Pubdate: Sun, 17 Oct 2010
Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Marin Independent Journal
Author: Richard Halstead
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


With the state's unemployment rate topping 12 percent and government 
leaders desperate for jobs and tax revenue, four West Marin 
entrepreneurs think they have part of the answer.

Their new business, Medi-Cone, employs about a dozen people in the 
cultivation, harvesting and packaging of medical marijuana for 
several Bay Area dispensaries.

"This is a home business, but we're growing fast," said Matthew 
Witemyre, the company's chief of staff.

The operation is cloaked in secrecy: The man who owns the West Marin 
house where the business is situated didn't want the exact location 
or his identity revealed due to twin security concerns: thieves and 
federal drug agents. He noted that even though he is abiding by the 
state's medical marijuana law, growing marijuana remains a federal offense.

He said he financed the business with money he made with another 
successful, mainstream venture. He met his partners -- Witemyre; Jeff 
Studdard, a former Los Angeles County police officer; and Joseph 
Gubernatis -- while attending classes at Oaksterdam University in Oakland.

Founded in 2007 by Richard Lee, Oaksterdam University is basically a 
trade school for the medical marijuana industry. Oaksterdam is a 
district on the north end of downtown Oakland where medical cannabis 
can be purchased at a variety of cafes, clubs and dispensaries.

"We all went through the program at Oaksterdam University," Witemyre 
said. "I was a teacher there for about a year."

Recently, the group invited representatives from the United Food and 
Commercial Workers Union, Local 5, to organize the members of the collective.

"Every one of our employees and board members are patients or 
caregivers," Witemyre said.

"I want them paid well," said the West Marin homeowner. "I want them 
to have good benefits. I want them to have a 401(k). I want it to be 
a real job, not one where the owner is making all the money and 
everybody gets used and shoved out. The union is the best way to do that."

Medi-Cone employees are paid an average of $25 an hour.

Dan Rush, the union's director of special operations, said Local 5 
previously organized the 200 employees that work for S.K. Seymour, 
the holding company for most of the Oaksterdam businesses. Local 5 
has 32,000 members in California and represents many grocery and food 
processing workers.

"Welcome to the birth of an industry," Rush said.

Witemyre said Medi-Cone's success is not dependent on passage of 
Proposition 19, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana 
for adults in California.

"We're medical cannabis providers, when Prop. 19 passes we're going 
to be medical cannabis providers. That's our business plan," Witemyre said.

Medi-Cone grows most of its pot in indoor grow rooms situated behind 
the West Marin house. But it has a sizable number of plants outside 
on the spacious patio.

"All my neighbors know what I'm doing here," the homeowner said.

Witemyre said Medi-Cone is producing 500 to 600 cigarettes a day from 
20 to 25 varieties of marijuana. The marijuana is various hybrids of 
sativa and indica that sell under such names as Trainwreck, Hawaiian 
Haze Afgoo and Grand Daddy Purple -- winner of Oaksterdam 
University's Cannabis Cup for the best marijuana last year.

Rush said, "They have the best cannabis in the industry and everybody 
knows it."

The growers say they are trying to be as organic as possible: The 
plants are all grown hydroponically in a medium consisting of ground 
coconut shells; only organic fertilizers are used and pesticides 
along with pesticides that have been judged safe for human 
consumption. The finished product is tested in an Oakland lab to 
determine its cannabinoid profile and to detect any molds or pathogenic fungus.

Witemyre said, "We're trying to set best practices and do some self 
regulation because we know as this industry comes on line there is 
going to be regulations placed on it by governing bodies. We'd rather 
help set the standards than be playing catch-up."

Medi-Cone -- so-named for the cone-shaped marijuana cigarettes it 
produces -- grinds the buds produced by its plants and uses them to 
make large cigarettes that sell for $15 to $16 each. Witemyre said an 
ounce of top-quality buds currently retails for about $400.

Witemyre wouldn't say exactly how many plants Medi-Cone has or what 
they're worth, but he said it works with fewer than 100. He said a 
state law passed in 2003 to clarify the law governing how many plants 
medical marijuana growers can have specified six adult plants and 
eight ounces of buds. But Witemyre said a recent court decision found 
those limits to be unconstitutional.

"We're operating as a cooperative," Witemyre said. "Patients in 
California can cooperatively or collectively come together to grow 
medicine for each other and distribute it to each other."

Medi-Cone's marijuana is sold at the Marin Alliance for Medical 
Marijuana in Fairfax and at the Blue Sky Coffee Shop in Oaksterdam.

"We are only in permitted licensed dispensaries," Witemyre said, "and 
we have reciprocal agreements wherein they're joining our collective 
and we're joining theirs."

Marin County Sheriff Bob Doyle said neither he nor any of his 
officers knew anything about Medi-Cone.

"I don't know if that is lawful or not," Doyle said. "Collectives 
have sort of been exempt from the law because there is an assumption 
that people are growing it for each other and not selling it. I would 
have to check with the district attorney's office.

"I don't know where it is," he said. "I'm certainly not going to send 
deputies to comb West Marin to find it."

In addition to its joints, Medi-Cone sells hash and bagged marijuana.

Witemyre said, "We're hoping to have a full integrated line under the 
Medi-Cone label."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom