Pubdate: Tue, 08 Feb 2011
Source: Record, The (Stockton, CA)
Copyright: 2011 The Record
Author: Lori Gilbert
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


As San Joaquin County officials work their way toward an ordinance 
allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries, I hope they don't follow 
the path of City of Stockton leaders, deciding to punish the people 
who brought the need for them to the forefront and prompted them to 
take action.

When the Stockton City Council finally grants three permits to those 
wanting to operate medical marijuana dispensaries, Lynn Smith and the 
rest of the Central Valley Caregivers Cooperative, formerly Pathways, 
won't receive one.

The city, which went to court to close down Pathways after it opened 
on Acacia Street with a business license to sell health foods, 
supplements and herbal remedies, wrote into its ordinance a 
stipulation that no one who had illegally operated such a business 
would be granted a permit now.

Hopefully San Joaquin County, which is faced with Central Valley 
Caregivers operating without a business license on county land, won't 
be so retaliatory.

That hope doesn't stem from cooperative members conducting a coat 
drive in January, gathering more than 1,200 coats for a local family 
homeless shelter.

It's not even because Lynn Smith, the founder and director of the 
group, seems genuinely sincere when he talks about his motivation to 
help patients in need of medical marijuana.

Rather, the stories of the members themselves suggest that if you're 
going to have these outlets in your community - which, by the way, 
I'm in favor of - Central Valley Caregivers ought to be used as a model.

The manager of the operation, Roger, was hired by Smith to "run a 
retail operation."

"I came in sight unseen," Roger said.

His belief in Smith, a businessman who most recently operated as a 
contractor, prompted Roger to take the job, and he admits some 
hesitation when he realized the herbal remedies included marijuana.

"After the second day we opened and I started seeing the patients, my 
outlook changed 180 degrees," Roger said. "I'd recommend anybody come 
and sit inside there and listen to the talks and discussions. It is 
not at all what anybody would think."

Smith admits he questions whether some of the members need marijuana 
to manage pain or other medical conditions. They receive it, though, 
because they've obtained a letter of recommendation from their 
physicians. Smith's staff verifies the authenticity of the letter, 
and also checks to make sure the physician hasn't had a violation or 
had his or her license revoked.

The majority of the members, though, are people like Lafayette, a 
30-year-old who suffers from, among other conditions, scoliosis and 
restrictive breathing.

He's undergone 27 surgeries in his life for a number of problems. He 
started taking prescription medication at 5. By age 19, when he moved 
back to California from Texas to undergo cranial surgery, he was up 
to about 15 pills a day.

"Being on that much medication, people don't understand all the harm 
that does to your body," said Lafayette, which is an alias he's 
chosen for himself. "All those prescription drugs are like a wet 
Band-Aid. They're a way to cope with the issue, but you never get any 
better. What it does is break down your body, slowly but surely."

Lafayette began self-medicating with marijuana 10 years ago, and even 
with low-grade pot sold on the street, the difference was significant.

"I was always in the hospital two to three times a year," Lafayette 
said. "Somebody would cough and a couple days later I'm in the 
hospital with pneumonia. I've only been in the hospital three times 
in the last eight years."

Further, he said he wakes up and can get moving without the help of 
his mom, and doesn't feel the constant pain he previously experienced.

Upon the election of Barack Obama, who halted the federal raids on 
marijuana dispensaries in states that allowed them, Lafayette 
obtained the recommendation from a physician to buy marijuana through 
a medical dispensary.

"You know what you're getting is safe," Lafayette said. "You can get 
anything offered to you on the street, but here, everything is 
organic. There's no pesticides, no impurities."

Getting a safe product previously required a trip to Oakland or 
Sacramento, the two closest cities that allow medical marijuana dispensaries.

Smith, 60 and semi-retired, said he just wanted to end those long commutes.

"We had a very close friend of the family, a friend of our children, 
diagnosed with cancer," Smith said. "He was a blue-chip kid, smart, 
friendly, a musician, an artist, went to Cal Poly. He finally 
succumbed to cancer, and the last six months of his life he spent 
half of his time going to Sacramento or Oakland for medication. I 
said, 'This doesn't make sense. Quality of life has got to be worth 
something. The last six months of life should not be wasted.'

"It was so unfair. A lot of people wanted to open a place (in 
Stockton), but were leery for obvious reasons. I said, 'Wow, I'm 60 
years old. There's not a lot they can do to me.' I decided to jump in 
and give it a go."

The not-for-profit venture has cost thousands of dollars in court 
costs and attorney fees, but Smith has gained something, too.

He's found he has compassion he never knew existed. His wife works 
with the disabled, his daughter's a nurse and his son a veterinarian. 
He didn't know he had that caring for others in him, but when the 
city closed Pathways, he found he couldn't turn his back on the co-op 
members he says number about 5,000.

"Our members were devastated," Smith said. "Two went out on the 
street to buy it and were accosted and robbed. I thought, 'I just 
can't do this.' I feel responsible."

He opened a place on county land, and awaits the arrival of an 
ordinance ending the moratorium against businesses such as his that now exists.

The county could, like the city, freeze him out when it begins to 
allow dispensaries. It seems a shame, though, that the first person 
to recognize the need for such a business would be the first to be 
erased from the picture.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom