Staff of shut-down Mission dispensary opens SoMa’s newest cannabis club


Today was the grand opening for a new dispensary just steps from the front door of Mezzanine and right down the block from a rapidly-changing Sixth Street. Long-time medical marijuana patients may recognize some familiar faces — Bloom Room employs many of the staff and management from Medithrive, the Mission Street dispensary was was forced to close “for the children” back in November of 2011.

“I was the manager of a store, and then I was the manager of a delivery service,” Bloom Room manager Stephen Rechit tells me, sitting in the dispensary vaporizing lounge area. When federal government agencies informed the cannabis club that it was too close to Marshall Elementary School, Medithrive switched to a $50-minimum, delivery-only service that owners continue to operate. 

The Bloom Room’s open for business, with space for on-site vaporizing steps from the cash register

Did Rechit — who says he became Medithrive’s first employee as a new University of San Francisco graduate — consider a career change in the face of unyielding federal agents? Not for a second. 

“I know this is definitely what I want to do,” he reflects. “I just really — I don’t want to get cheesy, but I believe in the plant.”


Bloom Room’s downtown design, with its exposed brick walls and translucent glass marijuana leaf panels reappropriated from the defunct Medithrive storefront, may be the perfect fit for a Sixth Street neighborhood that’s on a definite upward economic swing. Rechit points out the window to the corporate offices of Burning Man, perched atop a skyscraper alongside the rest of the Mid-Market buildings that tech tenants are filling up. Burning Man’s been an earlier contributor to Bloom Room’s “Community Corner,” a space for neighborhood fliers, business cards. 

Bloom Room plans to stock six to 10 strains each of indicas and sativa, and sells blackberry chocolate bars from Kiva, Auntie Dolores caramel corn, and oen of Rechit’s favorites, TerpX concentrates. 

Sticky: TerpX concentrate

“TerpX is like the Girl Scout Cookies of last year,” Rechit comments, unrolling a piece of waxed paper so I can check out the golden goo. 

As we chatted, Tenderloin resident Jim Murray (who, happily, bore a striking resemblance to Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic in his navy beanie) pulled up in the narrow, tall table to inquire about the availability of the clould of OG Kush pumping into the vaporizer bag between Rechit and I. 

I’d seen Murray complaining about the quality of Bloom Room bud he’d picked up previously, and now he was interested in the “toast,” the spent flower already used in the vaporizer that was sitting on a piece of paper in the ashtray. 

“The reason why I’m sensitive to this is because I am a senior living on a VA pension,” he informed me. “What compassionate care programs do you have here?” he asked Rechit. 

FYI, Rechit says the dispensary gives away free product to patient on holidays and keeps prices low in general. Back when Medithrive’s doors were open at its Mission Street location it made monthly donations to the school around the corner that was eventually used as the excuse by the federal government to shut it down. Let’s hope Bloom Room has more luck in its new SoMa spot. 

Bloom Room, 471 Jessie, SF. (415) 543-7666, www.bloomroomsf.com

Medical marijuana is over



HERBWISE Hey potheads, welcome to what figures to be the last Herbwise column for the time being.

But we’ve had some good sessions together, no? Over the course of a very eventful year in marijuana, we spoke with Roseanne Barr, Black Panthers, oncologists, tax attorneys, Coral Reefer. Snoop Dogg, Fiona Apple, Pat Robertson, the president of Uruguay, and an actress from the Blair Witch Project all made our news call. They all do the weed, or support such things, and that list alone should serve as proof that cannabis has irrevocably entered the mainstream.

We went around the world to see how pot was faring in other corners. Seattle’s medical marijuana champion-DIY pop star Lisa Dank reported back from South By Southwest. I chatted with the author of medical marijuana legislation in Washington, DC, dropped in on a Berlin head shop employee, and took a walk with a small town politician up in the Marin County hills of Fairfax.

Honestly, I didn’t want to write about politics at all when we started the column. Boring! Fake! Politricks! Etcetera. But then last September, the IRS intensified its hounding of several major Bay Area dispensaries, cheating them out of perfectly reasonable tax exemptions. Then, at an October 7 press conference in Sacramento, US Attorneys let us know they were going to start being a bummer.

A year later, we’re short a whole bunch of places to get marijuana, including no less than two of the clubs I personally depended on. Hiss. Against my best intentions, current events necessitated that Herbwise focus on law and order, from time to time.

But there’s been good moments (the week I wrote Herbwise high as hell in my cubicle on Amoré, the cannabis aphrodisiac shot), just like the especially-bad moments (the week I bore the tidings that major credit card companies would no longer process sale of marijuana and that beloved local dispensary Vapor Room was closing due to threatening letters from federal agencies. That week I wrote about Lady Gaga.) I’m privileged to have been able to weigh in on a year that will surely change the future of cannabis, for better or worse.

Some words on words: I got told 800 times to not call it “pot” or “weed.” One person wrote to say “flower” was better terminology. Please don’t mix us up with the recreational users, some card carrying marijuana users told me. You’re hurting our quest to be taken seriously.

But I need my synonyms. Nah, more importantly, I think this not-mixing is the problem. Focusing the movement for increased access to cannabis on the medical marijuana industry isn’t working. Drop the pretense, I say. The notion that weed can only be prescribed by a medical professional is not just dumb, it’s also not gonna get us anywhere. The longer we stigmatize recreational users, the longer people (and by people I mean young men of color, because that’s who our racist prison system is filled with) are going to be sent to jail for a stupid reason. And less people will feel connected enough to the movement to create the kind of buzz that will eventually change public opinion. And prisonmakers and anti-drug warriors will continue to get the money that should be going to our schools and to our public library flag burning sessions where everyone is handed a pink thong to wear at the outset and ordered to chant baby-killing nursery rhymes in Spanish. Broadcast on PBS.

Obviously, I’m not saying that cannabis doesn’t have medical usages. Studies have recently emerged that suggest it stops the spread of cancer in the body, and any patient that has AIDS or another wasting, awful, strength-sapping disease can tell you that cannabis can be a literal life saver when it comes to stimulating appetite and general pain management.

But the ways in which people use cannabis are multitudinous, and the only reason it’s regulated differently than tobacco, wine, liquor, McDonald’s, and the thousand other things you can abuse out of moderation is because of government and corporate control. You smoke to relax after a hard day, you smoke to bond with friends, you smoke to have fun.

Herbwise bids you adieu. We’ll still be covering cannabis in the Guardian, of course, and like a phoenix, I’ll be rising from this spent bowl with Street Seen, a new column focusing on all the rad things happening in street art, and fashion, and other founts of alternative Bay Area culture.

Thanks for being there. Stay high.

Panther medicine



HERBWISE The night before our interview, Elder Freeman spoke alongside Peace and Freedom Party presidential candidate (and beloved sitcom sassmouth) Roseanne Barr, 2008 Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, and others about the political possibilities of marijuana at a panel discussion held inside Oaksterdam University.

As Black Panther History Month begins, commemorating the 46th anniversary of the party’s founding by Freeman and his peers — see info on events at the end of this article — it seems only fitting that the cannabis movement and the Panthers’ struggle for social justice and the right to control our own communities be connected. For Freeman, the two have become inextricably linked.

The morning of the day we met at West Oakland’s Revolution Cafe, the 67 year old original member of LA’s Black Panther Party had two doctors appointments. Freeman has colon cancer. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He smokes marijuana to improve his appetite — he’s used to eating a single meal a day, but that’s not enough to keep up his strength during treatment. As a long-time 215 card-carrier, the last year’s federal crackdown on cannabis dispensaries threatens to send him back to buying pot on the streets.

Is access to marijuana a Black Panther issue? Freeman thinks so. He tells me why over a cup of coffee (cream, no sugar), and between interruptions by well-wishers — the entire neighborhood knows him, it seems, they all want to pay their respects.

“It’s all connected. The simple fact is that the judicial system is inadequate. The whole idea that they want to keep it in an illegal state is so that they can criminalize people.” He became aware of cannabis, he says, when Bob Marley started talking about its connection to non-violence. “I identified with the Rasta community for awhile,” he tells me.

Freeman’s been told that this current bout of cancer is incurable. But he’s also been told that the Watts uprising in 1965 that was responsible for his political awakening was actually riots and that he deserved to spend those seven years in jail alongside many of his Panther cohorts on a laundry list of mostly trumped-up charges. He didn’t buy those things either.

In fact, at Oaksterdam he shared with the crowd that he plans on going to Cuba for a second opinion on his medical treatment. “There’s something about American medicine that seems to be lacking,” he says.

Last night’s event was actually the first time Freeman spoke as a cannabis activist. He spends most of his time as an advocate these days working for inmate rights — not surprising when you consider he spent the better part of a decade as a political prisoner. He works with All of Us or None (www.allofusornone.org), a national organization that works to “ban the box” — remove questions about past incarceration from employment applications — promote inmate voting rights, and build awareness in the communities most affected by mass incarceration. So although personally, access to cannabis is clearly a health concern, he tends to speak about it with more a law and order focus.

“People are doing a lot of time for something that they shouldn’t even be in jail for.” He wonders out loud to me about why we don’t lock up cigarette producers. “They got it backwards. But that’s capitalism.”


Oct. 13, noon

Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakl.


Oct. 13, 2pm, free

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle

410 14th St., Oakl.



Narc fetish



HERBWISE I’ll be honest with you, after last week’s Herbwise interview with Peace and Freedom Party presidential candidate/everything to everyone person Roseanne Barr, I feel like anything I write this week is going to be a sad, sorry after party. Kind of like me in my cubicle right now, nursing Folsom Street Fair-inflicted wounds. Even my last-minute plans to get picked up for blowing smoke in public — purely for the benefit of this column, of course — were foiled when I couldn’t figure out who the real pigs were at the Fair. Damn you, accurate latex replicas!

Thank goodness there is plenty of stupid celebrity cannabis news to tide us over.


Lady Gaga rifled through a pile of presents tossed onstage at her September 18 concert at Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome, sniffed a bunch of tobacco cigarettes, finally found a cellophane-wrapped, bread stick-sized joint, and sparked it in front of the crowd.

She’s already on record about smoking weed to aide her songwriting creativity, which may explain the surfeit of 420-themed presents in the mountain of swag that had been flung at her by fans. She took a high-shine to a white belly shirt with two cannabis leaves printed over the breasts, and ditched her studded black mini-dress to change into the shirt, baring some awkwardly rolled-down fishnets.

Yes folks, she’s smoking openly, a move unfortunately timed simultaneously with a rather impressive pre-tour weight gain. Awkward “munchies” jokes, deploy.


But perhaps Gaga was just trying to bring attention to a recent mega-breakthrough in the world of medical research. Scientists at our very own California Pacific Medical Center have found evidence in lab and animal tests that the cannabis chemical compound cannabidol can effectively impair ID-1, the gene that causes cancer to spread.

The pair of docs that made the discovery want to make it clear that the amount of cannabidol needed for these positive effects are so vast they can’t be effectively obtained by smoking, but nevertheless, the discovery does bode well for more weed research in oncology.


Fiona Apple faces up to 10 years in jail on a felony charge after her tour bus was pulled over in the famously-anti-drug town of Sierra Blanca, Texas and drug dogs reportedly found four grams of hashish in her possession. Sierra Blanca cops have also caught Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson holding.

The “Criminal” singer had to spend the night in jail and postpone her Austin concert, saving her somewhat abstract tirade against the cops that locked her up until Houston. She said she has “encoded” some information about potentially illegal actions performed by her arresting officers, which she’ll hold to herself unless they want to get “fucking famous”

Classily, one of said officers has responded in a letter sent to TMZ. Gary “Rusty” Fleming, jowly information officer for the Hudspeth County sheriff’s office (and creator of a grisly, fear-mongering drug war documentary Silver or Lead, the website of which proudly lists kudos from Department of Homeland Security deportation officers) called Apple “honey,” before the insults began: “I’m already more famous than you, I don’t need your help. However, it would appear that you need mine.” He concluded that she should just “shut up and sing.”

Which brings to mind a man I saw at the fair this weekend dressed as a narcotic agent. At the time, I couldn’t imagine a less arousing thing to base sexual fantasies on, but now I totally get it: being a narc might just be the most perverted thing ever.

A studied approach



HERBWISE In 1992, Donald Abrams was in an Amsterdam hotel room watching the arrest of a volunteer at his hospital, SF General, on TV. 73-year old Mary Jane “Brownie Mary” Rathburn was being taken to jail for providing AIDS patients with THC-infused pastries.

The fact that Abrams, an oncologist who had turned his attention to HIV/AIDS in the midst of the virus’ attack on San Francisco, learned of Rathburn’s plight via international news was particularly biting, given the circumstances. He was in the Netherlands attending the International AIDS Conference, which was originally slated to be held in Boston. The conference had to be moved when it became apparent that many of its most important participants would be unable to attend — in 1987, the US Senate unanimously passed a ban that prevented HIV-positive people from getting into the country. (Kudos to the government, by the way, for lifting that ban. Ahem, last year.)

One can imagine the questions that arose for Abrams regarding his country’s commitment to fighting the disease.

So later, when Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) wrote to General’s AIDS program suggesting that “Brownie Mary’s institution” take the lead in researching the effect of cannabis on AIDS wasting syndrome, Abrams swung into action.

He was watching his community waste away from the disease. And he wasn’t happy with existing treatments. The data supporting AZT’s efficacy was faulty, he thought, a quick fix by a government under pressure to come up with a solution to an epidemic.

In the pre-Proposition 215 era, large numbers of AIDS patients were getting pot from illegal cannabis clubs to combat the nausea and vomiting caused by AIDS wasting syndrome. The substance had to be studied, reasoned Abrams.

But organizing investigations into a federally-controlled substance is no easy matter. Since marijuana is a Schedule I drug with no officially-acknowledged medicinal use, research facilities have to get the go-ahead from several different government agencies (which focus on preventing drug abuse, not finding ways to use them to medical advantage) to be able to run experiments that use the stuff.

The process was interminable, though finally Abrams managed to complete important experiments with the drug which suggest marijuana is a useful tool in counteracting painful nerve damage, and that vaporization is just as effective a way to consume THC as smoking, among other findings.

After taking a break from researching pot for years, Abrams has once again submitted grant proposals for a few cannabis-related studies. He’s one half of a pot power couple — his husband, cannabis activist Clint Werner, is the author of 2011’s Marijuana: Gateway to Health and suggested at a June Commonwealth Club lecture that cannabis be as prevalent as ice packs in NFL locker rooms, so useful is the drug in ameliorating brain damage.

Of course, regardless of whether Abrams — who has since stepped down from AIDS research to focus on oncology — secures funding and permission for these new studies, and regardless of his findings thereafter, he hardly thinks his work will convince the government to legalize marijuana. He’s been a little disappointed with our elected officials lack of “backbone” in standing up to federal agencies that are making it harder for his older patients to access dispensaries.

Because see, the War on Drugs isn’t about the drugs at all, but politics. The man who has been researching the power of pot for decades is, sadly, resigned to the fact. Says Abrams one Thursday afternoon, sitting in his office in the SF General oncology ward: “It’s clear to me after doing this for 15 years that science is not driving the train.”

Even if the general public is of the 215-supporting sort — after all, he quips, “more people [in California] voted for marijuana than Meg Whitman.”

PR problems



HERBWISE Though I’ll admit the waves of federally-mandated dispensary closures that have washed over the Bay in recent months make it hard to keep in mind, I can’t shake the feeling that the key to legalization is not burning effigies of US Attorney Melinda Haag and harassing Barack Obama when he comes to town. Though those things can be fun.

These nonsensical days of the government blocking our access to cannabis will only stop when regular old citizens realize that the War on Drugs is not making them any safer.

Which is why I’m talking to Kristina Barnes about her porch rowdies. The mother of two, who is a project manager for an energy conservation company, moved to the Mission a year and a half ago. Along some of her neighbors and an agent from the Mission Miracle Mile Business Improvement District, Barnes wrote a letter in protest of property owner Gus Murad’s plan to put a weed dispensary into part of the Mission Street building that until recently housed his restaurant Medjool.

The letters were sent to the city’s Planning Commission, but also to Haag, causing East Bay Express reporter David Downs to call Barnes and her crew “snitches,” and “clueless, craven, money-hungry carpetbaggers,” whose primary goal was to gentrify the Mission. One of the letters, he reported, even used what I like to call “the g-word,” as a positive term, calling into question the protesters’ basic grasp of SF’s social climate.

Fine, I chortled a little at the snitches part.

But I live really close to Morado Collective’s proposed site. It troubled me that my neighbors thought that “this shop will invite loads more undesirable people to our neighborhood,” as Barnes’ letter put it.

The perception of the pot clubs as a dangerous, disruptive place is sadly, common — Haag has used it as justification for her crusade, even though a UCLA study published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found zero evidence that dispensaries raise crime rates.

I needed to know where the negative image was coming from. So I called Barnes up to find out why she didn’t want high-quality nuggets near her family.

Turns out, Barnes does not support medical marijuana. “There’s a lot of misleading legality about it,” she said. “If I were to guess, 80 percent of the people [who frequent dispensaries] have no reason to be there.” In other neighborhoods, she told me, she’s seen people exit clubs and give joints to friends.

She thinks the Morado Collective will adversely affect her block. “My primary concern is that it’s really selfish,” she told me. “We moved into a neighborhood that has the promise of getting a little cleaner and better.” More saliently, she was concerned that her porch would look like an attractive place to smoke that newly-purchased bud. People use it as a smoke spot already, she said.

Of course, there was no reason to base this conversation on conjecture. Until it was shuttered by the feds earlier this summer, Shambhala Healing Center welcomed patients at 2441 Mission — across the street from the Morado Collective’s future home. (The dispensary is now delivery-only.) Had Barnes’ porch been inundated by Shambhala’s patrons? Had such disruptions diminished in the months since the club closed its doors?

Actually, she was unaware that she’d been living around the corner from a dispensary since she moved to the neighborhood. Granted, Shambhala looked like a yoga studio from the outside. “I can’t believe I didn’t know the other one was there,” Barnes said. It was unclear if this fact was enough to affect her views on disruptive dispensaries, but one hopes it was food for thought.



While researching this column, I also spoke with Philip Lesser of the MMMBID, who told me his neighborhood group was firmly in favor of medical marijuana, likening pot clubs to medical centers. But, he said, the Morado Collective’s spot between fancy restaurants Foreign Cinema and Lolinda “just doesn’t seem like the appropriate place to have a doctor’s office.”

What would be appropriate? “I’m thinking that anything that could better promote the arts and entertainment,” he ventured, adding that Alamo Draft House is set to open a five-screen movie theater in another Murad property across the street.

But — what makes you want to go to the movies more than weed?


Drug peace


HERBWISE Author Doug Fine’s last book, Farewell My Subaru, is about the year he moved to a secluded New Mexico farm and attempted to live without petroleum. He’s just as creative about advocating against the War on Drugs as is his against fossil fuel dependency — for his new book Too High To Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution Fine spent a cannabis season living in a Mendocino grow town. He’s been getting love from his recent appearance on Conan, but we caught up with him via email for some real talk while he was en route from his home, a.k.a. the Funky Butte Ranch, “hurtling toward live events in Colorado in an ’87 RV.” He’ll be in town this week doing readings, so read up here and bring him questions to his Booksmith reading on Wed/22 and his event for cannabis patients at Harborside Health Center on Fri/24. 

SFBG: What are you adding to the discussion on cannabis legalization with Too High To Fail?

Doug Fine: I relocated to Mendocino County, and for 10 months covered the county’s successful efforts to permit sustainable cannabis farmers. I followed one flower named Lucille — for reasons that have to do with the neighbor of a farmer I followed — from farm to liver cancer battler. 

Mendocino’s “zip-tie” [cannabis farm permit] program was so successful in 2011 that it was about to be emulated in several other counties in the Emerald Triangle. With 100 tax-paying American small farmers coming above ground to declare themselves legitimate, the county raised $600,000 and saved seven deputy sheriff positions. The practitioners of a profession that generates 80 percent of the county’s revenue could now be part of society. Then, just before harvest, the DEA raided the most prominent zip-tie farmer, and the US Attorney threatened the county Board of Supervisors with arrest if they didn’t effectively cancel the program. Which they did. 

SFBG: Would you say you have a different writing style than others who have tackled the War on Drugs?

DF: It’s kind of comedic investigative journalism. Since I don’t only want to preach to the converted on any issue, I think the humor draws people in as they see I’m a regular guy, a dad, an American, and not some kind of radical pushing an agenda. I try to laugh my way to the truth. 

SFBG: In your opinion, why isn’t cannabis legal today?

DF: Pat Robertson wants to end the Drug War, my cowboy hat-wearing senior ladies at the post office in my New Mexico canyon want to end it. Everyone’s ready except Congress. Even a DEA spokesman said when I asked why the zip-tied farmer was raided, “If you don’t like the Controlled Substances Act ask Congress to change it.” And it’s up to us as voters to do just that: get cannabis out of the CSA and allow states to regulate it like alcohol. It’s win-win: a $30 billion infusion into the economy annually that will cripple the cartels. 

SFBG: Do you smoke weed?

DF: I have used it. I think it’s a good plant. My general take on it is a spiritual one. The Bible isn’t vague on this. It’s in Genesis, not bured way back in Numbers. Chapter 1, Verse 29 says: “You shall have all the plants and seed-bearing herbs to use.” Not “unless one day Richard Nixon decides he doesn’t like one of them.”

SFBG: I hear you live with goats?

DF: Yep, I generally see as many goats on a given day as I do humans. I meditate with my goats and live on their yogurt, cheese, and, most importantly, their honey-cardamom ice cream.



Wed/22 7:30pm, free

The Booksmith

1644 Haight, SF


Fri/24 2-5pm, free, medical marijuana patients only

Harborside Health Center

1840 Embarcadero, Oakl.


We need a hero



HERBWISE News coverage of the Olympics have successfully converted the world’s premier sporting event into a gossip fest befitting a British royal family divorce, and talk of record-setting Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ pot smoking have ignited the cannabis blogosphere. But not so fast: Phelps hasn’t owned up to smoking weed since 2009, when he was spotted ripping a bong during an extended break from training. He told CNN in an interview that aired just last week that the feeling of having the photo published was “the lowest of the low.” Perhaps the cannabis world should look elsewhere for celebrity endorsement…


“Kids were walking around light-headed. The animals and everything.” Oakland radio DJ cum-MTV News executive producer Sway had the pleasure of introducing Snoop Dogg’s latest reincarnation at a recent press conference (still available online if this abbreviated sum-up doesn’t cut it for you.) But before he introduced Snoop Lion, he wanted us to know Dogg had smoked out Sway’s guest house on a recent visit — so badly, in fact that it took weeks to air out. Think of the children!

Snoop is. He just recorded Reincarnated, a roots album with Diplo. The first single “La La La” already available to buy. The rapper said the project is for his fans that can’t stomach his career’s gangsterisms. “I can’t just keep taking them to a dead end street and dropping them off,” he said. “I got to teach them how to fish, how to plant, how to grow.” Oh, and he’s bored. ” I’m a wise man in this music industry,” he said. Onto the next genre, where he at least has to hustle.

“I’ve always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated,” the Lion mused. The rebirth apparently took place on visit to a Jamaican temple. A priest informed Snoop “you are Brahimi, you are the light, you are the lion.” Said Snoop, “from that moment on, it was like I began to understand why I was there.” Helpfully, Vice cameras were on hand for the meeting, for Snoop getting dreadlocks, and for the creation of the album. A documentary named Reincarnated will be debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival, but surely the intrepids of Vice Media will be happy to bring it your way after that.

When Sway asked him straight up if he’d be converting to Rastafarianism, Snoop said that being a rasta was more about lifestyle than religion. “It’s the way you live, it’s the way you do what you do. I felt like I’ve always been Rastafari. I just didn’t have my third eye open. But it’s wide open right now.”

What his tri-eye see? Will Snoop Lion shake his mane at cannabis Prohibition in the United States? What would Bob Marley do?


Tuff Gong would certainly not have been stoked had he been in the Bay on July 31, when SF dispensaries Vapor Room and HopeNet shut their doors for the last time after receiving prohibitory letters from US Attorney Melinda Haag. The next day, activists took to the streets in a mock funeral for medical cannabis, touting “Cannabis is Medicine: Let the States Decide” signs, a coffin, and a paper mache version of Haag to the US Federal Building, where she has an office.


New release exploring the complications involved in ending Prohibition: Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 288pp, $16.95), co-authored by Oakland’s Beau Kilmer. Kilmer is the co-director of RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center, and appears to be recommending a cautious approach to making pot legal — a prospect being voted on in three states in the fall election.

Dab’ll do ya



HERBWISE The neatly-dressed line of donors waiting outside the Fox Theatre on July 21 gawked at the procession coming down Broadway Avenue. Was it the impassioned protesters in wheelchairs, the oversized fake joint, or the realization that stoners could be so… vehement that had them transfixed?

"Obama keep your promise!" On the occasion of the President’s fundraising trip to Oakland — his first to the Bay Area since medical cannabis cornerstone Harborside Health Center was ordered to close in a letter from US Attorney Melinda Haag — medical marijuana had turned out for an unwelcoming party. Obama’s administration has been messing with weed, and patients weren’t about to go quietly into the night. A crowd of hundreds took a lap around the theater, starting and ending at Frank Ogawa-Oscar Grant Plaza.

Of course, the President wasn’t there to see it. Obama was hours late for his announced appearance at the Fox at 3pm.

Pre-march, sharing space in an Oaksterdam University classroom with a bank of healthy marijuana plants, OU president Dale Sky Jones welcomed members of the media to a panoramic look at today’s cannabis advocates. Jim Gray, ex-assistant US Attorney and current Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate spoke, and Harborside’s Steve Deangelo asserted that "if the US Attorneys can come after a dispensary like Harborside, no dispensary in this country is safe." Patients finished out this chorus of voices. The father of a medical marijuana patient — his young boy has Dravet Syndrome, a type of infant epilepsy — despaired that, should Harborside go under, his offspring would never get the right kind of medicine.

"What am, going to ask a drug dealer ‘do you have CBD?’" he asked, hands and voice shaking. "You’re going after the wrong drug."


Oddly enough, considering the drama surrounding its legality, cannabis culture continues to grow unabated. Consider this: there are forms of ingestion that even I, your somewhat-dedicated pot columnist, remain unacquainted with. This is annoying, so upon pot Internet celebrity Coral Reefer’s 1000th tweet regarding "dabbing," I called her out on it. Would she be willing to teach me the ways of this mysterious process?

She would! Dabbing means inhaling the vapor the results from melting butane, or even super-melt cold water-extracted hash. Intriguingly, it resembles nothing so much as smoking crack with a bong, but never you mind, vapor has a lower impact on your lungs and increased potency means its a quicker process than smoking "flower," or regular dried buds.

So: heat up your dabbing surface. Reefer had no less than four kinds of set-ups for dabbing in her apartment, including a "skillet," or flat disc that attaches to any glass-on-glass bong (most dabbing kits will work with your pre-existing water pipe) and various kinds of "nails," or round, rimmed surfaces specifically made for dabbing. Wait until it’s red hot. Take your specially-designed metal pick, or "dabber," and with it rub some concentrate, called "super-melt" or "wax" at most dispensary, onto your post-red-hot surface. Inhale. Clear. Inhale. Repeat process.

President or no president, medical marijuana shows up in Oakland


So the President was late. Around the time the “Fire Melinda Haag” press conference (as it had been called in emails I’d received from the various cannabis advocacy groups) at downtown Oakland’s federally-threatened Oaksterdam University was starting, one attendee drily mentioned that Obama was reported to still be in Las Vegas.

“I mean, I know the private jets can get you places really quickly and all, but still.”

It didn’t matter — medical marijuana had assembled in Oakland, the world cannabis community was watching, and there was going to be a show of numbers, regardless of what Air Force One was doing or when the President’s scheduled appearance at the Fox Theater a block away would actually get going.

But first, the formal press conference at Oaksterdam. Grow lights warmed the pot plants on one side of the room as dispensary founders, politicians, and patients said their piece on stage. 

“Name the advantages of continuing the drug war,” said Oaksterdam University president Dale Sky Jones (OU founder Richard Lee on stage a few feet to her right.) “We continue the failed drug policy that targets young people of color.”

“This is simply not the right thing to do,” said Jim Gray, a retired Orange County superior court judge and former assistant US Attorney. “It will not result in less marijuana being sold or consumed in Oakland or anywhere else.” Later on, during the march that would take medical marijuana users on a lap around the Fox, some protesters were seen lofting signs with the ex-official’s name on it — he’s the Libertarian Party’s nomination for vice president. His crowd-pleasing efforts struck gold at Oaksterdam in the form of a quip. “I think going forward, the slogan should be ‘the hempire strikes back.”

Steve Deangelo, founder of Harborside Health Center, was adamant in his call for an immediate freeze on all enforcement actions until courts deemed them consistent with the Obama administration’s policy. Deangelo and the patients that depend on his dispensary have a lot to lose should their call go unheard: a recent letter sent to Harborside by US Attorney Melinda Haag ordered the collective’s closure based on the rationale that it is a “marijuana superstore.”

“If the US Attorneys can come after a dispensary like Harborside,” Deangelo told the assembled crowd, “No dispensary in this country is safe.” Commonly referred to as the best-known dispensary in the country, Deangelo’s dispensary and its staff were the subject of last year’s Discovery Channel reality series Weed Wars

Perhaps the most poignant voices from the day were those of the consumers who will be most affected by the loss of safe and accessible medical-grade marijuana. Yvonne Westbrook-White, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, credited cannabis with getting her out of the house that day and appealed to the President to keep his promise to leave state-legal dispensaries alone.

Jason David’s baby son has Dravet Syndrome, a rare disease with epilepsy-like symptoms. He told the crowd at Oaksterdam that a non-psychoactive cannabinoid tincture had made his boy go from acting like a zombie to being a bubbly kid that greets people at church and at home alike. His voice and hands trembled as he thought out loud about what he would do if Harborside went the way of so many other cannabis businesses in the Bay Area.

“What am, going to ask a drug dealer ‘do you have CBD?’ You’re going after the wrong drug.”

An hour later, feet from the massive Obama-as-cop “Dear Leader” design that members of Chalkupy had painstaking sketched out the same day, a crowd that police later estimated at 800 to 1000 people were ready to march for their cannabis rights. The route took us up Broadway, past the lines of Obama fans patiently waiting for their president to show, down 20th Avenue to San Pablo Avenue, and right back to Oakland’s City Hall.

Would things continue to go as peacefully through the President’s eventual visit? All signs pointed to yes when your Guardian journalist left around 4:30pm, but one protester put it rather succinctly. “Today’s not over yet,” he said. 

Herbwise radio: Catch Caitlin Donohue today on Cannabis Cuts


Our culture editor-cannabis columnist Caitlin Donohue interviewed Cannabis Cuts‘ Vaperonica Dee and Merry Toppins for her weekly Herbwise rant-and-rave back in June and now the on-air marijuana news duo is repaying the favor. Their smoke-filled catch-up will air live on the Mutiny Radio website today, Tue/17 at 4-6pm (the podcast will also be available for free download after airtime.)

Toppins was in the audience for last week’s “Bay Area Feminism Today” panel, which she informed us inspired some questions she’ll have for Donohue on the subject of cannabis feminism. What’s that mean? Given the popularity of portraying women in cannabis as pot-leaf-over-the-aureole airheads, it sounds like a term that needs coining. 

You’ll also be able to stream the show after air time at www.stitcher.com

Oakland councilperson responds to Harborside Health Center targeting by feds


Have you heard the news about our most Hollywood dispensary getting put on notice by the feds? Harborside Health Center staff, stars of everyone’s favorite marijuana reality show Weed Wars, arrived to work July 9 to a letter from US Attorney Melinda Haag.

She’s no one’s favorite pen pal in the medical cannabis industry these days. (xoxo) In the letter, she filed civil forfeiture actions against Harborside, despite the fact that unlike most of her office’s previous targets, the two Harborside dispensaries are not within 1,000 feet of a school or park. After the federal raid of educational institution Oaksterdam University in April it seems that now, all dispensaries are fair game for federal targeting. This could be curtains for patients’ safe and easy access to cannabis. 

Haag explained her office’s reasoning in a statement released yesterday.

This office has used its limited resources to address those marijuana dispensaries that operate close to schools, parks and playgrounds. As I have said in the past, this is a non-exclusive list of factors relevant to whether we should commence civil forfeiture actions against marijuana properties, and circumstances may require us to address other situations. 

I now find the need to consider actions regarding marijuana superstores such as Harborside. The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state’s medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need.

The filing of the civil forfeiture complaints against the two Harborside properties is part of our measured effort to address the proliferation of illegal marijuana businesses in the Northern District of California.

Basically, no rationale for targeting Harborside besides the fact that it’s a big operation (probably the largest in California.) The situation echoes the recent federal raid of cannabis educational institution Oaksterdam University. Harborside has struggled in the past with castigating audits by the IRS, which declared that the collective was unable to claim simple business expenses on its taxes. 

Oakland city councilperson Rebecca Kaplan recently released a statement in response. Here is the full text:

We are disappointed to learn that yet another licensed, legal and locally regulated medical cannabis facility has come under federal attack.

The last time that the federal government used its resources to go after a permitted facility with no history of crime or violence, there was a school shooting taking place across town while federal agents tagged and bagged medical marijuana plants.

We can’t let this happen again.

The Justice Department has said in the past that it wouldn’t target medical marijuana.

They went back on their word – starting to target medical cannabis facilities allowed under California law.  Then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said they are specifically targeting cannabis facilities located within 1,000 feet of parks and schools.

Let’s be clear: Harborside Health Center is in compliance with our democratically-enacted laws – and is not near either a park or a school.

During the raid on Oaksterdam University, the federal government used cops – this time they’re using lawyers.

If federal prosecutors have extra time available, I ask – on behalf of my constituents all across the city – that they instead prosecute the illegal gun dealers who are the source of death and violence in Oakland.

Federal agents have worked successfully with local law enforcement this year to go after guns and violence – and we are deeply thankful and appreciative of that help.

That’s what we need more of.

If there are federal resources available, we need them directed against the violent perpetrators and co-conspirators of the senseless gun violence on our streets. 

Local news media reported recently that, on the day of the federal raid and the school shooting, local law enforcement said the federal raid against Oaksterdam University ‘drained the vast majority of [the department’s] west-end staffing thus resulting in several priority calls being stacked — something that might have [been] prevented.

Wasting resources going after legal, licensed and locally regulated medical marijuana facilities is not only inappropriate, but directly harms our ability to fight crime and respond to violence in our city.

We respectfully ask the Justice Department to devote any available resources to fight gun crime and stop the interstate flow of illegal guns into our city.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay



HERBWISE Happy Independence Day hangover (yes, still)! I’ll leave aside all discussion regarding the wisdom of the mid-week holiday and head straight into the fact that I spent the evening of the Third of July very, very sadly.

It was for this reason: after work I tore over to my beloved neighborhood dispensary Shambhala Healing Center (www.shambhalasf.com), arriving ten minutes before closing time. It was closed. Peeved, I called in to lightly berate them for shuttering early.

But this was no early start to the staff’s holiday. Just hours after I posted last week’s Herbwise about the Vapor Room going kaput, I found out Shambhala’s brick and mortar location had shut its doors for the last time on June 30.

Now this should not have come as a surprise. I spent time with an indignant Shambhala founder Al Shawa in his dank-smelling dispensary backroom this spring, discussing the letter that US Attorney Melinda Haag sent to his landlord, proclaiming that his storefront was inappropriately close to a playground, and that this landlord faced decades of jail time if he wasn’t evicted (“Shambhala Healing Center next on the federal chopping block,” 3/5/12).

I should have been paying closer attention to Shawa’s predicament, especially since I buy my sativa from him. At least Shambhala will continue to deliver, a move that the last place I used to buy weed from in the Mission, Medithrive, also resorted to when it was forced to close in November. (For the Herbwise column on that mess see “For the kids?” 12/13/11)

For me, the Third of July was a moment when this to-do between the federal government and these local businesses (and more importantly, the patients that depend on cannabis to function) punched me in the gut. My plans for THC consumption over Independence Day had been foiled by the feds, and all at once the sheer idiocy of this whole cannabis crackdown was almost too much to bear. Work on real problems! Go!

(By the way, SF Chronicle columnists Philip Matier and Andrew Ross have it on good authority that Obama is coming back to town on July 23 for his seventh Bay Area fundraising trip this year, who is down for a protest?)

So this week, I’m giving it up for South America. Big ups to Uruguayan president Jose Mujica for proposing a plan to legalize marijuana so that adults could walk into government-run stores and buy weed. He presented it as an anti-crime measure, suggesting that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on pot by consumers could be better funneled in the government’s pocket than those of illegal drug dealers.

President Mujica is blessed with one of his continent’s most stable countries — plus it’s tiny, at 3.3 million inhabitants — so his plan could prove more manageable to implement than elsewhere in South America. But he’s not the only leader south of Panama to call bullshit on this War on Drugs. This spring at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, that country’s President Juan Manuel Santos called for an “in-depth discussion” on the War on Drugs’ utility, preferably one “without any biases or dogmas.” He suggested, as many have, that Prohibition has never worked before, and might not be working now.

Our president was there too. “Legalization is not the answer,” said Barack Obama to a conference full of Latin American leaders. Of those who remain focused on this issue, President Obama counseled perspective. He said that this kind of debate seemed “caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy, and Yanquis, and the Cold War, and this, and that, and the other. That’s not the world we live in today.”

Anyways, I’m sure that when he gets here — July 23! — he’ll be looking for our opinion on the ways of the world. ¡Hasta pronto!


Cash your bowl



HERBWISE It’s time to get a Discover card. As of July 1, you can no longer use your Visa or Mastercard credit or debit card to buy medical marijuana. And of course, American Express cards have been out of the question since spring 2011. Electronic Merchant Systems, which handles card processing for most of the nation, sent out an announcement last month to its vendors, raising the stakes for dispensaries across the country that seem to be coming under a coordinated federal attack. Cash-only cannabis? That’s pretty bad, maybe just as bad as the next thing I have to tell you about…


The Vapor Room is closing. Yes, the perennial Best of the Bay-winning, nine-year old Lower Haight dispensary-lounge (607 Haight, SF. www.vaporroom.com) will be closing its doors as of July 31, according to the nonprofit’s executive director Martin Olive. Olive told the Guardian in a phone interview that the dispensary learned an undisclosed amount of time ago that its landlord had received one of the doom-bearing letters now so familiar to San Francisco dispensaries from US Attorney Melinda Haag declaring that the dispensary was within 1,000 feet of Duboce Park. The city’s permitting laws, Olive told us, are concerned with how far cannabis clubs are from playgrounds, not park grounds. Vapor Room has a long-standing relationship with the Harvey Milk Rec Center that anchors the park — the nonprofit actually sponsors free yoga classes and health counseling that take place in the center itself. Olive wouldn’t confirm rumors that Vapor Room’s stock will continue to be available for delivery, but that’s the word on the street.


The “bath salts” face-eater didn’t have any bath salts in his system. In fact, the only drug authorities uncovered through post-humous tests was cannabis.


As an events editor, organizations that don’t send us the vital information we need to cover their event are the bane of my existence. It is another thing entirely, however, when an organization requests that vital information be kept out of the newspaper. A sign of the times when it comes to cannabis journalism, I’m afraid. And as such: check out a happy hour benefit at El Rio for “an organization supporting low-income, AIDS-HIV, and cancer patients with free medicine.” Sigh. It’ll be running semi-concurrently with pop-up Mugsy Wine Bar’s hat-tip to Bastille Day (5:30pm-8:30pm). Drown your frustrations with some nice sparkling Blanc de Noir Cremant de Bourgnone, why don’t you.

Fri/13 4pm-6pm, free. El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. www.elriosf.com


Search YouTube for “Conan O’Brien and Martha Stewart Get Crafty with Pot.” Discussion question: for all the weirdness that you just read, is marijuana becoming more or less accepted in mainstream culture?

After the raid



HERBWISE It is exceedingly difficult to get Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee to talk about himself. I have him — the person who drove the Proposition 19 legalization campaign, whose house and cannabis trade school were raided by federal agents in April, who through his businesses’ success has helped revitalize and make safe a previously gloomy stretch of downtown Oakland — on the phone to talk about the lifetime achievement award he will be receiving from High Times at this week’s Cannabis Cup (Sat/23-Sun/24).

I want him to share his emotional journey since government agents poured into his home, what’s it’s like to be the public face of the flashpoint between California and national government over marijuana. High Times editorial director Malcolm MacKinnon calls Lee a “fearless trailblazer,” perhaps he’d like to make grand predictions about the future of pot? At least describe exactly what’s happening with Oaksterdam, post-raid. But Lee prefers to stress the latest poll numbers on legalization.

“All the national polls and the Colorado polls are going our way,” he says. “If you could get the word out about that, that’d be great.” FYI, on June 6 Rasmussen Reports found that 61 percent of Coloradoans support regulating cannabis like alcohol and cigarettes.

Lee has retired from university administration — he’s referred to as a professor emeritus, although he is still teaching classes in cannabis policy, history, and advocacy. In his “big Converse All-Stars” (as she calls them) now stands Dale Sky Jones. She once developed Oaksterdam’s curriculum and now joins a short list of female leaders in the marijuana industry as the university’s president.

“When the federal government came in, they took the curriculum, the computers — everything else that was the blood and breathe, heart and soul of the school short of the tables and chairs and teachers,” Jones says in a phone interview. Under her watch, the finances of “top-heavy” Oaksterdam’s gift shop, dispensary, and university have split and are now under separate ownership. Staff is attempting to rebuild curriculum from email records. 45 employees have lost their job because of the disruption in business affairs. “This was a violation on so many levels for the staff of Oaksterdam,” Jones says, sadly.

But life goes on. Lee says his “students are great, they have lots of energy and enthusiasm.” And the cultural contributions that the school and its founder have hardly been negated by federal intervention. “[Lee] brought the debate about marijuana policy reform to the kitchen table,” says Jones. “Before Prop. 19, the only time parents and kids had conversations around marijuana it was ‘where the hell did you find it? who are your jackass friends?’ It was always a negative discussion. This was the first time that families were able to discuss marijuana as a policy issue.”

This weekend’s Cannabis Cup will bring the pot world’s focus back here, as some of NorCal’s [author’s note: and hence, the world’s] best strains compete for the title of best indica, sativa, edibles, etc. Lee’s lifetime achievement award (presented at 7pm on Sun/24) will just confirm what we all already knew: even when it comes to activists, we grow things better out here.


Sat/23 noon-10pm, Sun/24 noon-9:30pm; one-day pass $40, two-day pass $65 advance, $80 at door

Craneway Pavilion

1414 Harbour Way, Richmond


Wall down, joints up


The tallest structure in Germany is a sky needle with a majestic ball sitting well up its length. Due to some vagaries of the physics of light and the shiny, Epcot-like nature of this ball, Berlin's Fernsehturm (a.k.a., television tower) casts the shadow of a cross over the city, much to the consternation of its East German builders.

One wonders what they would think of the head shop nestled into the base of their show of socialist triumph. For the past 11 years Udopea has been here, currently occupying a space next to a bike rental shop and mere feet from a line where a million visitors cue every year to ascend into the Fernsehturm's observation decks and fancy restaurant.

But maybe this isn't such a weird thing. A cursory look at Udopea's window offerings reveal the standard wacky tourist fare: rainbow hair dyes, black-light bongs, bongs spotted with hippie daisies. I was in the market for cotton candy hair, so we stopped in — only to see my beloved California-made Magic Flight vaporizer (see Herbwise, "Hippies do it better," 2/8/12) vaporizer. It appears Udopea actually knows its cannabis.

Berlin is not the least tolerant place for marijuana in Europe. Head over to Görlitzer Park in the trendy Kreuzberg neighborhood and you can score baggies of dry cannabis in a flash. Marijuana is openly smoked in many of the town's world-famous, dirty-as-hell techno churches. But it's no cannabis culture capital. After all, this is a place where entering "marijuana" as a search term on the website of Berlin's reigning English-language culture magazine turns up only one result: an interview with Evidence, of LA underground hip-hoppers Dilated People. (He's making a pun off of "bagpipes.")

So those looking for a conversation about weed that goes deeper than "you want" and "how much" should drop through Udopea. In addition to klassy US products, you can find Germany's finest glass company Roor (www.roor.de). Glassblower Martin Birzle's brand inspires fierce adherents — you should have heard the Udopea sales assistant's roar of disbelief when I told him I was unfamiliar with the product. (Nationalists.)

Plus, stuff for growing so that you don't have to keep heading out to Görlitzer. The quantity of lights, fertilizers, and various other accoutrements that Udopea deals will actually sound the death knell for their most idiosyncratic of its five Germany-wide locations. More space is needed to properly stock the grow section, so the Berlin store is moving to a more spacious location in another neighborhood. Later, tourists.

Outer Mission opposition



HERBWISE Most medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco are clustered around the central part of the city, with the heaviest concentration in SoMa, leaving patients in many outlying parts of the city — such as the Outer Mission and Excelsior districts — with long journeys to visit a cannabis club.

That began to change in February when the Planning Commission approved permits for three new dispensaries to open in the Excelsior: venerable delivery service The Green Cross will open its first brick-and-mortar operation on the 4200 block of Mission, while Tree-Med and Mission Organics each won approval to locate on the 5200 block. All three clubs had been in development for years, delayed by a state case challenging new dispensaries that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

But Steve Currier, president of the Outer Mission Merchants and Residents Association, has appealed the building permit for the first of that trio of clubs to apply for one, Mission Organics, and he allegedly whipped up anti-pot hysteria in the neighborhood that included an April 21 protest march spanning the three dispensary sites.

David Goldman, a member of the city’s Medical Cannabis Task Force, said the Feb. 16 appeal hearing and April 21 demonstration — which he said also included supervisorial candidate Leon Chow — were marked by inaccurate statements that dispensaries attract crime and are harmful to children, even though all three dispensaries are more than 1,000 feet from schools.

“People who are ignorant assume we’re all a bunch of hoodlums or stoners looking to get high,” Goldman said. “We want them to realize that dispensaries don’t bring crime to neighborhood. If anything, it’s the opposite,” he said, citing the value of people, video cameras, and security guards on the street as a crime deterrent, particularly on blocks with vacant storefronts, as is the case with these blocks.

Neither Currier nor Chow returned Guardian calls or emails. Attorney Dorji Roberts, who represents Mission Organics owners Eugene Popok and Mike Mekk, said that he’s also had a hard time reaching project opponents to address their concerns before a Board of Permit Appeals hearing set for June 20.

“We’ve asked them for a meeting recently, but he won’t respond and he can’t articulate any real reasons why he has a problem with it,” Roberts said of Currier and his group.

Roberts said that Popok had attended meetings of the OMMRA to try to integrate into the group and address any concerns it might have, but they were surprised when the project got appealed after being approved 5-2 at the Planning Commission (Tree-Med’s vote was also 5-2, while The Green Cross won unanimous approval), where they saw their first hints of opposition.

“They’re saying it will be a density issue, even though no clubs are out there now,” Roberts said. “They say it will increase crime, which also isn’t true…It’s the same kind of fears and phobias that are offered by people who just don’t like [medical marijuana or its legality].”

Goldman, who had people monitoring the April 21 protest march, said the group would praise businesses along the way while condemning the dispensaries, as one point chanting, “Liquor stores, yes, pot stores, no,” a dichotomy he considers telling of the kind of moralism driving the appeal.

“Fundamentally,” he said, “it’s an attack on patients.”


Obama: gay OK, pot not



HERBWISE President Barack Obama made big news last week when he became the first U.S. president to state his support for same-sex marriage, taking a states’ rights position on the issue and telling supporters “where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them.” So why is his administration so aggressively going after medical marijuana providers that are fully compliant with state law?

As a presidential candidate, Obama said that his administration wouldn’t go after medical marijuana patients or suppliers that were in compliance with the laws in the 19 states where medical marijuana is legal or decriminalized, a position that his Department of Justice reinforced with a 2009 memo restating that position.

But then last year, the administration reversed course and began a multi-agency attack on the medical marijuana industry in California and other states, with the Drug Enforcement Administration raiding growers, dispensaries, and even Oaksterdam University; the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices threatening owners of properties involved in medical marijuana with asset seizure; and the Internal Revenue Service adopting punitive policies aimed at shutting down dispensaries that are otherwise paying taxes and operating legally under state law.

Recently, Obama tried to explain his evolving stance on medical marijuana in a Rolling Stone interview: “What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana — and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law.”

Yet statements like that only reinforce the idea that Obama has a double standard. After all, same-sex marriage is also against federal law, specifically the Defense of Marriage Act that President Bill Clinton signed in 1996. The Obama Administration last year refused to continue defending DOMA in the courts, whereas it has proactively and aggressively expanded enforcement of federal laws against pot.

When I asked Obama’s Press Office to address the contradiction, they referred to the Rolling Stone interview, provided a transcript of a press briefing from last week, and refused further comment.

Press Secretary Jay Carney spent much of that briefing discussing Obama’s “evolving” position on same-sex marriage, and said the president has always been supporter of states’ rights. “He vehemently disagrees with those who would act to deny Americans’ rights or act to take away rights that have been established in states. And that has been his position for quite a long time,” Carney said.

Assembly member Tom Ammiano, who has sponsored legislation to improve protections for those in the medical marijuana industry and criticized Obama’s crackdown on cannabis, said he was happy to hear Obama’s new stance on same-sex marriage. But he said that position of federal non-intervention in state and local jurisdictions isn’t being following with medical marijuana, or on immigration issues, where the federal government has circumvented local sanctuary city policies with its Secure Communities program targeting undocumented immigrants.

“Good move, Mr. President, now let’s work on that states rights issue,” Ammiano told us. “I don’t want to water down the significance of this, but I do want to treat it holistically.”

Ammiano praised House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for her May 3 public statement criticizing the federal raids on medical marijuana patients and suppliers, but he said federal leaders should act to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 narcotics, a classification of dangerous drugs with no medical value.

“Pelosi was good to put that statement out, but now we need the next step of changing federal law,” Ammiano said.

David Goldman, a representative of Americans for Safe Access patient advocacy group who serves on the city’s Medical Cannabis Task Force, called Obama’s double-standard hypocritical: “If Obama is affirming federalism and states rights, then he’s inconsistent with state-regulated medical marijuana.”

But Goldman also said, “Why should we be surprised that politicians take contradictory positions on issues?”


The capital of cannabis?


HERBWISE A few days after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi finally voiced her displeasure that federal agencies were making moves to curtail medical marijuana access, I was touring the hallway outside her offices in Washington DC.

“Access to medicinal marijuana for individuals who are ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is both a medical and a states’ rights issue,” said Pelosi in a statement released on May 2.

And though Pelosi was surely spurred to speak on behalf of her federally-beleaguered California, she gets good reminders of cannabis’ import in her adopted home in Washington. Here, the fight for medical marijuana is finally coming to a head: six cultivation centers have been given final approval and four preliminary approval to open.

“It seems likely that patients will have access to medicinal marijuana later this fall,” said DC councilperson David Catania. Catania is a primary figure responsible for penning DC’s cannabis regulations. He is also — in the words of one local cannabis activist who shall remain nameless — “a gay, Republican-leaning Independent corporate lawyer-type. He is both bright and brash, bordering on arrogant. He is so adamantly anti-California medical cannabis laws that most of the tight restrictions here are driven by his stark dislike for what California’s laws have become.”

Well! Since I was darting about our nation’s capital anyway, an interview seemed to be in order so that councilperson Catania could let us know just how DC regulations worked — and what is was like working on marijuana issues in an office situated less than a mile from the Capitol Building and a block or two from the White House. I spoke to him via email last week.

SFBG You played an integral role in setting up cannabis rules and regulations in DC. Were you drawing on things that work or didn’t work in any specific areas of the United States?

David Catania We set out to implement a well-regulated system that was still accessible for those who need the medication. As we are the nation’s capital, we knew the spotlight would be on the program. We set out to create a system that worked for patients in need and I believe we are well on our way to accomplishing that goal.

SFBG What would you like to see happen with dispensaries in DC?

DC The four dispensaries that have been given preliminary approval are in various neighborhoods throughout the District, each with its own needs and concerns. The District Department of Health is doing extensive community outreach and work to involve residents nearby both dispensaries and cultivation centers, to educate them on the program and ensure open lines of dialogue between cultivation center and dispensary owners and their neighbors. Ensuring that positive relationship between the various parties is going to be a vital component of the program’s success. [note: in DC, dispensaries have been regulated as separate from cultivation centers, which are allowed up to 95 plants per location, an amount which was designated as to avoid harsher punishment in the case of federal action.]

SFBG What is it like setting up regulations regarding a federally illegal substance here in the shadow of the White House?

DC It’s interesting. We were very intentional in how we established the program, as we realized we needed to be extra-sensitive to the fact that we are the home of the federal government.

A teachable moment



HERBWISE On the occasion of leaving our gentle green bubble in the Bay, I often find myself in the position of explaining what it is I write about. Sometimes I am satisfied with focusing on my federally legal interests as the Guardian’s culture editor. But other times I am compelled to stretch the limits of my extended family’s imagination, which usually leads to some pretty interesting conversations.

I’m sure I’m not the only person interested in demystifying cannabis issues to their loved ones. Which is why I’m happy to introduce you to a 2011 documentary that might prove useful: Lynching Charlie Lynch, a DVD release you can find on Amazon or director Rick Ray’s website (www.rickrayfilms.com). The film even starts with a world history of cannabis usage: look guys, early Mormons used the stuff!

Charlie Lynch is a total goober (a word I use lovingly.) A suburbanite from Arroyo Grande, Calif., Lynch takes pleasure in winning stuffed animals from claw machines and rocking out to self-penned anti-drunk driving ballads in his DIY home studio. When he began medicating for his atrocious migraines with cannabis, Lynch decided to open a dispensary close to his home town, eventually starting one in 10,000-person Morro Bay. It was the only dispensary in San Luis Obispo County.


Ray shows us Lynch’s adorably earnest and thorough process of setting up shop. Lynch goes so far as to call the DEA office, and is directed to four different numbers before an agent gruffly tells him that cities and counties are tasked with “dealing” with such enterprises. Thus enthused, Lynch obtains proper permitting from city and county administrations and holds a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The mayor and other city officials attend, the chamber of commerce is represented in cheerful photos from that day.

At this point one might pause the film and explain to friends and family that the California medical marijuana industry is not without its complicated issues, and that despite his phone calls, Lynch might have expected trouble from the federal government. But these caveats aside, what happens next is awful enough that “might-haves” and “could-dos” will probably dissipate from their minds.

A San Luis Obispo sheriff’s RV surveils patients and staff coming and going from Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers until sufficient evidence is gathered to obtain a federal search warrant. Your educational audience will cringe as law enforcement raids not just Lynch’s dispensary, but his home. He is taken into federal custody and released only when his family posts $400,000 in bail. There’s a media storm, the feds threaten his landlord, the business is ruined, and finally, Lynch puts his house — the same one where he once warbled cautionary notes to drunk drivers — on the market.

It is worthwhile to note that the Morro Bay raid occurred in 2007, and as an update to the fam you might want to mention the Oaksterdam debacle last month. (A scene from the Oakland cannabis school is included in Lynching Charles Lynch — prophetically, it is an in-class roleplay meant to teach students how to interact with federal agents.)

We say in the Bay Area that we are the epicenter of the cannabis movement, which in some senses may be true. But in some ways it’s not. Regardless of how conscious we are in Oakland, Marin, and San Jose of the hypocrisy of the federal government, national change is not going to take place until awareness of the issue is raised nationally.

Or maybe I’m just trying to justify that post-Lynching joint with my aunt in Maryland. Meh!

We had a party



HERBWISE As excited as I was for our Guardian Stoned Soul Picnic 420 party, not everyone in our office was convinced the afternoon at El Rio on Friday, April 20 would pass without incident.

“I’m a little bit worried about getting raided,” said my publisher Bruce Brugmann, towering over my cubicle earlier that day.

Well we weren’t, although swirling rumors of federal agents in the crowd did culminate in slight rudeness directed towards the buzzcutted and be-khakied among us. We celebrated 420 with a free, public party, no one got arrested, and we raised over a thousand dollars for marijuana patient advocacy — $1,092, drummed up through a raffle featuring prizes from all kind of local businesses and El Rio’s generous bar charity. Owner Dawn Richardson says the total was the most money for charity ever generated in the bar during that particular time period.


This had to be the weirdest party ever — reggae and soul music both, from Mr. Lucky of I&I Vibrations and Carnita of Hard French, respectively. Then there was the pickled apples and bacon lovingly stacked in Hot Bike’s grilled cheese sandwiches. The boys from Roughneck Skateboards self-started to create a limbo game made out of paper mache joints. And four stand-up comedians bravely assumed the stage towards the end of the afternoon. We even had free pastries.

There were old folks in motorized wheelchairs, tough guy stoners on the side, a ton of pretty people that showed up just to dance and be stoned on a sunny patio in 70-degree weather. If ere there was an advertisement for the broad swath of San Franciscans that support medical marijuana, this was it. And we did good — look Bruce, no handcuffs!