Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

December 23, 2010
Dapper lobbyist schmoozes the cause for marijuana businesses

LS MAX DEL REAL.JPGIn early March, the tension among the crowd at Cesar Chavez Park ran thicker than the wafting marijuana smoke. Medical pot patients protested across the street from the old Sacramento City Hall building, decrying a plan to close dozens of dispensaries and impose strict rules on a handful of cannabis stores that might survive.

Before suspicious eyes, Max Del Real stepped onto a stage in one of his signature designer black suits.

"As soon as I got to the microphone," he recalls, "somebody yelled, 'Capitalist! Get him off the stage!"

Del Real pleaded for an opportunity. "I'm a cannabis lobbyist," he explained.

In public and behind-the-scenes negotiations, Del Real would go on to help forge a compromise with city officials that promised new tax revenues for the capital city and gave Sacramento's 38-registered marijuana dispensaries a path to stay in business.

The smooth-talking Del Real, a product of Sacramento's Jesuit High School who graduated from UC Berkeley with an English degree and a specialty in rhetoric, also emerged as perhaps California's best known marijuana industry lobbyist.

Del Real, 35, who runs California Capitol Solutions in Sacramento, is hardly a grizzled cannabis crusader. The advocate for medical pot entities isn't a marijuana patient. The well-coiffed pot businesses-to-policy makers negotiator prefers his Jameson Irish Whiskey - with a splash of ginger ale - to his cannabis clients' Northern Lights Blueberry or Granddaddy Purple.

Del Real is the lobbyist for Sacramento Alliance of Collectives, an association for 14 local dispensaries. He also represents pot shop interests seeking permission to operate under proposed medical marijuana ordinances in Chico and Fresno.

He clients have included Statewide Insurance Services, which offered the first specialized coverage for cannabis businesses. He previously worked with the Green Door Dispensary in San Francisco, where he sought the blessings of activist Dennis Peron, a renowned author of California's 1996 medical marijuana law, to win entree to the city's medicinal pot community.

Most recently, Del Real ventured to Humboldt County and the long-illicit heart of California's marijuana culture. At a public forum, he tried to rally support for a local marijuana farmers' association effort to convince the county to license and tax outdoor gardens for the medicinal trade.

"The revolution is starting here," Del Real proclaimed. "Let's recognize the greatest cannabis in the world is growing outdoors under the Humboldt sun."

His presentation drew as many hisses as cheers.

Kim Nelson, a mustachioed, shaggy haired pot tender and member of a Humboldt medical marijuana association, had concerns over the details of Del Real's pitch. But he looked on with begrudging approval. "I kind of like that guy," he said.

Max Del Real, the cannabis lobbyist, had another connection.

Pictured: Max Del Real visits with Caleb Counts, president of the Sacramento Alliance of Collectives, at Counts' Fruitridge Health and Wellness dispensary. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

December 16, 2010
Best of pot winners proud but shy at Mendocino's Emerald Cup

158076_132354766809406_3093169_n.jpgFor three inspired weeks, judges at the 7th annual Emerald Cup in Mendocino sampled the finest marijuana cultivars, examining the textures of the buds, discerning the tastes, the aromas and - perhaps most of all - the medicinal effects.

And finally last weekend, in a crowning event of a two-day only-in-Mendo cultural festival, they announced the winners of the 2010 Emerald Cup for the best outdoor grown marijuana.

In California weed country, the winners' awards - trophies and signature-edition bongs - amounted to pot growers' equivalent of coveted California State Fair blue ribbons for wine-making.

The difference was that many Emerald Cup winners were just a big shy when it came to publicity.

"Call me T. Beezle," said the winner of the prize for the Best Hash of 2010. The 25-year-old grower from Mendocino County, who didn't want his real name publicized, said the moniker would at least let the pot-growing locals know of his triumph.

The Emerald Cup, a festival featuring 22 bands and judging of 140 marijuana samples, awarded its first-place prize for the best marijuana strain to a Mendo-grown weed called - in the edited version - "Sour Best...Ever." For pot aficionados, it was a marijuana strain bred from "Old School Laotian" and "Sage."

While some of the contestants may have shied from attention, the event drew more than 1,000 people to the Area 101 retreat in Laytonville. It was an overt celebration of Mendocino County's marijuana culture. There were joint rolling contests, a quiz game, "Guess the Roaches in the Jar," and a medicinal version of trivial pursuit called "Guess the Old-School Strains."

"We grow the world's best medicine and we're very proud of what we do," said Laura Hamburg, a Ukiah writer and a publicist for the event. "When we have a big party to celebrate marijuana, we're looking at each other and saying we're proud. And we're saying to the community, 'Let's empower this economic engine.'"

One winner who didn't mind some public attention was Chad Rea, 50, a seasoned pot-grower and medical marijuana patient who has found relief in pot since suffering burns from a car engine fire. He won a second place award for the best marijuana pot strain. Rea bred his special "Cheese" strain in memory - and from the plants - of a pot-growing neighbor who died earlier this year.

"I put his mother plant outside and took clones and started a new mother," he said.

Rea, who provides medical marijuana to a San Francisco dispensary, said his Emerald Cup prize will surely move his product to the top shelf of featured dispensary brands.

And "T. Bezzle," whose "Pure Blueberry Hash" wowed the judges, celebrated his prize - "a museum quality bong" - and his place as the year's best producer of a "cannabis concentrate."

"I was very euphoric to hear I've reached this level," he said. "Most of the judges were enthralled with what I could do."

December 1, 2010
California pot activist gets 'freedom fighter' prize in Amsterdam

IMG_6276Dale@Altar2.JPGSo it's not exactly the Nobel Peace Prize. But then again, when it comes to weed activism, maybe it is.

Veteran California marijuana author and advocate Dale Gieringer was honored in Amsterdam Nov. 25 as the High Times magazine "Freedom Fighter of the Year."

Gieringer has been the California director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws since 1987. He is a co-author of the Marijuana Medical Handbook, billed as a "practical guide to the therapeutic uses of marijuana." He was also a leading supporter of the Proposition 19 measure - to legalize marijuana for recreational use - that was defeated by California voters Nov. 2.

Weeks later, Gieringer, took a bow before a cannabis altar in Amsterdam, accepting his award at the High Times' international Cannabis Cup.

While Proposition 19 supporters hailed economic prospects for California pot tourism had the initiative passed, Gieringer scolded the Dutch in his acceptance speed for a proposal to ban foreigners from its famous cannabis coffee houses. Government officials have complained of congestion and crime from a glut of international weed seekers.

"I thanked the city of Amsterdam for its hospitality and called on the world to protest the Dutch government's recent proposal to ban foreigners from coffee shops," he said.

Banning pot tourists, he said, "is sheer lunacy from an economic, moral, or public health sense."

Pictured: Gieringer at the cannabis altar in Amsterdam. Courtesy Dale Gieringer.

About Weed Wars

Peter Hecht

From its pot fields to politics, California is the epicenter for America's marijuana discussion. This blog covers news, trends and people of the California marijuana story.

Contact reporter Peter Hecht at phecht@sacbee.com

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