Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

August 30, 2010
Bill to collect medical marijuana taxes angers pot advocates

Montebello state Senator Ron Calderon is proposing a comprehensive "Cannabis Licensing Act" to regulate and tax multiple sectors of the medical marijuana industry, including pot stores, "growers, wholesalers, retailers, and transporters of cannabis."

California medical marijuana dispensaries currently produce up to $1.3 billion in transactions and up to $105 million in state sales taxes, according to estimates earlier this year by the state Board of Equalization.

Calderon's chief of staff, Rocky Rushing, said the senator introduced Senate Bill 1131 because he believes there are insufficient structures in place to ensure California collects taxes due on legal medicinal pot transactions.

But the measure is stirring protests from marijuana activists, including some who support November's Proposition 19 initiative to legalize recreational pot use and allow cities to tax and regulate retail sales.

Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana laws, says the legislation is premature because it seeks to tax numerous marijuana businesses and entities without first guaranteeing them protection under the law.

"SB 1131 would require all commercial growers, retailers, wholesalers, and transporters to register with the state, but would DO NOTHING to legally protect them by changing the law to explicitly legalize wholesale or retail sales," Gieringer wrote in a memo to DrugSense, a policy group promoting alternatives to so-called drug war policies.

In a separate letter to Contra Costa County Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, whose Assembly Rules Committee is reviewing Calderon's late session bill, Gieringer said the bill "also establishes a complicated, unworkable system requiring wholesalers to pre-pay sales taxes that should be collected by retailers."

According to the text of the bill, the Cannabis License Act would require the BOE to issue permits to all medical pot businesses and "require these licensed growers, importers, wholesalers, retailers, and transporters to keep records of every sale, transfer,or delivery of cannabis or cannabis products."

It could subject pot businesses to revocation or suspension of licenses and potential civil or criminal penalties and "seizure or cannabis or cannabis products that are sold or purchased in violation of the act."

Rushing said the bill, considered a long shot to get out of committee, would "simply provide the BOE a mechanism to collect sales taxes that should be paid now by those who grow and dispense medical marijuana."

He added: "This isn't something nefarious. What we're tying to do is generate revenue for a state that is in great need of revenue."

August 25, 2010
Months after death, legendary pot activist stokes Prop 19 debate

Thumbnail image for West Coast Cannabis.JPGAmong some fervent advocates in the California marijuana movement, debate rages over whether the Proposition 19 initiative to permit recreational pot use is an important historic landmark or a sellout of Utopian ideals for legalizing weed.

And the most sought-after endorsement in this discussion is that of a famed cannabis author and activist who is no longer among the living.

Jack Herer was known as the "Hemperor" for his hemp cultivation advocacy book - "The Emperor Wears No Clothes." He was also a fiery advocate for unrestricted legalization of marijuana. Moments before suffering a debilitating heart attack last September, Herer exhorted a cannabis festival crowd in Portland: "There is nothing (expletive) better for the human race than having marijuana morning, noon and night."

Herer died in April at 70. He was memorialized in a cover story in West Coast Cannabis magazine and in an eulogy by publisher Ngaio Bealum "as a visionary, a warrior, a prophet, a legend, and a helluva man."

But since his death, some marijuana legalization advocates -- including a few stoner bloggers -- have pointed to Herer's criticism of Proposition 19 to argue that the initiative doesn't go far enough to protect rights of marijuana users and cultivators.

But Herer's own family is now weighing in to declare the late advocate's yes "vote" on Prop 19.

A letter, signed on behalf of his children by Dan Herer, his second oldest son, is being circulated to argue that Herer would stand solidly behind Proposition 19 despite early misgivings.

Here is a lengthy except:

Jack railed against Tax Cannabis 2010, now Proposition 19, and its plan for limited legalization and local authority to tax and regulate marijuana sales to adults 21 and above. It falls far short of what he wanted. Jack 'wanted it all,' and Prop 19 is just a part of that dream.

Unfortunately, Jack passed away before Prop 19 made the 2010 ballot; so many people think he would still oppose it. We don't believe that, and we ask that everyone stop saying he would cling to that position as we move toward the Nov. 2 vote.

As his family, we want the world to know that the last thing Jack Herer would want is for Californians to vote to keep Cannabis illegal. He was smart and had the political savvy to know that once a measure is on the ballot, the time for bickering has passed.

That is why he campaigned for Prop 215 despite its shortcomings. That is why, were he able, he would now be telling voters to rally around and Vote Yes on Prop 19.

To read the full Herer family letter, click here.

Pictured: West Coast Cannabis magazine Jack Herer tribute cover.

August 24, 2010
African-American officers endorse Prop 19, community is split

The last time Neill Franklin was in Sacramento, he joined California NAACP president Alice Huffman as the civil rights group offered its controversial, attention-drawing endorsement of the November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

At the time, the veteran former Baltimore police officer joined with the NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance in a June 30 press conference that dramatized disproportionate arrests of African-Americans to argue for pot's legalization.

Now Franklin, an African-American and the executive director of an anti-drug war group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is hailing the decision of a national black officers' organization to back California's Proposition 19.

"I saw with my own eyes the devastating impact these misguided marijuana laws have on our communities," Franklin said in a statement at last week's National Black Police Association conference in Sacramento. "This November, with the National Black Police Association's help, Californians finally have an opportunity to do something about it by approving the initiative to control and tax marijuana."

But the political and cultural debate over marijuana legalization is particularly intense among many African-American community leaders, provoking a clash over concerns of unequal police enforcement vs. fears of increased marijuana use.

On one hand, Huffman, in an appearance last week before The Sacramento Bee editorial board, said California is poised to pass a marijuana reform measure that will "have implications across this country and put some teeth about doing something about its failed drug policy."

On another, retired state lawmaker and former Los Angeles City Council member and mayoral candidate Nate Holden evokes Martin Luther King in condemning proposals to legalize marijuana or weaken drug laws.

"Dr. King would be very disturbed by the fact that many of our elected officials are closing their hearts and their minds about the effects of drug abuse, which plagued our inner cities for generations," Holden has written. "...Dr. King would be absolutely disturbed by...the idea of legalizing drug dealers."

Meanwhile, Bishop Ron Allen, a pastor in Sacramento's Oak Park community, has made a national name for himself by rallying against the marijuana initiative as he compiled a portfolio of national television interviews.

Allen, who describes himself as a former crack addict who started out smoking marijuana, was in characteristic form on Fox News recently when he said Oakland City Council members became "drug lords" by voting to license local marijuana cultivators.

"They're putting at risk not only Oakland, California but the surrounding communities also," he said.

August 23, 2010
Marijuana trading cards pitch the 'sweet and exotic' to pot fans

GDP-card1-1023x695.JPGEver worry that you can't tell your Grand Daddy Purple from your Afghani Goo?

A Bay Area medical marijuana dispensary, the Berkeley Patients Care Collective, has a set of exquisitely photographed and crafted pot trading cards to ensure that weed connoisseurs can identify their favorite stains and extol the effects.

So any serious consumer - or trading card collector - will know that Afghani Goo is a marijuana strain bred from indica dominant cannabis plants. They can tell their friends that its medicinal qualities are "bursting with thick layers of sweet and exotic zest, like candy or chocolate with berries and cream."

And while card-carrying tokers can tell you that Afghani Goo "puts you in a good mood and makes you smile for no reason," they can also know that Grand Daddy Purple offers "a rich fruity and sweet scent like grape pixie sticks" that "saturates the room with a nice floral aroma like potpourri."

The cards underscore the increasingly designer nature of the California pot market.

As a thriving medical marijuana dispensary industry handles up to $1.3 billion in annual transactions - and the Proposition 19 initiative to legalize recreational use stirs talk of pot tourism and "bud and breakfast" getaways - Golden State weed is marketed like Napa Valley wines.

international-cannabis-and-hemp-expo-cow-palace 4700221 87.JPGThe Berkeley dispensary's cards - big hits at California medical marijuana trade shows - even let you in on some family lineage.

For example, Grand Daddy Purple, an indica strain, was born from the marriage of California Purple Urkle and Sensi Seeds Big Bud. Surely, there wasn't a dry eye in the greenhouse when cultivators bred the strain.

The cards - and some pot strains - also celebrate the heritage of the marijuana movement itself.

A card for Jack Herer hails a mostly cannabis sativa strain that is named for Herer, a renowned marijuana and hemp activist and former "Grassroots Party" presidential candidate who died earlier this year.

His commemorative pot strain - "selected from a massive pool of plants for their unique and special characteristics" - is touted on its trading card as "peppery and spicy with a touch of tropical fruit."

Like it activist namesake, it is one hard-working weed.

"Clear, focused, energetic and motivating," the card reads. "You may start cleaning your house or working on a project. A good strain for when you have to medicate during the work day."

Pictured: Top - Trading card for Grand Daddy Purple. Below - Jack Herer card - and his commemorative weed strain - at San Francisco cannabis show. Courtesy of Berkeley Patients Care Collective.

August 20, 2010
Rolling Stone calls California marijuana vote primetime for pot

The new issue of Rolling Stone magazine features a lengthy report on California's ballot fight to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The piece, entitled, "Just Say Now," declares that "Californians will vote this fall on whether to legalize marijuana - and the measure has a real shot at passing."

Here are some excerpts from the article by Ari Berman:

A notable array of unions, civil rights groups and law-enforcement officials has lined up to support legalization, and even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that "it's time for a debate" on the issue. Polls show the measure has a real shot at passing, and (Oakland marijuana entrepreneur Richard) Lee has recruited an impressive team of veteran political operatives, environmental advocates and union organizers to manage the campaign. Taken together, it's the most effective and well-organized campaign to end marijuana prohibition since the drug was declared illegal in 1937.

...A black preacher from Sacramento named Ron Allen has risen from obscurity to become ...the most outspoken public opponent of legalization. A former-drug-addict-turned-anti-drug-crusader, Allen appears regularly on major outlets like Fox News and visits black churches to hammer home a simple message: that marijuana is the root of all social evil.

"They might say it's not a gateway drug, but I want you to know, it is a gateway drug," he thunders to the congregation at First Tabernacle Baptist Church on a recent Sunday morning."

...If the measure does pass, proponents believe that the White House will not challenge it in court -- much as New York was allowed to stop enforcing alcohol laws in 1923, a decade before Congress ended Prohibition.

"I would hope the Obama administration and Attorney General Holder would see this as an example of the gen­ius of the Founding Fathers, who looked at the states as 'crucibles of democracy,' " says (Attorney Jim) Wheaton, who drafted the ballot initiative.

August 19, 2010
D.A. on a losing streak again targets medical pot defendant

For more than two years now, authorities in San Diego County have been targeting marijuana defendant Jovan Jackson, a Navy veteran who operated a pot dispensary called Answerdam Alternative Care.

Last December, a jury acquitted Jackson on charges of illegal possession and sales of marijuana in connection with July, 2008 medical pot purchases from an undercover officer who signed up at the Answerdam dispensary using a false name.

Now Jackson is going to trial again on similar charges in connection with a September, 2009 raid that targeted the dispensary as part of an "Operation Green Rx" law enforcement crackdown on marijuana businesses.

His second prosecution by San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is infuriating medical marijuana advocates. They charge the D.A. is targeting legitimate medical marijuana providers and seeking to deny Jackson the right to use the state's 215 Compassionate Use Act as his legal defense.

Steve Walker, a spokesman for Dumanis, said the D.A. isn't targeting legal medical marijuana in her on-going series of pot prosecutions. He said she is prosecuting illegal pot sales that are not covered by the state's 1996 medical marijuana law.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in support of Jackson, the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access disputes Dumanis' "contention that medical marijuana sales are not permitted by patient collectives under California law."

"To deny a medical marijuana provider the ability to defend himself in court based on an argument that what he did was illegal, not only ignores relevant medical marijuana law, but also smacks of circular logic," Joe Elford, the group's lawyer, said in a statement defending pot dispensary transactions. "Dumanis appears against the wall in trying to prove her ill-reasoned legal theory and is attempting anything that will give her the advantage at trial."

The D.A. hasn't had the best of success in prosecuting people claiming to be medical marijuana providers.

Besides losing the first Jackson case, Dumanis was thwarted in a high-profile prosecution of a local marijuana activist, Eugene Davidovich. Davidovich, who operated a medical pot home delivery service, was acquitted March 26 of illegally selling and possessing marijuana.

August 18, 2010
Court ruling fails to decide contentious Anaheim pot shop ban

A California appeals court issued a split ruling today in a closely watched medical marijuana case but failed to decide an intense legal fight over whether California cities can ban pot dispensaries or be forced to accept them.

Ruling in the case of an Orange County medical marijuana patients' group that sued after being denied the right to operate a dispensary in Anaheim, the state Fourth Appellate District Court rejected city arguments that state legislation that allowed dispensaries improperly amended the state's medical marijuana law.

But the court also rejected arguments by Qualified Patients Association that the Anaheim ban violates California's Unruh Civil Rights Act against discrimination.

The ruling seemed to offer little legal flag-waving for either side as the appeals court kicked the case back to an Orange County Superior Court to consider the merits of the Anaheim ban.

"We express no opinion on the merits of the parties' positions but instead remand (the case back to the lower court) to allow the parties and the trial court to address these issues in further proceedings," wrote Judge Richard M. Aronson in the decision.

To read the ruling, click here.

August 18, 2010
After years on the lam, he helps marijuana clubs pay their taxes

kenhayes.JPGKen Hayes Jr., a former owner of a San Francisco medical pot dispensary raided by the federal agents in 2002, is back from more than six years on the lam. He is free from jail after a 2009 guilty plea to illegal marijuana distribution and filing a false federal tax return.

Now the long-time California marijuana activist, a man once praised by a former district attorney for "helping a lot of sick people alleviate their suffering," is selling tax software and consulting services to ensure that cannabis businesses follow the law.

Last year, following his extradition from Romania, a federal judge sentenced Hayes to 41 days in jail and ordered him to pay $20,755 for failing to report income from the Harm Reduction Center. The San Francisco center dispensed pot to AIDS patients and other medical users and also offered counseling for heroin and crack addicts.

But apparently, it didn't properly maintain its books - and that sent Hayes on the run from the feds.

Now his Haze Consulting business sells a point-of-service software to help marijuana businesses calculate and pay their taxes.

The business is currently aimed at medical pot dispensaries, but is prepared to serve retail marijuana outlets if Californians pass the Proposition 19 initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

"If Proposition 19 passes, this software will be needed only that much more. Even in the medical cannabis industry, there are a lot of people who are fly by night and don't keep the books," Hayes says. "That causes a lot of grief..."

Though the software is primarily aimed at helping pot business calculate and pay state sales taxes, Hayes refers to his federal tax case, saying: "This is the reason you need to have your accounts in order. Learn from what I learned. Give the feds their money."

His story requires some filling in.

Before he founded the Harm Reduction Center, Hayes grew marijuana in Sonoma County for a medical collective in San Francisco's Castro District. It was called CHAMP - for Cannabis Helping Alleviate Medical Problems.

But that brought problems for Hayes. Along with co-defendant Michael Foley, he was tried in Sonoma County on state cultivation charges for growing 899 marijuana and operating six green houses. They were acquitted after testimony from a star witness - then-San Francisco District Attorney Terrance Hallinan.

"I'm just here testifying on behalf of a guy who, in my opinion, is performing a public service in San Francisco in terms of helping a lot of sick people alleviate their suffering by supplying them with marijuana," Hallinan told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001.

A year later, the feds raided the Harm Reduction Center, and Hayes took flight.

His journey took him to Canada, where he unsuccessfully sought political asylum as a medical pot refugee. He then fled to Cambodia, where he worked in a medical clinic and taught English. Later, he wound up in Romania, where he enrolled in medical school until he was detained and returned to the United States.

Medical marijuana activists championed Hayes cause. But he got a lecture from U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer before the judge ordered him to pay back taxes, sentenced him to time served in jail, plus six months home confinement, and placed him on probation for three years.

"I think he's made a series of poor choices but I think he's paid for it," Breyer said at the time.

Hayes says he deals with "post-traumatic stress disorder" from his marijuana trials and years on the run. But he says he is back in business - and the movement - where he belongs.

His website says his point of sales system for marijuana businesses offers "the transparency the government is looking for."

It adds: "There are many people that were trying to do things the right way that are now facing prison sentences or are in jail that we know we could have saved. The IRS is coming and we want to make sure that you are ready."

"I need to be careful. I'm on probation," Hayes says. "At the same time, I'm trying to offer a solution to people who are moving this movement forward."

Pictured: Hayes pitches his point of sale software at HempCon medical marijuana expo in San Jose. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

August 17, 2010
Stoner blogs warn of false promises of legalization, Prop 19

It's not just those "prohibitionists" who are fighting Proposition 19, the California initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use and allow cities and counties to tax retail pot sales.

Stoner bloggers are also out to kill the measure.

The Stop19.com web site urges the "informed toker/voter" to oppose Prop 19 on grounds that it will increase criminal penalties for some marijuana offenses, promote an Oakland-based legal cannabis "cartel" and unleash greedy tobacco companies to drive small-time pot growers out of business.

Meanwhile, the blog for Stoners Against the Proposition 19 Tax Cannabis Initiative features Dragonfly de la Luz, the pen name for a roving marijuana correspondent and pot reviewer also known as "Ganja Girl" and the "Weedly World Traveler."

Dragonfly writes that passage of Prop 19 "reverses many of the freedoms marijuana consumers currently enjoy, pushes growers out of the commercial market, paves the way for the corporatization of cannabis, and creates new prohibitions where there are none now."

The blogs reflect views of some ardent marijuana activists that Prop 19 doesn't go far enough. They also embrace the current medical marijuana dispensary system, which has promoted a quasi-legal pot market and a thriving cannabis club industry producing up to $1.3 billion in estimated marijuana transactions.

"So why should you care?" asks the Stop19 site, which rattles off reasons to oppose the initiative, including "government control, excessive taxes, corporate greed" and "big tobacco." "After all, weed will be legal right? Wrong! Cannabis already is legal in California. All you need is a medical recommendation for no age limits, no growing limits, no big corporations, no excessive taxes, and no crackdown from the Feds. Just readily available, high quality medical cannabis."

But the stoner rants are drawing the ire of blogger "Radical" Russ Belville, a Proposition 19 supporter and California outreach coordinator for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Belville rips dispensary operators who oppose the legalization measure. And he lambastes conspiracy theorists' insistence that Phillip Morris has its eyes fixed on the California weed market.

"The "Philip Morris / RJ Reynolds Toxic Addictive High-less Marijuana Market Flood" scare has been floating around the cannabis community like a stale hit of schwag for decades now," Belville writes. "It's a form of conspiracy theory thinking embraced by the kind of people who think you could plant 40,000 lbs. of explosives surreptitiously in a busy World Trade Center or convince all the world's scientists and a very large soundstage crew to keep quiet about that faked moon landing."

August 16, 2010
Walnut Creek builders see green in household marijuana rooms

construction[1].JPGThe glossy brochure for the Good Green Builders Construction brims with photographs of home growing rooms featuring tomatoes, bell peppers and lettuce in a spectrum of leafy colors.

"We love what we do. And we are discreet," says the leaflet for the Walnut Creek firm founded by Brett McCormick, 25, and William McKenzie, 26, two agribusiness graduates from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

The discretion the duo is promising isn't for home-grown arugula. McCormick and McKenzie have built a successful general contracting firm by working with Californians wanting to set up safe - and discreet - residential grow rooms for cultivating pot.

McCormick says Good Green Builders works only with certified medical marijuana users and checks their physician's recommendations to ensure they have have a legal right to grow for themselves or others.

California law permits people with physician's recommendations for marijuana to cultivate up to 6 mature or 12 immature plants. Growers can legally cultivate for multiple medical users. And some cities and counties allow substantially higher growing limits - 72 plants, for example, in Oakland or 100-square feet in Humboldt County.

"We basically make sure they're legal," McCormick says. "We check their recommendations and don't set them up with something outside of their limits."

But Good Green Builders - and like-minded builders - may be poised for a boom if California voters in November approve Proposition 19 to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults over 21. The initiative would permit all California households to maintain a 25-square foot - or 5 by 5 - growing space for pot.

"Typically, we're doing bigger (growing) settings than 5 by 5," McCormick says. "We can definitely cater to that. There are going to be a lot of people who can grow their own."

With stories of at-home growing causing house fires from faulty wiring or otherwise overwhelming household infrastructure, Good Green Builders says it subcontracts with licensed electricians, plumbers, heating and ventilation specialists and other professionals depending on the job demands.

McCormick say the firm's specialty is doing "custom build-outs" of garages as people covert indoor parking to pot cultivation. The firm has also built basement grow-rooms with subterranean retaining walls and moisture barriers, created bedroom growing systems and a range of residential green houses.

"A lot of our customers are first-time growers," he says. "We cater to that. We definitely make it as easy as possible."

Pictured: McCormick with Good Green Builders residential designs for at-home cultivation. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

August 13, 2010
CalChamber says Prop 19 allows pot on job, court may disagree

In its analysis of Proposition 19 and the marijuana legalization initiative's impact on employers, the California Chamber of Commerce says voters should prepare to "imagine a workplace where employees can show up to work high on marijuana and there's nothing you can do about it."

The CalChamber report
goes on to argue that - if Prop 19 passes - employers will have to accommodate pot smoking on the job, make workplace decisions based on marijuana use and surrender federal contracts for violating the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act.

CalChamber employment law advisor Jennifer Shaw said in a statement that the initiative will lead to "compromised workplace safety, discrimination lawsuits filed by employees who use marijuana but got fired for poor performance, and increased costs of liability insurance."

And CalChamber president and CEO Allan Zaremberg echoed: "This initiative would change the way employers are required to do business in our state."

But maybe not, according to the California Supreme Court - if you use litigation over the current medical marijuana law as a guide.

Despite California voters passage of the Proposition 215 Compassionate Use Act for medical marijuana in 1996, the court ruled in 2008 that employers set their own workplace rules and pot use - legal or otherwise - can get you fired.

The court issued its ruling in the case of Gary Ross of Carmichael, who was fired after 10 days as a lead systems administrator for a Sacramento firm, RagingWire Telecommunications.

Ross had told a clinician performing a drug test as a condition of his hiring that he had a medical marijuana recommendation for back pain and spasms from injuries sustained in the U.S. Air Force. When the drug test results came in, he was fired.

The court decision
noted that opponents of Proposition 215 made arguments similar to what Prop 19 opponents are making now. It said claims that legal medical marijuana use would would "make it legal for people to smoke marijuana in the workplace" were "disingenuous."

The court ruled that Ross' employer indeed had the right to terminate him and that his firing didn't violate federal and state anti-discrimination laws. It also ruled that employers were not required to make any accommodations or waive any workplace rules for legal medical marijuana users.

The text of Proposition 19 declares that the measure doesn't override "any law prohibiting use of controlled substances in the workplace or by specific persons whose jobs involve public safety."

It also declares: "No person shall be punished, fined, discriminated against, or be denied any right or privilege for lawfully engaging in any conduct permitted by this act...providing, however, that the existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually impairs job performance by an employee shall not be affected."

Proposition 19 campaign spokesman Dan Newman said that means that employers "retain the right to prohibit and punish employees for marijuana consumption that impairs job performance" and can enforce rules to protect their status as a "drug-free" workplace.

But the CalChamber analysis argues that the anti-discrimination language in the initiative will open up employers to lawsuits and prevent them from terminating workers with positive tests for pot.

The state Supreme Court ruled in the Ross case that the federal Fair Employment and Housing Act against workplace discrimination "does not require employers to accommodate the use of illegal drugs."

Under federal law, marijuana remains illegal - regardless of how Californians vote in November.

August 12, 2010
Medical marijuana pioneer protests cash cow pot stores

valariewamm[1].JPGOne of protagonists of the modern marijuana movement in California charges that the burgeoning dispensary trade has become a cash cow aloof from the people it is meant to serve.

Valerie Corral filed the state's first known "medical necessity" defense when she challenged her arrest for cultivating five marijuana plants, arguing she had a right to use cannabis to treat seizures resulting from a car accident.

After prosecutors threw out the charges in 1993, Corral co-founded the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a Santa Cruz pot-growing collective renowned for serving the terminally ill. She later worked to pass the California's Proposition 215 Compassionate Use Act legalizing medical use.

But these days, she is fed up with the growth of California's contemporary marijuana "collectives" - namely pot-distributing dispensaries with thousands of registered members and millions of dollars in annual marijuana transactions.

"Something has happened to our movement, something that is dark and denigrates the issue," Corral said recently at the HempCon medical marijuana convention in San Jose. "It (the movement) did not happen so people can get rich."

Dispensaries under California law must operate as non-profits. But Corral decried an evolution of a massive medical marijuana industry she says is characterized by generous salaries and an entrepreneurial spirit that overshadows the core purpose of helping and comforting people in need.

WAMM members, including AIDS and cancer patients, directly cultivate and share medical marijuana rather than ringing up cash register transactions at a pot shop. Members hold Tuesday night meetings to distribute the marijuana based on medical needs and ability to pay.

After Prop 215's passage in 1996, Corral hoped the WAMM model - with small groups of growers and medical users working together -- would become the standard.

"I thought the WAMM consciousness would take off," she said. "It didn't. The dispensaries did."

Yet WAMM remains a cultural icon in the marijuana movement. In 2002, federal agents stirred a political backlash by raiding the marijuana garden, confiscating the crop and arresting Corral and her husband, WAMM co-founder Mike Corral.

The city and county of Santa Cruz joined in lawsuits against the federal government. In 2004, A U.S. District Judge, Jeremy Fogel, issued an injunction barring future raids of the WAMM site. Last year, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder announced he won't target medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Since the WAMM was founded in 1993, 223 members of the collective have died. Seventeen are buried near its marijuana garden. Others are commemorated on painted stones.

"It's difficult to watch your friends die," Corral said. "It's difficult to watch people suffer. It can be very unnerving and put us face to face with our own mortality."

California voters are to decide in November whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults over 21. Corral says she has concerns over the measure and isn't endorsing it - but likes the potential market impact of driving the price of marijuana far below what is currently being charged in most dispensaries.

Regardless of the outcome, she said WAMM will continue operating as a purely medical collective.

"I'm in this for the liberty. I'm in it for the social justice," Corral said. "I'm in it not only for the healing but for the profundity of the healing."

Pictured: Corral speaks at HempCon event in San Jose. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com.

August 11, 2010
Advocate doctor offers counsel amid rush on cheap pot cards

doctor.jpgNot many people who lined up at competing booths for discount pot recommendations at last weekend's Hempcon 2010 Medical Marijuana Show in San Jose were drawn by the bona fides of any doctor.

So Deborah Malka, a Santa Cruz family medical practitioner and "mental and physical wellness" counselor, didn't attract much attention for her MD from the University of New Mexico or her PhD in molecular biology from Columbia University or even her herbal and holistic training from the Santa Fe University of Natural Medicine.

She couldn't compete with the activity elsewhere. Longer lines formed for cut-rate medical marijuana clinics, customer-friendly "nurses" and one $50 fill-out-a-form-and-get-your-pot-card table offering quickie visits and medical recommendations to go.

"Legitimate marijuana recommendations are difficult - because so many people just want the paper," Malka said.

Malka, who lowered her visitation rate from $135 to $80 for the San Jose event, said she remains in the business in hopes of advancing medical marijuana as a political and social issue - and to insist on interacting with those seeking pot recommendations.

So she checked their blood pressure, heart rates and spinal alignments. She counseled young people on marijuana use - and the importance of using less.

"I feel I make a difference," Malka said. "I tell young people they need to maintain their skills in the unaltered world. If you medicate all the time, you're going to have anxiety when you get off of it. It's medicine. You should only use it when you need it.

"They (marijuana patients) will come back and say, 'You're right. More is not better.'"

Malka, who offers medical marijuana consultations for a physicians' network, Compassionate Health Options, doesn't see pot medicine as a sustainable business model for many physicians.

She laments that much of the trade seems increasingly geared toward churning out recommendations in bulk instead of connecting with people over their health conditions and reasons for seeking relief.

Malka began recommending marijuana to patients in 2006 after being inspired by the story of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a Santa Cruz cannabis-growing collective working with terminally ill patients. She says she has found a calling.

"I'm going to do this for years to come because I believe in the political aspects," Malka said. "People have a birthright to chose their own medicine - especially from the oldest, most potent plant on the planet."

Pictured: Dr. Deborah Malka sees herself as part of a movement advancing a medicinal "birthright." Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com.

August 9, 2010
'Wanted' poster of county inspectors blasts pot shop crackdown

A medical marijuana patients group has posted photos of Sacramento County building inspectors and code enforcement officers in an on-line 'wanted' poster accusing them of 'patient rights violations' for the county's effort to close pot dispensaries.

Officials have delivered closure orders on a dozen medical marijuana outlets operating in unincorporated areas of Sacramento County, declaring that there is no county ordinance that permits their operation.

Now a local advocacy group, Sacramento County Patients, has posted photos of four county officers taken from videos made by advocates during inspections of the pot shops.

"WANTED for patient right violations," the site declares. It goes on to declare that the county crackdown violates the will of voters that approved the Proposition 215 medical marijuana law in 1996.

"Overriding a voter enacted law by a small group of officials is not democratic," the site declares.

Carl Crawford, who directs the county's code enforcement decision, said his employees - featured on the site with their photos, county e-mail and phone numbers - were carrying out the directives of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

"These are public employees who apparently had their photos taken during the inspections," Crawford said. "We're just doing what the board is directing us to do - enforcing the zoning code."

August 5, 2010
Rancho Cordova readies measure to tax marijuana cultivators

Voters in Rancho Cordova will decide in November whether to tax residents who grow their own pot.

The city measure, put on the Nov. 2 ballot by the City Council this week, would impose taxes on all local residential cultivation if California voters approve Proposition 19 to legalize recreational use.

But the city's proposed "Personal Cannabis Cultivation Tax" also makes no distinction between medical and recreational cultivation. So the tax would kick in for anyone currently cultivating for personal medical use -- whether Prop 19 passes or not.

If passed by local voters, the taxation measure in the Sacramento County city would make at-home cultivation a much more expensive endeavor.

The Rancho Cordova measure would impose a $600 annual tax per square foot of indoor cultivation of 25 square feet of marijuana or less and a $900 per square foot tax if the indoor growing area is more than 25 square feet.

The city tax would cost a local indoor grower $6,000 a year on 10 square feet of pot plants and $15,000 for 25 square feet. Outdoor growers, who would be billed at a lower rate, would pay a $1,200 residential tax for 25 square feet of marijuana plants.

If Proposition 19 passes, it would allow California adults over 21 to cultivate in a 25-square foot residential space. Medical growers often exceed those limits by cultivating with other pot patients.

Under California law, individuals with physicians' recommendations for marijuana can have six mature or 12 immature plants and eight ounces of dried pot at any time.

The California Supreme Court has ruled that medical users can exceed those limits if their cultivation is consistent with their medical needs.

August 4, 2010
California marijuana initiative lacking potency in luring donors

Marijuana in California may be a $14 billion cash crop. But a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults over 21 isn't proving to be a major lure to political donors.

According to the most recent campaign reports, the Tax Cannabis 2010 committee raised $426,689 - a relatively paltry sum for running a statewide political campaign - between Jan. 1 and June 30 and had just $62,000 in cash on hand at the end of June.

Richard Lee, the Oakland marijuana entrepreneur who largely bankrolled the signature drive to qualify Proposition 19, remains far and away the initiative's leading backer.

Lee's business enterprises -- including the Oaksterdam marijuana trade school and an Oakland dispensary -- spent $1.3 million to qualify the measure and contributed another $45,000 to the campaign. The list of mostly small donors includes the Berkeley Patients Group Inc. The Bay Area dispensary donated $5,000.

A second pro-legalization campaign organization, the Drug Policy Action Committee, raised $102,470 - including $100,000 from sex toys and pornography magnate Philip D. Harvey, the founder of the Adam & Eve on-line retailer.

So far, the ballot initiative is yet to inspire significant spending to defeat it.

Opponents of Proposition 19, Public Safety First, are being largely backed by law enforcement groups.

The "no" campaign raised $41,100 by the June 30 campaign filing deadline, led by $30,000 from the California Police Chiefs Association. The California Narcotics Association contributed another $20,500 this month.

August 3, 2010
Salesman pitched RV fun, now offers 'wellness' and medical pot

onelove1.JPGLast year as his recreational vehicle business was going to pot, Lino Catabran came up with a back-up plan -- going into the pot business.

Now the former home of RV Brokers Inc. on Sacramento's El Camino Avenue is the home of the One Love Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary.

Last August, Catabran cited the recession and declining revenues in announcing he was shuttering a recreational vehicle business that once totaled three Sacramento sales outlets, 40 employees and $15 million in annual sales.

At the time, he told the Sacramento Business Journal: "I always felt I wasn't selling RV's. I was selling fun."

He's now draws a salary as an officer for One Love Wellness, a non-profit collective for more than 8,000 registered medical marijuana users.

"And this is more fun," he says. "I mean, truly. There is no service department. There is no warranty department. And there are very few unhappy customers."

Catabran registered the marijuana collective with the City of Sacramento last June, just making the cutoff as the city was about to impose a moratorium on new pot shops. It opened its doors in November.

At the El Camino Avenue location, where Catabran once could get you a deal on a 2008 Big Foot motor home and a 2009 Teton Prestige fifth wheel camper, his staff now serves up Sour Diesel and Hindu Kush medical marijuana. The dispensary also offers massage therapy and yoga classes.

Catabran, who worked 17 years selling motor homes, also sold Porsches at the same site years earlier. Now, as an employee for the pot outlet, he says, "I'm drawing one fifth of what I was making in the RV business. I can say that much."

Catabran says he was a recreational user for more than 40 years before he obtained a physician's recommendation and formally became a marijuana patient.

Though One Love Wellness must operate as a non-profit under existing medical marijuana laws, that could change if California voters approve Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Catabran said One Love Wellness would be able to reorganize as a for-profit business if the legalization measure passes and it chooses to do so.

But he doubts he will stick around long enough to run any retail pot dealership. At 62, he's hoping to retire soon. And he says learning the ropes of the medical cannabis trade was challenging enough.

"I had to learn everything," he says, "except to smoke."

Pictured: Lino Catabran and the medicinal remake of his RV dealership. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

August 2, 2010
Galt moves to close marijuana dispensary after court ruling

The well-being of the Galt Wellness Center has been dealt a blow in court - and now the City of Galt is moving swiftly to shut down its lone marijuana dispensary as a "public nuisance."

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang issued a preliminary injunction, giving the city permission to close the establishment under an anti-dispensary ordinance passed in 2009.

Galt city attorney Steve Rudolph said the city expects to formally serve papers on the dispensary next week, ordering the pot shop to immediately close its doors.

"It's a pretty straight forward zoning issue," Rudolph said. "We have an ordinance (banning dispensaries) on the books and it wasn't being complied with."

The fate of the Galt Wellness Center, opened in May and has 500 to 600 registered medical marijuana users, could depend on a closely-watched case in Anaheim. A state appellate court is expect to rule this month on a lawsuit challenging a dispensary ban imposed by the Orange County city.

"If that decision holds that cities or counties cannot ban dispensaries, that will change the landscape dramatically," said George Mull, a Sacramento attorney representing the Galt Wellness Center.

If the court upholds the Anaheim ban, Mull said he may challenge the Galt closure on grounds that it violates the rights of medical users to collectively cultivate marijuana under Proposition 215, the state medical marijuana initiative approved in 1996.

"Even though the state makes it clear you can cultivate medical marijuana, the Galt law makes that illegal," Mull said.

Rudolph said the Galt ordinance reflects the city's right to regulate its land use and set restrictions against on anything from an auto salvage business to a marijuana dispensary.

"An auto dismantling business is a lawful business to be in, but you can't find a place to do that in every city," Rudolph said. "This is a similar determination: The city has determined it is not an appropriate land use for this city."