Pubdate: Sun, 20 Sep 2009
Source: Napa Valley Register (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Lee Enterprises
Author: Kevin Courtney


As City Considers Medical Marijuana; Sebastopol Shows How It Is Done

These are tough times in Sebastopol. Two auto dealers have closed. 
Plants that once processed Gravenstein apples sit empty.

Amid this economic wreckage, Peace in Medicine is a roaring success. 
Opening in 2007, Peace in Medicine will reach 10,000 customers and 
generate $5 million in revenues this year, requiring the opening of a 
second storefront. What is Peace in Medicine selling that the public 
is clamoring to buy? Medical marijuana.

With the Obama administration ending the threat of federal raids, 
medical cannabis clinics have exploded in California. As part of that 
trend, the city of Napa is drafting rules that would allow marijuana 
dispensaries. In the popular imagination, a pot clinic is a funky 
place with over-stuffed couches and hippie beads hanging in the 
doorway. A sweet-smelling haze fills the air.

In testimony before the Napa City Council this summer, local 
residents touted Peace in Medicine as the kind of pot dispensary that 
Napa could be proud of. Instead of seediness, a clinical atmosphere 
worthy of mainstream medicine.

Instead of furtiveness, a desire to be a full participant in community life.

With a population of 7,800, Sebastopol is a city in western Sonoma 
County one-tenth Napa's size. If Napa is blue collar with growing 
wine country sophistication, Sebastopol is decidedly counter-cultural.

Peace in Medicine hides in plain sight on a busy roadway at the front 
of a small commercial center. The clinic rents a building last 
occupied by a failed Ford dealership.

Outside the front door, a "safety host" monitors the parking lot. 
Patients must show a California photo ID before being buzzed through 
a locked door.

The waiting room is as antiseptic and clinical as Queen of the Valley 
Medical Center, but with a sound system cranking out a techno beat. 
The man in charge is Robert Jacob, a bearded 32-year-old with a 
zealous belief in the benefits of medical cannabis.

"It's safer and more effective than just about all pharmaceuticals," 
Jacob said. "I believe in natural medicine rather than Western 
medicine whenever possible."

Jacob signaled the opening of another locked door, admitting his 
visitor to a sales room where a cornucopia of cannabis products were 
on display in glass cases.

Marijuana buds called "Moonstone," recommended for "spacey sedation, 
evening appropriate," were on sale, $54 for an eighth of an ounce. 
For the same price, "Lemon Skunk" offered "lifted euphoria, daytime 

For those who want to eat, not smoke, their medicinal relief, Peace 
in Medicine offered cannabis in cookies, lozenges and bars of both 
dark and milk chocolate.

To promote sales on slow Mondays, customers who spend $50 or more 
spin a wheel to win prizes, including free massages, a $5 joint or a 
cannabis chocolate bar.

Jacob, who has used medical marijuana since he was a teenager, said 
he wanted Peace in Medicine to be the poster child for successful 
cannabis clinics. He envisioned a clinic that would be friendly, 
secure, with a level of accountability and transparency that would 
put patients and the community at ease. "When I was a patient at 
dispensaries, I never felt good about it," he said of clinics in other cities.

Peace in Medicine, representing a coalition of local residents, beat 
out two other applicants for Sebastopol's first medical cannabis 
permit. Peace in Medicine promised to do everything the city wanted 
and more, Jacob said.

Profits from medicinal marijuana subsidize an adjacent "healing 
center," which offers a daily lineup of inexpensive yoga, acupuncture 
and massage.

At the city's annual Apple Blossom parade, Peace in Medicine sponsors 
a float. Peace in Medicine staffers attend chamber of commerce 
mixers. Last year the clinic's community donations totaled $100,000, 
Jacob said.

Upside-Down Town?

When the Sebastopol City Council decided to allow cannabis clinics, 
viewing medical marijuana as a "social justice issue and a health 
issue," Police Chief Jeffrey Weaver remembers receiving a warning 
from a friend in Mendocino County. "It will turn your town upside 
down," the friend said.

That hasn't happened, Weaver said. Peace in Freedom runs a tight 
operation. "There's been no vandalism. There's been no theft. There's 
no loitering. There are no stoned outbursts from patients," he said.

On Monday, 30 steps from Peace in Medicine's front door, Paula 
Downing was watching her 4-year-old grandson play on a toy locomotive.

Asked her opinion of Peace in Medicine, Downing said it must be 
operating OK since the local newspaper never carries negative news about it.

Asked where Peace in Medicine was located, Downing said she had no 
idea. Told it was just behind her, she let out a hearty laugh.

Sebastopol Councilman Larry Robinson said he was the "most skeptical" 
member of the council when the dispensary opened. He feared what 
could go wrong that city officials hadn't anticipated.

"We've had none of the kinds of complaints that some people 
imagined," Robinson said. "I've done a major shift in my thinking."

While Weaver considers Peace in Medicine one of the best-run clinics 
in the state, he has a lawman's reservations about the "murky" 
California laws that allow them.

"I do believe in medical marijuana, but with many more restrictions 
than now," Weaver said. "I know the vast majority of people using 
medical marijuana could be better served by other medicines or don't 
need it at all."

A substantial number of Peace in Medicine patients are obtaining 
marijuana for recreational toking, not for medical needs, Weaver 
suspects. In candid conversations, some clinic customers have 
admitted this, he said.

This loophole isn't with Peace in Medicine's operation, but with 
state law, Weaver said. A medical doctor is allowed to write a 
marijuana recommendation for any illness for which the physician 
thinks marijuana can provide relief.

When state voters passed Prop. 215 in 1996, they believed they were 
authorizing marijuana relief for seriously ill patients who were 
wasting away, the chief said.

Nowadays, anyone asserting headaches, menstrual cramps or anxiety can 
get a physician's authorization, Weaver said. Writing marijuana 
authorizations has become the core of some doctors' practices. 
Physicians advertise their services on the Internet, he said.

Councilman Robinson doesn't doubt that some patients are obtaining 
pot just to get high, "but they're only damaging themselves," he 
said. "I'm convinced that most of the patients there are really using 
it for medical purposes."

Amanda Leary, who teaches yoga at Peace in Medicine's healing center, 
said she had used medical marijuana for menstrual discomfort.

"You know you're buying from a reputable source," said Leary, who 
described other cannabis clinics as "average at best," without Peace 
in Medicine's emphasis on patient education and holistic healing.

By learning to use acupuncture and other herbal products, she no 
longer needs marijuana, Leary said.

James Ketchum, a retired 77-year-old psychiatrist, said he gets 
medical marijuana from Peace in Medicine to cope with severe 
insomnia. "Just a few puffs on a marijuana cigarette allows me to 
sleep through the night," he said.

Marijuana works better than other sleep products, without side 
effects, Ketchum said. Unfortunately, the expense isn't covered 
byMedicare, he said.

Jim, a 52-year-old salesman who declined to give his full name, 
smokes marijuana before bed for insomnia.

He once got medical pot from a clinic in Los Angeles that was "dark 
and dingy and more like going back in the alley."

Jim said he liked the fact that Peace in Medicine certifies its 
product as organic. "If you're using it as a medicine, you don't want 
anything with sprays and toxic stuff," he said.

A Growing Business

The biggest challenge in opening Peace in Medicine was finding a 
landlord willing to rent to a cannabis operation, Jacob said. Some 50 
landlords turned him down, often at the urging of their lenders and 
insurers, before a Ford dealership folded and an owner had a change 
of heart, he said.

Sebastopol's ordinance restricts clinics to commercial areas, at 
least 500 feet from schools and parks, which reduced the pool of 
potential sites, he said.

The city recently allowed Peace in Medicine to open a second 
dispensary. Finding a place to rent was much easier this time, Jacob 
said. Because of the economy, there are more vacancies. Peace in 
Medicine has a track record. The new clinic will be next to a Starbucks.

In nearly two years of operation, Peace in Medicine has had only one 
criminal event -- a night break-in last May. "Thankfully, there was 
nobody there," said Weaver, noting that one burglar, according to the 
video recording, carried a shotgun.

"I guess they thought there would be bales of pot. They brought lawn 
and leaf bags," the chief said. Because the city requires all cash 
and marijuana to be locked in a vault at night. The burglars got 
nothing, he said.

To put the burglary at Peace in Medicine in perspective, Weaver noted 
that so far this year his city has had robberies at gunpoint of both 
a bank and an armored car.

Legal cannabis clinics are a way to take away profits from illegal 
marijuana growers, Jacob said. His clinic obtains all of its medicine 
from patients who are encouraged to grow plants at home and sell back, he said.

Because of Peace in Medicine's reputation, nine groups from Napa have 
contacted him for advice and possible partnerships once the city 
adopts rules for permitting cannabis clinics, Jacob said.

A Napa clinic should be run by Napans, Jacob said, but he might be 
willing to act as a consultant.

Napa Councilman Mark van Gorder, whose mother lives in Sebastopol, 
said he intends to tour Peace in Medicine and interview Chief Weaver 
before the clinic issue comes back to the Napa council next spring.

Addressing the Napa Police Department's security concerns will be 
essential before he would vote to allow a marijuana clinic in Napa, 
van Gorder said.

As the California public becomes increasingly comfortable with 
marijuana, Councilman Robinson predicts that cannabis will soon 
become legal for both pleasure and pain.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has invited Californians to debate this 
issue, noting that taxing marijuana could raise billions of dollars 
for the state treasury.

Sebastopol City Manager Jack Griffin said Peace in Medicine may pay 
as much as $50,000 in sales tax this year, putting it among the 
city's top 10 payers.

"In this economy, there aren't many businesses that are growing," he said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake