Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

Capital area cannabis

Selected 2010 Weed Wars posts from the Sacramento region

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

November 15, 2010
Pot shop operator must move, thankful for 'bumps on the road'

At Sacramento's A Therapeutic Alternative dispensary, Buddy, an aging Jack Russell Terrier with a bum leg, is a soothing prop for pet therapy sessions for medical marijuana users suffering from mental illnesses.

But now Buddy is going to have to find new working quarters - and so is his master - under a new Sacramento medical marijuana ordinance, reported on in Sunday's Sacramento Bee. It will allow up to 38 pot clubs to survive in the capital city, but put strict rules on their operations, and force at least a half a dozen to relocate.

While as many as 32 existing marijuana stores were exempted from rules forbidding dispensaries from near schools, parks or drug treatment centers, any pot shop not already in an area zoned for commercial or industrial uses will have to move - and find a new spot that meets the new guidelines.

Buddy's master, dispensary operator Jeanne Larsson, 44, says it's highly unlikely she will find a new location near their existing perch at H and 30th Street. The area, on the border of Sacramento's Midtown district, is zoned for residences and offices and was recently deemed unfit by the City Council for pot clubs. "It will be virtually impossible for me to stay in Midtown," she says.

But Larsson praises the new city ordinance for preserving the capital's medical pot industry even while she fears "I can't afford the fees and I can't afford to move."

JV_SACPOT 114.JPGSince it opened in 2009, A Therapeutic Alternative has attracted a clientel of patients mostly 35 and over, including many over 50 with serious health issues. "The 18 to 25 year olds are not bursting down my doors," Larsson says.

Besides its pot strains from Mendo Purps to Green Crack and its marijuana edibles and cannabis-enhanced Kush Town Cola offerings, the dispensary has yoga classes for clients ranging from H.I.V. patients to people treating back injuries from car accidents.

Despite her anxieties, Larson expects to eventually find a new location and win city approval to stay somewhere else in Sacramento.

In dealing with medical marijuana patients, she says hears enough about other people's troubles that she's not so worried about her own.

"I get to go home at night being thankful for my problems," she says. "And I'm thankful for the little bumps on the road."

Pictured: Above - Jeanne Larsson at A Therapeutic Alternative. Below - On back deck with Buddy the therapy dog. Jose Luis Villegas/jvillegas@sacbee.com

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

July 28, 2010
Sacramento cannabis kumbaya: Marijuana shops get reprieve

HA_marijuana6941.JPGAfter long tumultuous debate, with virtually no one happy with plans to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, Sacramento's 39 registered pot shops seemingly got new life in a remarkable kumbaya moment.

The Sacramento City Council voted Tuesday night to pursue the most liberal of three options for permitting and governing dispensaries.

It junked a plan to set a citywide cap of 12 cannabis clubs. And it bypassed an alternative to permit a higher concentration in Midtown - with another nine outlets scattered outside the urban district.

In the end, all 39 dispensaries that registered with the city by last summer have a chance to obtain special permits to stay in operation. The city is still yet to finalize the details, and many of the clubs still violate proposed standards for proximity to schools, neighborhoods or other defined "sensitive uses."

But there was a decidedly more welcoming aura in the Council chambers as members directed city staff to continue working on a plan with no defined cap on dispensaries.

Things were looking awfully good for the cannabis clubs when Council member Sandy Sheedy, who once advocated reducing their population, said she had gotten to know the people who run them. She announced: "Thirty-nine is not a big number."

"I think we're going to get along just fine," she told dispensary operators in the audience. "And the people who need what you have are going to be able to access it."

Council member and former county sheriff Robbie Waters said he was persuaded to support the dispensaries after extensive consultations with Ryan Landers, a leading local advocate for medical marijuana patients. "Quite frankly, I had the cop view" before, Waters conceded.

LS MED MARIJUANA 4.JPGOne audience member, who offered a sour note, argued that the city should have imposed a hard cap of five dispensaries, with one designated as a destination for disabled patients. He protested that the city's wider acceptance of cannabis outlets was "a great boon for recreational users and old hippie pot smokers."

Attorney James Anthony, who at past Council meetings was a fiery advocate for the local dispensary industry, said the city staff did an "exemplary job" in providing the chance for the establishments to continue.

Anthony suggested there may be a reward for the city to come.

Sacramento voters are to decide in November whether to impose a 2 to 4 percent gross receipts tax on medical dispensaries. Voters will also decide whether to impose a five to 10 percent tax on potential retail marijuana sales if California voters approve Proposition 19 - to legalize recreational pot use for adults over 21.

"Different cities will be competing for this activity," Anthony suggested. "I think you will be in good position to compete."

Pictured: Top - Joe Hough arranges the product at Canna Care dispensary. Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com. Medical buds at El Camino Wellness Center. Lezlie Sterling/lsterling@sacbee.com. Sacramento Bee files, 2009.

July 6, 2010
Once doomed to die, AIDS patient finds renewal in pot shop job

RDB0238.JPGNearly three decades ago, Thomas Coy, a teenager diagnosed with AIDS, figured he was looking at a death sentence.

Over the ensuing years, he braved homelessness, despair and at least four occasions when severe illness had him thinking he was soon to gasp his last breath.

But for the past five years, Coy, 45, has been working as a paid employee and an AIDS/HIV counselor for the Capitol Wellness Center, a marijuana dispensary with two locations in Sacramento.

Five years ago, Coy also told the state of California to stop sending him $800 in monthly disability checks. He suddenly had a paid job, a life to live, and people to serve.

"It's a miracle I'm up and running. I should be, by all medical accounts, right in an AIDS hospice," Coy said.

He works for a dispensary that has long had a core of AIDS or HIV patients who use medical marijuana to ease nausea or boost their appetites.

Coy, who takes 22 medications for conditions due to AIDS, also treats himself by smoking marijuana and consuming pot tinctures or brownies.

He says marijuana eases shooting pains he gets every morning in his legs and his shoulders due to chronic neuropathy, a degenerative nerve condition. He says pot also stopped him from "throwing up every day" due to the side effects of his medications.

Each Thursday, at the Capitol Wellness dispensary on 29th street, Coy finds fellowship as a group counselor for 15 to 20 AIDS/HIV patients. The sessions cover everything from uses of marijuana to dealing with the grief of losing a loved one to AIDS.

Coy knows the latter well. He recently lost his life partner to the disease.

But he says working with fellow patients enriches his life.

"I found that helping other people helps me keep my health better," he says.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for AOC_MedMJ_119b.JPGCoy, who lives independently in West Sacramento, is a regular at regional meetings or demonstrations on behalf of AIDS/HIV patients or medical marijuana users. His activism has also ballooned to include an array of international economic and human rights issues.

He has protested the World Bank in demonstrations in Seattle and railed against the World Trade Organization in Washington D.C.

But the man who thought his death was imminent long ago said he found a sense of home working in a marijuana dispensary.

"I love my job," he says. "It gave me life again."

Pictured: Top - Coy reflects at Capitol Wellness. Jacqueline Baylon/jbaylon@sacbee.com.
Below - Coy at December, 2005, Sacramento federal court protest over federal raids on California dispensaries. Autumn Cruz/acruz@sacbee.com.

June 28, 2010
Pot humorist finds profitable punch line as magazine publisher

IMG_0372.JPGSacramento resident Ngaio Bealum says he loves to cut up on stage about "weed and sex." But this stand-up comic-activist-journalist-entrepreneur says he also aims to change "the stoner paradigm."

"It's not about sitting around and doing nothing," says the editor and publisher of West Coast Cannabis, a monthly pot lifestyles publication that bills itself as the Sunset magazine of weed. "My thing is I like to smoke a joint and go do something."

And so Bealum, 42, a San Francisco native born in 1968 to Black Panther Party members, plays a multifaceted role in the California marijuana movement.

He is an activist who has worked with Americans for Safe Access and the Greater Los Angeles Caregivers Alliance, groups advocating for medical marijuana users and lobbying cities to permit regulated pot dispensaries.

He is a former anchor for Cannabis Planet TV and a comedian whose pot humor - a less-dazed antidote to Cheech and Chong - lights up California comedy club circuits. He is among comedians due to appear Tuesday night at the Comedy Spot in Sacramento in a benefit for the family of a young man recently killed in Sacramento's Midtown.

In 2008, with start-up funds from Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur and legalization advocate Richard Lee, he launched West Coast Cannabis.

The free magazine, distributed at marijuana businesses in California, Washington, Colorado and other states, ballooned in size and circulation from 20,000 copies and 40 pages to 50,000 copies and 92 pages.

Featuring cultivation tips, weed reviews and pot culture and activism news, it was a money-maker by its second year - jammed with advertisements for dispensaries, hydroponic growing suppliers, pot doctors, lawyers and advocates.

"It's aimed at the West Coast lifestyle and at people who enjoy cannabis - from connoisseurs to growers to those who use it medicinally, recreationally or spiritually," he says.

Recently, the magazine has taken a hit of the downer kind. A strict new Los Angeles dispensary ordinance, forcing the closure of hundreds of dispensaries, cost the mag dearly in advertising. He expects to drop to 70 pages for his July issue.

"We've lost 25 percent of our Los Angeles ads - a fairly huge chunk," said Bealum, whose magazine deployed two of its three ad sales people in Southern California to tap into L.A.'s burgeoning dispensary market. "It's been a pinch for sure."

Bealum, an advocate for the November ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use for California adults over 21, figures his mag's fortunes may rise anew.

Meanwhile, the veteran stand-up maintains his sense of humor and stoner-on-a-mission vibe. He says he rocks with "an urban mind expansion band." And his comic bits light up YouTube with clips including recent comedy club appearances in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento and at the 2009 Seattle Hempfest.

There is also this early-career stand-up video from Comedy Central, in which he muses over the hazy origins of his name and makes light of growing up as "the Lord of the Geeks."

See it below.

Ngaio Bealum - Dork
Futurama New EpisodesUgly AmericansFunny TV Comedy Blog

Photo (top): Bealum with editions of West Coast Cannabis. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

May 24, 2010
Marijuana 'micro-brewer' says he's a 'neighborhood pharmacist'

Around the time the construction industry took a tumble, John Shiner took one himself. The long-time subdivision builder suffered a severe back injury and couldn't return to the industry he had worked in for 22 years.

But he realized he had a fallback option.

"I was staring at the ceiling, wondering what I was going to do," Shiner said. "I'm only good at a few things and growing marijuana is one of the things I'm good at."

At 15, Shiner surprised his mother "with this strange plant in the garden" and then got her tips on better cultivation. He perfected them for years to come.

At 46, the injured, displaced construction worker officially went into the medical marijuana trade.

He partnered with Sara Sinclair, a former corporate manager. Their modest SaraJane Cooperative Inc. opened on 21st Street in Sacramento's Midtown.

Shiner says the small medical pot outlet is a departure "from the large Wal-mart dispensary" that may feature dozens of marijuana strains from multiple growers.

In this case, Shiner is the only grower. He considers himself medical marijuana's equivalent to a micro-brewer.

"I'm old school," he says. "I make my own mulch. I purify my own water. I make my own nutrients. I keep everything organic."

And so he offers up his indoor-grown "Grape Jelly Crush," a cross between "Grape Ape" and "Purple Kush." He says medical users find it "really, really effective on back pain and chronic pain."

He shows off his indoor "White Widow." He says it's "patients who like to be out in the garden and they don't want their pain to stop their daily activities."

And he points out his outdoor-grown "Grandaddy Purple" product. He calls it "Mandarin" because he planted it next to a mandarin tree. "It's got a nice citrusy taste and smell," he says.

And Shiner? He's found a new niche in his long-standing passion.

"I'm a neighborhood pharmacist," he says. "I know the first names of the people coming through my door."

He adds: "My business is this neighborhood."

For a glimpse of Shiner's current vocation, see the video - produced by Andy Alfaro of The Sacramento Bee - below.

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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His trial is set for June 1.

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

Below: Allen argues his case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He's available to testify to that.

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