Pubdate: Tue, 17 Feb 2009
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2009 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Tamara Barak Aparton
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SAN FRANCISCO - One might guess that  tough economic times would only 
fuel the desire for  mind-altering substances. For San Francisco's 
cannabis  clubs, however, nothing could be further from the  truth.

The deepening economic crisis has hit the dispensaries  hard, forcing 
the nonprofit collectives to cut staff,  business hours and donations 
to charities.

Charlie Alazraie, manager of Bay Area Safe  Alternatives, said 
business has dropped about 60  percent since summer, as the economy 
forces patients to  buy smaller quantities. Alazraie had to let go of 
one  full-time employee and two part-time workers at the  small 
Western Addition collective.

Also halted were donations to soup kitchens and  low-cost health 
clinics that serve many of BASA's  patients. The previously 
profitable collective was hit  with a penalty last quarter after 
paying their sales  tax late for the first time.

"This year we're going to be so much in the red, I  don't want to 
find out. I know it's going to be ugly,"  Alazraie said. "We're in 
arrears with our vendors, with  architects, with everything."

The collective has always had a commitment to provide  free medical 
marijuana for those in impossible  situations - people who are 
critically ill and living  in poverty were subsidized with money set 
aside from  sales. In the past, the number of people who qualified 
hovered around 36. Today, there are 60.

The recession hit right after many San Francisco pot  clubs had spent 
tens of thousands of dollars to comply  with legislation passed in 
2005 requiring them to meet  city permit regulations.

Kevin Reed, founder of the Green Cross, which delivers  medical 
marijuana to patients in San Francisco, said  his sales are down 25 
percent in the past 40 days, and  dropped 45 percent in the past two weeks.

To survive, the collective cut its hours and cut its 12  employees' 
pay by $2 an hour.

"It's amazing to me," Reed said. "It's an industry I  never thought 
could be affected."

Reed said he thought marijuana would be a  recession-proof product, 
much like alcohol.

"I always heard that if the economy went bad, people  would be 
depressed," he said. "The whole theory got  blown out the window for me."

The cost of the pot hasn't risen, but the $300-an-ounce  price tag 
has become a heavy burden for people who have  lost their jobs and 
cut back on expenses. Insurance  does not cover medicinal marijuana.

"The only busy day we've had in the past 40 days is  when we offered 
a one-third off discount for veterans,"  Reed said. "It seemed like 
half the veterans in the  state signed up."

Green sector

The recession is weighing on medical pot sales in The City.

30 Known medical marijuana dispensaries (clubs and  delivery 
services) in San Francisco

2 Known medical marijuana dispensaries (clubs and  delivery services) 
in San Mateo

$103 Cost of state medical marijuana card

$300 Approximate cost of an ounce of medical marijuana

Sources: San Francisco Health Department, The Green  Cross,
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom