memo in The Huffington Post from the Drug Policy Alliance, an group advocating alternatives to the drug war.

In "Dismantling the Talking Points of Marijuana Prohibitionists," Tony Newman and Stephen Gutwillig of the Alliance argue that "the California ballot initiative simply acknowledges that marijuana is here and that it's more sensible to regulate this massive market."

"The bottom line," they wrote, "is that marijuana is California's largest agricultural commodity, freely consumed by millions...with no financial benefit to the state...This is a reality we literally can't afford to ignore any longer."

April 27, 2010
Shasta Lake antiques dealer cashes in on marijuana history

Thumbnail image for lee chairs 002.JPGWhen one of California's oldest drug stores closed in Weaverville four years ago, Shasta Lake antiques dealer Chris Jennings seized the day like a shrewd investor.

He bought up dozens of old medicinal bottles and pharmacy containers once used for administering and dispensing cannabis. Now Jennings and his wife, Sandra, are making a small fortune selling pre-Reefer Madness editions of pot collectibles from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

He has traveled across California, and to New York and Washington, to buy up antique bottles labeled for liquid elixirs that contained marijuana elements.

He has 1880s California drug store jars for "Cannabis Sativa" and "Cannabis Indica" and empty, turn-of-the-century bottles for liquid weed elixirs.

"These things have been used for the same symptoms since ancient times," Jennings says. "They were sold in drug stores and pharmacies up until the 1930s. Now they're being brought back on the market" as collectibles.

Jennings has been so successful in acquiring cannabis antiques that he and his wife renamed their business. It used to be Absolutely Wonderful Antiques. Now, it's Absolutely Wonderful Cannabis.

lee chairs 003.JPGHe has found a steady clientele in people involved in California's burgeoning medical marijuana trade.

"It has ballooned the market, completely ballooned it. I have a whole new customer base," Jennings said. "People in this business have disposable income. And they're interested in the history of the people who have used (marijuana) before them."

Jennings is no pot activist. He says he neither smokes marijuana nor embraces the culture. And he turns down any deals offered in weed.

"People are constantly asking me if I want to trade for product," he says. "Absolutely not - only cash or check with an i.d."

Pictured: Top - Antiques from the legal cannabis era. Below - Jennings pitches his pot collectibles. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

April 26, 2010
Mendocino's Area 101 strives to be the 'learning center' of pot

025.JPGColorado acupuncturist and botanist Lacy Story knew where to go in Mendocino County when she wanted advice on finding local property to grow medical pot.

She stopped in at the indoor smoking lounge and organic foods kitchen at Area 101.

The "spiritual sanctuary and events center" of veteran marijuana cultivator Tim Blake, mentioned in Sunday's Sacramento Bee story on the Mendocino pot culture, sprawls over 150 acres off the Redwood Highway north of Laytonville.

It's where wannabe marijuana cultivators go for Blake's "Ganja Boot Camp," featuring hands-on sessions in outdoor, environmentally-sustainable pot growing.

It is an afternoon haven, and meeting place, for local growers, including legal medical marijuana farmers and others who operate strictly in the black market of illegal weed.

The regulars include James Taylor Jones and his wife, Fran Harris. The Grateful Dead devotees run a tie-dye clothing business and say they grow medicinal marijuana as small-time, "weekend warriors" in the pot trade. There are also many local cultivators such as Larry, a former welder who declines to give his last name. He is a full-time grower and distributor in the illicit market.

Area 101, a outdoor gathering place for concerts and picnics, has become such a cornerstone in Mendocino County that its conference room has hosted candidate debates for races for both county sheriff and district attorney.

That brings smiles of acceptance to the face of Blake. A Mendocino County pot grower since 1975, he once served jail time in Santa Cruz County. He faced narcotics sweeps by federal and local officers in Mendocino. Blake, a cancer survivor, went legit years ago as a legal, certified grower for medical marijuana patients.

Thumbnail image for 007.JPGBlake, 53, is one of the few Mendocino growers overtly in favor of legalization of marijuana, a prospect that stirs fears of economic ruin among others in the regional industry.

He envisions bus loads of tourists eventually stopping in at Area 101 for medicinal tastings and educational seminars on Mendocino pot products and cultivation.

"They're all going to want to come up and see the crops. This is going to be a big deal for us," Blake says. "You'll be able to see every kind of strain. Every day, we'll have a different grower available. If you're from Iowa and step off the bus, somebody is going to be here to talk to you.

"We're going to be the learning center."

Pictured: Top - James Taylor Jones and wife, Fran Harris, add color to the grounds of Area 101. Below - Lacy Story visits lounge and gathering place for local growers. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

April 24, 2010
Pot town hall meeting ponders legalization in Mendocino

In the heart of California's marijuana country, growers and civic officials in Mendocino County gathered in a unique pot town hall today to assess regional economic impacts should California voters decide in November to legalize marijuana for all California adults over 21.

"The legalization of marijuana will be the single most devastating event in the long boom and bust economy of Northern California," warned the meeting facilitator, Anna Hamilton, a Mendocino musician who has a radio talk show in the neighboring pot growing mecca of Humboldt County.

"How many people will be displaced?" she asked. "No one knows."

The forum, entitled "Life After Legalization," included brainstorming over the economic impacts of pot legalization and potential benefits - including developing a weed tourism industry in Mendocino.

"I think it will normalize the industry," said Matthew Cohen, a Mendocino grower whose Northstone Organics delivers pot to medical marijuana patients. "This is going to allow growers to step into the light and be competitive."

Cohen said Mendocino is well-positioned to develop a tourist-oriented, "boutique market."

Faced with concerns about plummeting pot prices, Richard Lee, the key proponent and donor for the November initiative, argued that Mendocino growers will be better off in an era of legalization.

"It's about ending prohibition," Lee said in an interview. "What the growers lose in price, they'll gain in security and peace of mind. They won't have to worry about violence and rip-offs. They won't have to be afraid to call the cops."

Initiative opponent John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association who wasn't present, said the Mendocino event smacked of "choreography" to promote legalization. He said hype about falling pot prices masks a wider opportunity for growers in Mendocino and elsewhere.

Ellen Komp, an advocate for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said legalization could allow Mendocino and Humboldt counties to market an "Emerald Triangle" brand of "certified organic" pot.

"We're starting to look at the pot legalization economy and what it may look like," Komp said. "I want to see tasting rooms and that kind of thing up here."

To read more on Mendocino County's pot culture, and its legalization debate, see the story in Sunday's edition of The Sacramento Bee.

April 23, 2010
On-line medical weed service pushes the delivery envelope

c420boss.JPGMatthew Lawrence says he has created California's first virtual dispensary -- one that will deliver actual marijuana to medical users across the Golden State.

"We are the first totally on-line dispensary," says Lawrence, a real estate developer and property manager who also used to grow weed for a Bay Area medical pot cooperative.

By promising to ship up to 8 ounces of marijuana overnight, Lawrence's C420online.com is testing the boundaries of pot distribution, even for California's manic medical marijuana market.

The on-line patients' collective had its public launch at last weekend's International Hemp & Cannabis Expo with a splashy booth, flashing video screens, lush plants and bowls filled with exotic marijuana buds.

C420 says it has signed up 1,000 medical marijuana users with physician's recommendations and a yearning for convenient home deliveries. It promises to ship pot only within California and only after verifying that a doctor has recommended weed for any recipients, who must be state residents.

The collective's operating model has one glaring difference from another on-line California pot site. Billed as "The Compassionate Care Marketplace," PlainView Systems offers an web meeting place that hooks up pot cultivators, dispensaries and other marijuana businesses. But it never handles, or ships, any product.

However, Lawrence's C420, which claims to operate as non-profit patients collective, has a staff of pot growers and bud tenders. Lawrence promises to ship overnight with a supervised, "traceable chain of custody," for marijuana, weed edibles and carefully packed seedlings for growing pot at home.

C420 has even set up a shipping system, promising "a 100 percent refund policy" for any dissatisfied customers -- as long as they haven't smoked or consumed more 1/3 of a gram of the product.

c420grower.JPGThere are a few notable challenges for the operation. It can't use the U.S. Postal Service because of the small matter of federal laws against possessing, distributing or transporting marijuana. C420 also can't use companies such as Federal Express, which may divert in-state deliveries to an out-of-state sorting facility.

So Lawrence says he is contracting with a network of overnight couriers familiar with handling and shipping pharmaceutical products in California. He declines to identify who he is working with.

But he contends the shipments will be supervised, meticulously tracked and that the network is lawful, and safe.

"We talked to three different lawyers," says Lawrence, who said the operation closely follows state guidelines for medical marijuana collectives. "This is something with a lot of gray areas. But they said it's pretty dark gray area and we should be good."

Pictured: Top - Matthew Lawrence, director of C420online.com, cradles a bowl of fresh buds as he pitches his on-line pot delivery network at the Hemp & Cannabis Expo in Daly City. Below - Justin Browning, 24, C420's plant 'cloner,' shelves seedlings that the patients network will pack and ship for medical users to grow at home. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

April 22, 2010
Sacramento consultant leads campaign against pot legalization

The political campaign team that defeated a 2008 initiative that emphasized treatment over jail for non-violent drug offenders is organizing anew to take on the November initiative to legalize marijuana for California adults over 21.

Two years ago, Sacramento political consultant Wayne Johnson rallied a coalition led by law enforcement associations in a successful campaign that defeated Proposition 5. The campaign branded the measure as "The Drug Dealers' Bill of Rights."

Now Johnson is heading the newly-formed Public Safety First campaign. It is backed by the California Police Chiefs Association and other law enforcement groups, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a transportation trade group, the California Bus Association.

Public Safety First doesn't have a catch phrase yet. But Johnson said the "no" campaign will argue that legalizing marijuana will harm California employers, endanger drivers and lead to rampant pot distribution - with the Golden State "shipping drugs to 49 other states."

Johnson charged that legalization proponents falsely assert the measure will be tax generator for California's beleaguered state budget. Johnson said the initiative leaves taxation decisions up to local governments, "the same people that issue permits for pot shops."

Dan Newman, spokesman for the legalization campaign, Control & Tax Cannabis, said the measure will reduce crime in California and produce much needed revenues. He assailed opponents as backing a "street dealers' and cartels' bill of rights" by opposing the initiative.

April 21, 2010
Builders offer home accessory: a pot-growing 'time machine'

growbox.JPGDon Devries, 47, and Jarron Genzlinger, 36, aren't sure when they realized it was time to switch from building decks to manufacturing rooms for growing pot.

But the two Foresthill men saw the new market demand when they made the rounds on construction jobs in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Their new venture may have been inspired when they went to build a deck at house in Lake of the Pines in Nevada County and found a mess of wires streaming from a room where the owner was growing weed.

"I told him, 'You're going to burn your house down,'" Devries said. "Let me at least re-do the electric."

Sometime later, Genzlinger was called on a room remodeling job in suburban Roseville. The owner wanted to grow pot indoors.

"I was bringing in lumber and framing. I was destroying the sheet rock. The carpet had to come up, and we needed a floor," he said.

Now, Devries and Genzlinger have a thriving new business. They manufacture and sell indoor grow rooms, promising no construction mess with installation.

Their Pro Grow 2000 Indoor Grow Rooms company builds and sells a galvanized steel, hydroponic lighting-equipped home weed-tending room called the "Pro Grow Time Machine."

They say their 6-foot by 6.4-foot by 7-foot enclosure is energy efficient, fits in any garage and can produce 10 pounds of premium pot in 65 days. All for a cool $11,500.

"We discovered a need and wanted to build the most efficient thing you can build," Devries said.

For now, their customers are patients growing medical marijuana.

If voters approve a taxation and legalization measure for recreational use in November, they might have to re-size their grow box. The ballot initiative would allow Californians over 21 to maintain a single residential grow room of 25 square feet - or 5-foot by 5-foot.

"Personally, I don't know if legalization will help us," Devries said. "Once it becomes legalized, the market may be flooded."

Pictured: Genzlinger tends demonstration plants inside the "Pro Grow Time Machine." Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

April 20, 2010
Live chat: Californians and their pot on 4/20
April 19, 2010
Leno bill seeks to make simple possession an infraction

As California's marijuana movement and a few thousand pot smokers celebrated today's 4th of July of weed, state Sen. Mark Leno convened an April 20 session of his public safety committee in a bid to make possession of an ounce or less an infraction.

Under California law, people arrested for simple possession face a penalty akin to an infraction - a fine of $100. But they are still charged with a misdemeanor.

But Leno, who notably returned a call on his pot bill at 4:20 p.m. last week, said misdemeanor marijuana arrests are clogging California courts for something that should be dismissed quicker than a parking ticket.

In 2008, 61,388 people in California were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana offenses.

"The question is why are we wasting a million dollars and clogging our courtrooms with what, in fact, is an infraction," Leno said.

An argument for his Senate Bill 1449 said making possession of less than an ounce an infraction "will allow prosecutors to expedite hearings and free up much needed court resources for more serious offenses."

While Leno's bill is supported by the California Judicial Council, the California Drug Policy Alliance and the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, it is opposed by many law enforcement groups.

The bill passed Leno's committee this afternoon.

But John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California narcotics officers, peace officers and police chiefs associations, said its odds of ultimate passage are remote.

Lovell said the measure would dry up incentives for drug treatment, which is often negotiated in plea deals or sentencing agreements.

"If you have an incentive to remove that misdemeanor from your record, you're inclined to go into a treatment program," Lovell said. "And we can all agree that drug treatment is a good thing."

April 19, 2010
Advocate lawyer warns that 'capitalist' dispensaries may close

IMG_0051[1].JPGOakland lawyer William G. Panzer came to last weekend's International Hemp & Cannabis Expo aptly wearing a medical pot tee-shirt and handing out business cards printed on hemp fiber paper.

Then the co-author of the Proposition 215 medical marijuana law and winner of a High Times Magazine "Freedom Fighter" award told dispensary officials and wannabe pot shop operators they may well be breaking the law.

He also predicted there could be a major downsizing in the medical marijuana trade. Panzer said California courts could order closure of scores of cannabis outlets that don't operate as strict, non-profit, socialist-style collectives.

"A dispensary is a place where cannabis is distributed," he told the convention crowd at the Cow Palace in Daly City. "It can be set up as a lawful cannabis collective or as an illegal retail sales outlet. I think the way most dispensaries are set up, they are retail operations.

"The truth is, if you set up lawfully, you're not going to make money. And there are a lot of people for whom it is more important to make money than to serve patients."

Panzer represents dispensaries and advises them on how to organize lawfully as patient networks. But the sharp words of the leading medical marijuana advocate seemed to buttress a hard-line view expressed by Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen A. Trutanich.

Arguing that dispensaries are illegally operating as retail stores, Trutanich has won two court injunctions against Los Angeles dispensaries. Judge James C. Chalfant this month ordered a popular Venice Beach dispensary, Organica, to stop selling or distributing marijuana. In January, Chalfant's injunction barred sales at the Hemp Factory V in Eagle Rock.

The L.A. actions have been assailed by the patient advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access, as violating "the letter and spirit" of state law and the city's dispensary ordinance.

Prosecutors in San Diego County have taken a similar view as those in Los Angeles, but have lost twice in recent prosecutions of medical marijuana operators.

Panzer said a state appellate court may ultimately issue a ruling that may force many improperly run dispensaries to close.

He counseled people operating dispensaries to follow the mandates of a "closed-circuit" patient collective. Under such rules, all marijuana is cultivated and distributed by medical marijuana users who are members of the collective. Any payments for pot are reimbursement for services provided by the non-profit collective.

As one woman asked Panzer about potential income tax deductions from a medical pot business, he abruptly cut her off.

"I'm counseling people not to be a business," he told the crowd. "You have to stop thinking that it is a business. There is no buying and selling."

In an interview, he said many marijuana dispensaries are operating correctly and legally. But he said there are also pot shops set up as "sole proprietorships and limited partnerships that are owned by somebody. You see advertisements to sell them.

"That's not socialism. It's capitalist."

Pictured: Oakland attorney William G. Panzer at Hemp & Cannabis event. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

April 16, 2010
International weed expo promises major marijuana media blitz

With promises of "celebrity patients medicating," an "enticing vapor lounge" and "hash and kief smoking bars," the International Cannabis & Hemp Expo comes to the Cow Palace in San Francisco this weekend.

The Saturday-Sunday event is just the latest in California marijuana trade shows that underscore the state's growing pot movement and its entrepreneurial sizzle. This time, the event is billed as "the largest media blitz for public awareness" of marijuana issues undertaken in the Bay Area.

Months after a medical pot conference drew thousands of people to the Los Angeles Convention Center, this weekend's expo will offer a first-ever on-site convention smoking and sampling room for medical pot patients.

The "patient medicating tent" will be a visual signature for a conference focusing on the medical marijuana industry, the hemp trade and the political push for a November ballot measure to legalize marijuana for all adults over 21.

Speakers will include Dennis Peron, an advocate for AIDS and HIV patients who was an architect of Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana use in California in 1996.

And there will be Richard Lee, president and horticulture professor at Oakland's renowned marijuana trade school, Oaksterdam University. Lee's pot enterprises donated nearly $1.3 million to the petition drive that qualified the 2010 initiative that seeks to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.

For details on the event, click here.

April 15, 2010
Pot plants put hippie parents in prison, now son grows legally

In December, 1990, then-Sacramento Bee columnist Jim Trotter visited a hard scrabble farm off of Garden Highway near the Sacramento River levee. There was a sadness about the place. And there was a 20-year-old man named David Tat Chow trying to hold things together - and hold on to a tiny family farm.

Trotter's column on Chow's mother, Marsha Chow, and stepfather, Richard Johnson, illuminated an aggressive bid by federal prosecutors to seize the farm over 20 small marijuana plants and what an expert witness described as "about two ounces of smokeable marijuana." By then, Marsha Chow and Johnson were in state prison, serving three-year felony sentences for marijuana cultivation.

Neighbors portrayed the couple as spiritual, reggae-loving, pot-smoking hippies who raised organic vegetables and volunteered for a local food bank. Prosecutors said they were drug dealers on probation for felony marijuana charges in Tehama County.

Trotter took up the cause of saving their modest 2 3/4-acre property from federal seizure.

"This (forfeiture) law has been used extensively in recent years to seize the boats, airplanes and estates of big time drug dealers," Trotter wrote. "But I don't think that is what we have here. If there is any drug wealth associated with this place, it isn't readily apparent."

With his parents in prison, David Tat Chow continued fighting to save the family farm. Eventually, years later, he wrote a $10,000 check to the U.S. Marshall's Service to settle the forfeiture case and keep the property.

But two decades later, he grieves dearly for his mother. She went to prison with breast cancer and died shortly after her release in 1993, he says. His stepfather, a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, passed away in 2000.

There is, of course, a epilogue. It tells a story of a generational shift in social and legal attitudes for marijuana.

The tiny farm still isn't much of a sight these days. There are some splintering old decks and work houses, heaps of debris and organic crops of tomatoes and bell peppers. There are 22 varieties of fruit trees. And there is also a hydroponic grow room for marijuana.

David Tat Chow, now 40, is a medical marijuana advocate who legally cultivates for a half dozen patient users.

"I feel happy that the times have turned and the movement has gone further for the next generation," he says.

Yet he still wears a definite sadness.

"The time I lost with my mother is worth one hundred times more than the $10,000 I spent (to save the farm)," he says. "Time is irreplaceable."

Bryan Davies, operator of the Canna Care medical marijuana dispensary and a long-time family friend, says the raid and the parents' incarceration took a toll on the son.

"He has had a rough time," Davies says. "David needs to forgive those who did this."

Chow says he just wants the saga remembered.

"It's an amazing story," he says. "It should be heard. It seems to be forgotten."


A younger David Tat Chow relaxes with neighbor Tony Bush, his mother Marsha Chow and stepfather Richard Johnson after the couple's release from prison. Photo by Noel Neuburger.

April 14, 2010
Dispensary's growers develop pot strain that's not for stoners

Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Oakland's Harborside Health Center, featured in today's Sacramento Bee, is traveling east this weekend to introduce a new medicinal pot strain he says is unlikely to get anyone stoned.

DeAngelo is to introduce a "non-psychoactive" cannabis developed by Harborside's patient-cultivators.

He will appear at the "Cannabis - the Medicine Plant Forum" at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick, RI to discuss a specially-developed "True Blueberry" and "OG Kush" pot hybrid.

It was cultivated to increase levels of Cannabidiol, a major compound in marijuana that doesn't get you high.

Many marijuana growers produce strains with less Cannabidol -- or CBD -- to emphasize the more euphoric effects of weed's more notable ingredient, Tetrahydrocannabinol - or THC. But pot rich in Cannabidol is believed to provide effective pain relief and may be particularly useful with cancer patients, DeAngelo says.

It may not be the biggest hit at some dispensaries. But DeAngelo says the product could spark a new wave in not-for-stoners medicine.

"Only a small percentage of people enjoy the psychoactivity of cannabis," he insists in a statement. "But almost everybody can benefit from its medical properties."

April 13, 2010
Police 'White Paper' on pot shops fuels Placer prohibition vote

As supervisors in Placer County last week voted to prohibit marijuana dispensaries from opening in the county, they relied heavily on a "White Paper on Marijuana Dispensaries" put out by the California Police Chiefs Association.

The document, published last year, is a pretty scathing report. It argues that dispensaries are linked to marijuana crimes and violence.

That is drawing fire from medical marijuana advocates. They charge that the "White Paper" is an intentionally inflammatory document drafted in a political bid to shut down legal medical marijuana operations.

Here's a glimpse of what the document has to say:

Marijuana dispensaries are commonly large money-making enterprises that will sell marijuana to most anyone who produces a physician's written recommendation for its medical use. These recommendations can be had by paying unscrupulous physicians a fee and claiming to have most any malady, even headaches. While the dispensaries will claim to receive only donations, no marijuana will change hands without an exchange of money. These operations have been tied to organized criminal gangs, foster large grow operations, and are often multi-million-dollar profit centers.

Because they are repositories of valuable marijuana crops and large amounts of cash, several operators of dispensaries have been attacked and murdered by armed robbers both at their storefronts and homes, and such places have been regularly burglarized. Drug dealing, sales to minors, loitering, heavy vehicle and foot traffic in retail areas, increased noise, and robberies of customers just outside dispensaries are also common ancillary byproducts of their operations.

Don Duncan, California director for Americans for Safe Access, a group advocating for medical marijuana patients said the paper's "ancillary crimes" report wrongly suggests that dispensaries are to blame for off-site armed robberies and murders. One example cited in the report was the 2002 killing of two residents in a Willits home invasion targeting medical pot.

"What we're seeing in that report is that police are putting out isolated incidents of abuse or misconduct to paint the entire medical cannabis movement," Duncan said. "The vast majority of our people (operating medical pot locations) are lawful, good neighbors. When they say there are giant profit-making centers, there may be kernels of truth out there. But it is generally not true of the (dispensary) movement.

"Law enforcement has always been an opponent of medical cannabis. What you see in the report is more akin to propaganda than public education."

To read the 2009 police chiefs association report, click here.

April 12, 2010
Sutter County supervisors refuse to issue medical pot cards

In 2003, the Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis gave medical pot patients what amounted to a stay-out-of-jail card.

Senate Bill 420 created a optional medical marijuana card that patients with physicians recommendations for pot could acquire as a formal identification to show any inquiring law enforcement official. The state cards are issued by virtually every California county.

But not Sutter County. Supervisors there voted against issuing the cards, infuriating medical marijuana advocates.

"It really leaves the residents of Sutter County hanging high and dry compared to everybody else in the state," Dale Gieringer of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws told the Appeal-Democrat newspaper in Marysville.

April 9, 2010
Poll: Marijuana acceptance grows, medical use widely backed

In perhaps America's most weed-friendly state, 56 percent of Californians last spring said they would support taxing and legalizing marijuana to help the Golden State soothe its fiscal crisis.

While the state Field Poll released last April 30 is constantly cited by legalization advocates, new national polling shows increasing acceptance for marijuana use - particularly for treating medical conditions.

A recent national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reveals that nearly three-quarters of Americans favor the use of marijuana with physician recommendations.

The poll of 1,500 adults also shows rising national support for legalization of marijuana, though with less apparent enthusiasm than in California.

Nationally, legalization of pot is supported by 41 percent of the public and opposed by 52 percent, according to the Pew poll.

The Pew Center said that represents a stark generational shift from 20 years ago when only 16 percent supported pot's legalization and 81 percent believed it should remain illegal.

April 8, 2010
Judge gives 120 days, sets pot limit for Sacto airport defendant

Matthew Zugsberger, an injured oil rig worker and medical marijuana user convicted of transporting three pounds of pot at Sacramento International Airport, was given a short jail sentence today and a limit on how much marijuana he can carry in the future.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Roland Candee sentenced Zugsberger, 34, to 120 days in jail and five years probation. He also ordered him to not transport any more than 28 grams of marijuana at any time without permission of his probation officer.

Zugsberger was also barred from carrying any pot into or out of California.

Zugsberger, who has been in custody for 33 days, could be out in 27 days with time off for good behavior. He could have served up to four years in prison.

But Candee's order means that Zugsberger cannot carry the same amount of marijuana while traveling in California as other medical pot patients are allowed.

In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis signed a law permitting patients with medical marijuana recommendations from physicians to possess six mature or 12 immature plants and eight ounces of dried marijuana.

Those limits were thrown out last month by the California Supreme Court. However, local
authorities can still detain patients found with more than 8 ounces if they suspect illegal activity.

Aaron Smith, California director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates rolling back marijuana laws and enforcement, said he was surprised the judge set a standard for Zugsberger well below the 2003 state limit.

"It seems kind of arbitrary and capricious," Smith said. "I would think the figure should at least be more consistent with what his medical needs are and at least be set at the state threshold. I haven't heard of anything like that."

In handing down the sentence today, Candee said the evidence in Zugsberger's trial indicated that "this is really not a personal use case."

Zugsberger was convicted March 9 of illegally transporting three pounds of marijuana duct-taped into a scuba suit and packed into a metal dominoes container in his luggage. He was also carrying a stash of pot in his pants as he prepared to board a flight to New Orleans.

He was acquitted of felony possession for sale and convicted of misdemeanor possession.

Zugsberger said he was taking the marijuana to Louisiana to have it mixed into baked goods and ice cream by his ex-wife, a gourmet cook, and another Louisiana master chef.

Zugsberger suffered crushed vertebrae while working as a scuba diver during an oil rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico. He got a medical marijuana recommendation from Mendocino County physician, whose standard pot referral says patients "may need to grow 25 mature plants and possess 5 pounds of cannabis" for yearly needs.

Zugsberger faces an upcoming trial in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana on charges of illegally shipping two pounds of pot to a former residence.

April 8, 2010
Sacramento dispensary plan has consensus: Nobody is happy

LS MED MARIJUANA 2.JPGSacramento at least seems to have consensus on its plan to regulate marijuana dispensaries in the capital city.

But that may not be a good thing. That's because the consensus - from people with widely conflicting points of view - seems to be that nobody is happy.

Let's start with members of the City Council's law and legislation committee, which voted 3-1 to move a proposed dispensary ordinance on to the City Council. The plan would set a cap of 12 pot shops in the city and impose strict rules on their operations.

"If we use this kind of zoning, the only place where we will have these clinics is next to porn halls or pay day loan centers," complained Council member Steve Cohn, who voted against advancing the plan.

And those who voted yes?

Robbie Waters complained the plan would allow out-of-compliance pot shops to stay in business too long before shutting them down. "This doesn't get to the point of 'regulate,'" he said.

Sandy Sheedy, who sponsored the dispensary plan, objected to a push by Cohn to allow a higher concentration of dispensaries downtown.

"I don't see this working," she said. "This skews the whole process of what we've done here."

And Lauren Hammond, the committee chairwoman, wondered where the number 12 came from anyway - and how that would play in a city with 39 registered dispensaries.

"Now we're going to arbitrarily limit it to 12 - just because?" Hammond said. "I don't know if that is a good enough reason."

The plan on the table would impose a lottery to determine which pot shops could stay in business. It would require dispensaries to maintain security and ban the hiring of workers with felony convictions.

It also would require pot shops to label their weed with a disclaimer saying the dispensaries - not the city - assume "risk of injury or harm."

The tense audience in Tuesday's public session included local business association representatives unsure whether to be welcoming or wary to the burgeoning legal pot trade. And there was a procession of patients, cannabis health advocates and dispensary officials - none too happy with the city's attempt to rein things in.

"Quite frankly, your ordinance isn't ready for prime time," complained Robert Shantz, an Oakland attorney representing the Sacramento Alliance of Collectives.

The City Council is hoping to agree on an ordinance by July.

Whether one is passed or not, expect this saga to drag on.

Pictured: As a city pot club ordinance faces its smell test, the meds get one at a Sacramento dispensary. Lezlie Sterling/lsterling@sacbee.com.

April 7, 2010
World's largest dispensary offers bonus for marijuana activism

New Imagesmall.JPGInside the place billed as the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world, a cheerful "membership services manager" named Goose Duarte extols the many holistic services.

There is a naturopathic primary care doctor, acupuncture, chiropractic care, yoga and Reiki, Japanese spiritual healing defined as "universal life force energy."

There are also about 60 safety-tested and potency-labeled California marijuana strains.

The Harborside Health Center, opened in October, 2006, now boasts 47,000 registered medical marijuana patients at its original Oakland location and a new dispensary in San Jose.

It was founded by Steve DeAngelo, a former Hemp products importer, and Dave Wedding Dress, a peace and anti-nuclear activist. Yes, that's his real name.

MAJ MEDICAL CANNABIS.JPGOn an average day at the Oakland center, 800 people will snake through orderly lines to reach dispensary staff who will find the weed of their choice.

"We've brought the highest standards of both professionalism and activism to the medical cannabis community," DeAngelo says.

Not only is Harborside is a center for medical marijuana advocacy, but there is a bonus for those who take up the cause.

Harborside offers a free gram of medical pot a week for every hour volunteered in support of issues on behalf of medical marijuana patients, Duarte says.

"We want all our patients know they are ambassadors for the movement," Duarte said.

For an inside tour of Harborside in Oakland, click below.

Pictured: Above left - The dispensary counter at Harborside in Oakland. Advertising photo courtesy of Harborside. Above right - The medicine, labeled for potency. Michael Allen Jones/mjones@sacbee.com.


April 6, 2010
Brownie baker tests for safe weed, but pot treats can be potent

Thumbnail image for MAJ ANDY REHM.JPGWhen your signature product contains the best of European chocolate, rich butter, prime California marijuana and a frosty top of hashish, the quality must be indisputable.

At least that is the view of Andy Rehm, director of a Berkeley medical marijuana collective that runs a commercial kitchen to bake weed-infused brownies, cookies, toffees and other edibles.

Rehm likes to boast that the "Big Bang Brownies" of the Green Pi bakery are tasty and guaranteed to "give you a two-layered bump," a medicinal boost both from frosting that touches the tongue and the brownie ingested in the body.

But Rehm says Green Pi is also "really concerned about making a safe, standardized product with scientific testing."

So the Berkeley baker sends its marijuana to the Steep Hill Lab, a unique pot testing lab written about in Monday's Sacramento Bee, to ensure there are no molds or pesticides in the weed before it is cooked into food.

The kitchen also has a micro-biologist on staff to inspect incoming pot from patient growers and ensure the cleanliness of the baking operation. Its brownies and cookies are then packed into difficult to open, air-tight laminated bags.

Thumbnail image for MAJ CANNABIS FOOD.JPG"We're in this to do some good," Rehm said. "These are $12 brownies. It's not too much for us to test to ensure that we're protecting this high quality medicine."

Debby Goldsberry, co-founder of the Medical Cannabis Safety Council, a Bay Area group working on marijuana safety issues, offers a caution when it comes to brownies and other baked goods. Though the Steep Hill Lab tests marijuana for potency, there is no test for the final product that comes out of the oven.

"With baked goods it is harder to monitor the potency," said Goldsberry, an operator of the Berkeley Patients Group medical marijuana dispensary. "Sometimes, people take too much."

The Medical Cannabis Safety Council put out a warning for pot patients who prefer to eat their weed than smoke it.

It cautions them to start with a quarter dose - or a bare nibble of a brownie - and then wait and hour to "analyze the effects" before ingesting more.

That raises an interesting challenge for lovers of brownies, medicinal or otherwise.

Ever tried to take one bite and then wait an hour for another?

Pictured: Baker Andy Rehm and Green Pi's safety packed selections. Michael Jones/mjones@sacbee.com.

April 5, 2010
San Diego DA has a losing streak with medical pot prosecutions

With a screaming red headine, "NOT GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS!!!," San Diego County medical marijuana activist Eugene Davidovich recently announced on his website his acquittal on charges of illegally selling marijuana and possessing weed.

Davidson, who operated a medical marijuana home delivery service, was the second high-profile defendant to be found not-guilty in a crackdown by San Diego authorities on medical marijuana providers they accused of conducting illegal retail sales.

His March 26 acquittal follows a earlier courtroom loss for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

In December, a jury acquitted Navy veteran Jovan Jackson on charges of possession and sales of marijuana for operating a dispensary called Answerdam Alternative Care.

"I don't take from this that we're not going to be able prosecute a dispensary, " Deputy District
Attorney Steve Walter said in an interview after the Jackson case.

He prosecuted Davidovich in a continuing legal effort that has included police raids on marijuana businesses under a sweep dubbed Operation Green Rx.

"The jury saw this for what it was," Davidovich's lawyer, Michael McCabe told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "They thought it was a trumped up case from the get-go."

San Diego authorities aren't surrendering.

Another high profile medical pot case looms for Donna Lambert, a 49-year-old cancer survivor who also ran a also marijuana network that provided home deliveries to medical users.

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

Meanwhile, Davidovich, who has covered his own trial on his website, posted something of a post-verdict touchdown dance. His video (view it below) proclaims himself "a free man." It also quotes a juror as saying, "The police department did not do the job and the prosecution had a lot of weak material to work with."

April 2, 2010
No charges filed for outdoors writer busted for weed in Weed

Stienstra (03-26-2010).JPGSiskiyou County District Attorney J. Kirk Andrus is declining to file charges and ordering authorities to continue an investigation into a well known outdoors writer arrested in a narcotics task force raid on his home in the town of Weed.

San Francisco Chronicle writer and hiking and camping author Tom Stienstra 55, and his wife were arrested last Thursday for investigation of possession of marijuana for sale after authorities served a search warrant at their property.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Susan Gravenkamp said in a statement that members of a local narcotics task force uncovered a "sophisticated marijuana cultivation operation" in a barn on the property.

She said officers seized 31 mature marijuana plants and 21 immature plants, 11 pounds of dried marijuana, packaging materials and scales.

But Stienstra, his wife Stephani Ann Cruickshank and their 18-year-old son, who was not arrested, all had medical marijuana recommendations, authorities said.

And in an interview this afternoon, Andrus said he has "declined to file charges at this time" and that he wants authorities to do more work in the case.

"We have submitted the case back...for further investigation," he said.

Stienstra was released last Friday from Siskiyou County Jail after posting $75,000 bail. His wife was released from custody on Monday, along with two other people who were arrested. The others were identified as Henry Warren Lincoln, 32, of Medford, Oregon and Nathan Jacop Koopman of Gazelle in Siskiyou County.

Siskiyou County policy allows individual medical marijuana patients to possess six mature or 12 immature plants and 8 ounces of dried pot - the limit set by the Legislature in 2003. Local governments are allowed to set higher guidelines.

In January, 2010, the state Supreme Court threw out the state possession limits, saying lawmakers improperly amended the Proposition 215 medical marijuana law without the consent of voters.

Legal observers say police can still make arrests based on local plant standards but likely have to establish in court that the marijuana quantity exceeds what is needed for reasonable personal use or that there are other factors indicating criminal behavior.

"In an case involving medical marijuana that has a (physician's) recommendation, you can be sure that is something we would be looking to document," Andrus said. "It's an absolute defense in the state of California as long as it can be proven to be reasonable."

Ward Bushee, editor and executive vice president for the San Francisco Chronicle, said Stienstra's employment status is unchanged. Besides writing for the Chronicle, he has a program on radio station KCBS.

"There are no charges filed, and we know very little about the allegations against Tom and hope it is resolved quickly," Bushee told the Chronicle. "In the meantime, we will continue to publish his popular outdoor reports."

Pictured: Stienstra in sheriff's department booking photo.

April 2, 2010
'Reefer Madness the Musical' brings pot debate to Sacramento

edg048.JPGSacramento's Artistic Differences Theatre Company takes an entertaining plunge into California marijuana debate with a musical inspired by the weed hysteria classic, "Reefer Madness."

"Reefer Madness the Musical" runs April 2 to May 2 at the California Stage in downtown Sacramento.

The play will also be accompanied by a "Reefer in the 21st Century" lecture series, including Aaron Smith of the Marijuana Policy Project, Lanette Davies of ACLU Sacramento, Sugam Soni from Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and Charles Hall and Bevin Bell-Hall, producers of a recent medical marijuana documentary, La Vie en Verte.

People interested in tickets or information can reach the Artistic Differences Theatre Co. Box office at 916-708-3449.

Pictured: Jes Gonzales as the lecturer in Reefer Madness. Photo by Divino San Pedro.

April 1, 2010
San Jose ponders taxing dispensaries to medicate fiscal ills

Late last year, when officials in the city of San Jose talked about doing something about their marijuana dispensaries, there were far fewer pot shops in town.

Now the Silicon Valley city is teeming with cannabis club start-ups. An internet pot club site lists 55 in town, from Amsterdam's Garden to Green Skunk Xpress, from The Leaning leaf to Purple High.

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council voted to do something about it - at least in theory. The council approved a recommendation to consider an ordinance in June that could limit the number of dispensaries in town.

Notably, the proposal - if adopted - would also ask local voters to approve a tax on local pot shops in the hope of generating new cash for a fiscally-challenged city grappling with major cuts in municipal services.

"They took the first step," said Linda Stokely, a spokeswoman for the Medical Cannabis Collective Coalition, a group representing 16 San Jose dispensaries. "The big story is that back in November, when the city first looked at this, there were five dispensaries in San Jose. Now that they did nothing there are more than 50. Once they put an ordinance in place, there is going to be a standard."

If San Jose decides to regulate and cultivate its pot clubs for tax revenues, it would follow in the footsteps of Oakland.

Last summer, in a political watershed for a movement that has since gone on to qualify an initiative for legalizing and taxing pot, 80 percent of Oakland voters approved a gross receipts tax that charged the city's four pot dispensaries $18 for every $1,000 in revenue.

In Los Angeles, which is waging a major effort to shutter hundreds of dispensaries, the City Council never seriously considered taxing their operations.

In Sacramento, where city has 39 registered pot dispensaries, the city is contemplating an ordinance to permit no more than a dozen pot shops in the capital and impose strict requirements for their operations. Though Sacramento officials closely studied the Oakland model, no proposal has advanced on a special tax for cannabis cash.