Pubdate: Sun, 29 Jun 2008
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2008 The Times-Herald
Author: Andrea Wolf, Times-Herald staff writer
Note: Staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen contributed to this report.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


An establishment that calls itself a holistic medicinal cooperative 
has opened in a North Vallejo strip mall, but customers and 
neighboring businesses say the store dispenses medicinal marijuana.

The innocuous store, which bears no sign other than one that says 
"Open," and has reflective glass preventing outsiders from peering 
inside, has been operating since April, according to city records.

Brian Everett, the man listed as the store's owner on the business 
license, said the establishment is a "private members only patients 
cooperative" that provides holistic and herbal medicine. He said it 
is not a medical marijuana dispensary. Everette said "no comment" 
when asked if the store sold marijuana.

City records list the business at 320 Mini Drive as Vallejo Patients 

"We provide herbs and medicinal services to patients who prefer more 
natural medicine," Everett told the Times-Herald in a phone 
interview. He said the establishment sells items such as herbal 
supplements and topical ointments.

Everett said the establishment requires membership and that patients 
can join by filling out a questionnaire about what kind of treatment they seek.

He declined to explain why membership is required for a holistic 
medicine cooperative.

Everett said he wanted to consult the co-op's board of directors 
before answering further inquiries into what types of treatments the 
co-op provides, how many patients it serves and if marijuana is an 
ingredient in any of its products.

However, numerous follow-up calls and e-mails from the Times-Herald 
for answers to these questions went unanswered.

Oscar Barrientos, an armed guard with Seal-Mar private security, 
however, said he was hired recently to patrol the Mini Drive Boss 
Plaza where what he called a medical marijuana clinic is operating.

Barrientos said the "clinic" is causing no extra problems in the strip mall.

One man contacted outside the establishment said he was a first-time 
clinic customer, and said he's happy not to have to travel out of 
town to get marijuana.

"It's like going to the market," said the man, who added that the 
medical condition he has requiring marijuana treatment has to do with 
his appetite. The man would not give his name.

But city officials, asked about the establishment, said they have 
neither issued permits for medical marijuana sales, nor received any 
applications for such activity.

The 2004 California Senate Bill 420 allows medical marijuana patients 
to "collectively or cooperatively" cultivate plants for medical purposes.

If the business is operating a medical marijuana dispensary it would 
be the first in Vallejo.

When a reporter visited the business, a man identifying himself as a 
co-op member said all required permits and licenses were prominently 
displayed inside. But he wouldn't allow the Times-Herald in the store 
to see them.

Vallejo Assistant City Attorney Claudia Quintana said there are no 
permitted medical marijuana facilities in the city. And patients and 
cultivators are not protected from federal prosecution or raids.

Soon after SB 420 passed, local authorities analyzed Vallejo's 
municipal code and set up specific guidelines for dealing with the 
issue, Quintana said.

"There is a conflict between state and federal law whether it is 
legal or not," Quintana said.

Quintana said anyone interested in opening a cannabis co-op must 
first explain to her what they want to do and then present a business 
plan to her and the Solano County district attorney.

"Not one person who has come to me to talk about opening a medical 
marijuana dispensary has followed up for a meeting with me and the 
district attorney," Quintana said.

If the district attorney and Quintana OK a business plan the 
applicant would then need a city-issued business license.

Vallejo police said the department is aware of the establishment and 
are monitoring it.

Police officials said there have been no calls or complaints about 
the establishment, or reports of any disturbances or crimes in the 
immediate area.

A man who said he works near the storefront, said the clinic's 
business is brisk.

"They are so busy," said the man, who also declined to give his name. 
"Maybe there's a customer every three minutes. Maybe 60 cars a day, 
maybe more."

Joel Rice, owner of Precision Cutz & Stylez barber shop in the plaza, 
agreed the place is bustling, but finds that a good thing.

"I've been in the neighborhood 17 years, and this has breathed new 
life into this plaza," Rice said. "I've talked to some of the cancer 
patients and they find it really beneficial not to have to travel so 
far. And it brings business to the other businesses here."

Since California legalized medical marijuana there has been no 
state-wide standard for regulating dispensaries and it is up to city 
and county officials to decide if they want to allow them and how 
they want to regulate them.

Elia Gvozdenovic, chancellor of Oaksterdam University, a new school 
in Oakland that teaches students about the cannabis industry, said 
the current climate around medical marijuana is similar to when 
alcohol prohibition was ending.

"What we are seeing is medical marijuana regulations varying widely 
from city to city, kind of like when there were dry counties after 
Prohibition," Gvozdenovic said. "Some counties have regulations in 
place on what they want to do with it and other counties have put 
moratoriums on any opening until they figure it out."

By law anyone can open a medical marijuana co-op, but people that 
provide the marijuana to be sold - and those who buy it - must be 
state-registered patients or caregivers, Gvozdenovic said.

"State law says it is OK for citizens to come together and dispense 
medical marijuana," Gvozdenovic said. He added that in areas not yet 
set up to process medical marijuana dispensary applications, co-ops 
often obtain business licenses to sell herbal or holistic medicine.

"Technically holistic medicine covers marijuana, but most counties 
are coming out with a specific license for it," Gvozdenovic said. "We 
recommend to anyone wanting to open a dispensary to work with the 
local law as best they can and discourage the mentality of 'the law 
has passed, I'm just going to do it no matter what the authorities say.'"

However, in Vallejo the process of opening a medical marijuana 
dispensary has been clearly defined, Quintana said. An herbal 
medicine business license is not enough, she said.

"Marijuana is illegal under federal law," Quintana said. "It is not 
considered holistic medicine, it's drugs and it's illegal."

Gvozdenovic said Oakland's regulations allow four dispensaries to 
operate - there once were 12 - if they comply with all city requirements.

"Oakland has specific guidelines that include a license fee that 
sends money back to the city and sales tax that sends money to the 
state," Gvozdenovic said. "It's kind of like liquor licenses. The 
money a city can make from dispensaries is a great incentive for them 
to be allowed."

Gvozdenovic said medical marijuana dispensaries could provide a whole 
new avenue for revenue for cash-strapped Vallejo.

"There are, of course, regulations like any other business. Zoning 
rules specify where they can be, like it must be a certain distance 
from a school and the business must be in compliance with electrical 
and fire codes," Gvozdenovic said.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, marijuana is a 
dangerous, addictive drug with no medical value that can't be met 
more effectively by legal drugs. The agency also claims, "Drug 
legalizers use 'medical marijuana' as a red herring in efforts to 
advocate broader legalization of drug use."

Casey McEnry, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency 
said, "We enforce the Controlled Substance Act and the Supreme 
Court's rulings that said no to the medical marijuana argument. 
Marijuana has not met the safe and effective test yet."

McEnry referenced two Supreme Court cases, Raiche v. Ashcroft in 2005 
and U.S. vs. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative in 2001.

The court rulings stated those who try to use marijuana as a medical 
treatment risk legal action by the U.S. DEA and that marijuana is an 
illegal substance with no medical value, respectively.

The DOJ cites a 1999 Institute of Medicine study on marijuana's 
potential health benefits that concluded smoked marijuana is not 
recommended for the treatment of any disease or condition and that 
more effective medications are available.

However, a study released this year by the American College of 
Physicians concluded there are numerous potential medical uses for 
marijuana and its ability to counteract HIV wasting and 
chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting have been well documented.

The ACP said more research is needed and supports funding for 
scientific evaluation of potential therapeutic benefits.

But the study reports research has been hindered by the debate over 
legalization and a complicated federal approval process, limiting the 
availability of research-grade marijuana.

Gvozdenovic said the federal government should reexamine its 
classification of marijuana as a drug which, like heroin and ecstasy, 
has a high tendency for abuse and no medicinal value.

The government classifies Marinol and other prescription pills with 
THC, marijuana's active ingredient, as drugs with less abuse 
potential and these are currently accepted for medical use.

"The fact that Marinol, which is 100 percent THC is classified level 
three and marijuana is 12 to 15 percent THC and classified as a level 
one doesn't make any sense," Gvozdenovic said.

Linda Jimenez, secretary and treasurer of the Solano Patients Group, 
a local chapter of the Compassionate Coalition which defends medical 
marijuana patients' rights, said there are hundreds of medical 
marijuana patients in Solano County.

She said she had just heard about a co-op opening in Vallejo but had 
not yet visited the establishment.

"There is a great need for medicine in Solano County," Jimenez said. 
"Most of the patients in our group are in Fairfield or Vallejo, but 
they are in every city in the county."

Jimenez also said a co-op in Vallejo could potentially be a big 
source of income for the city.

"People from every end of the county would go to Vallejo to get their 
medicine instead of having to travel outside the county. It would 
bring a huge amount of revenue to the city." Jimenez said.
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