Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

July 8, 2010
Former skydiving lobbyist fights for neighborhood dispensary

joel.JPGBack in his truly sky high days, Joel "J.W." Marsall jumped out of planes in bonding exercises with business executives.

The West Coast lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn't know that his skydiving adventures - resulting in injury and chronic back pain from a less-than-perfect landing -- would ultimately parachute him into another line of work. "I bounced once," he says.

These days, Marsall is a medical marijuana patient and the director of Delta Health and Wellness Inc., a dispensary that shares a block of 17th Street in Sacramento with residential homes.

Located just off the Broadway Avenue business district and near a light rail station, Delta Wellness is one of numerous Midtown dispensaries that have stirred debate over their proximity to neighborhoods.

The city has been studying an ordinance that would cap the number of Sacramento dispensaries - 39 are currently registered -- at a dozen and ban them from operating near schools, churches and homes. It is also considering a ballot measure for a tax on gross receipts of marijuana businesses.

But Council members are also debating whether to allow a concentration of pot shops to remain in Midtown - where they can more readily be reached by medical marijuana patients who use mass transit.

Marsall says his dispensary offers more to the immediate community than just an availability of premium Purple Fuscia, Christmas Bud or Northern Lights medical pot.

He says his dispensary workers mow the weeds and lawns at nearby homes and argues that its added lighting and security that have made the neighborhood safer.

The ex-lobbyist says Delta Health and Wellness officials have also "knocked on every door" to let the neighbors know who is running the operation.

He says his push to win over local government officials continues.

"The challenge to having these stores around is totally different to the challenges that the (medical marijuana) industry faces," Marsall said. "The industry faces the education of the council members, of the board of supervisors, of everyone. They have to take it out of the mindset that it's pot, it's weed, it's something to get high on. It's medicine, and when people understand that, it changes their attitude."

One neighbor, Lydia Bacca, said she was surprised when the neighborhood dispensary opened just a few doors down from her house.

"None of us knew that marijuana place was coming," said Bacca, who complains about traffic the establishment generates.

But neighbor Jim Groth, a retired U.S. Postal Service letter-carrier, says he's generally pleased with the new business nearby. Though he doesn't care for the dispensary's sun-reflecting metal roof, he said, "I'm all for it. I'm for medical marijuana...I'm happy it's here."

Marsall said he is counting on the city agreeing over the long-term.

"We're not going silently into the night," he said.

Pictured: Joel "J.W." Marsall outside his Delta Health and Wellness dispensary. Andy Alfaro/alfaro@sacbee.com

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