Pot club asks city for help

August 30, 2007

Dana Yates, San Mateo Daily Journal (CA)

For more than a year, the Patient’s Choice Resource Cooperative distributed marijuana to 800 members quietly in San Mateo — until federal drug agents closed down the operation Wednesday.

Now the lead director of PCRC is making some noise, urging the San Mateo City Council to enact a policy that supports marijuana dispensaries for sick patients. Meanwhile, city officials say there is no plan to enact any marijuana dispensary policy. Instead, they will follow state and federal laws which make no provisions for such uses.

PCRC, located at 164 South Blvd., was one of three San Mateo dispensaries raided by Drug Enforcement Agents and San Mateo Police Wednesday. The other two dispensaries are located at 397 S. Claremont St. and 60 Third Ave., according to a list online list of San Mateo cannabis clubs. With search warrants in hand, agents discovered 50 pounds of processed marijuana, hash, marijuana-laced edibles and $30,000 in cash.

“I don’t see how they can just come in here ... it’s rude,” PCRC director Johnrico Carrnshimba said of Wednesday’s raids. “I’ve tried to keep an open line of communication with them the whole time.”

PCRC obtained its business license through the city and opened more than a year ago near the corner of El Camino Real and Tilton Avenue. At that time, PCRC invited police to visit the center and was willing to make changes to comply with the law. Changes PCRC made include providing a caregiver on site and increasing the amount of educational resources available for patients. Police also claimed the center was for profit rather than nonprofit, Carrnshimba said.

Carrnshimba insists the center is not for profit, adding that agents only seized approximately $200 and enough marijuana to serve five to six patients.

PCRC opened in June 2006 with a business license from the city and a card to provide marijuana issued by San Mateo Medical Center. Its cooperative membership allows it to see about five or six patients a week. It has a special resource center, holds meetings and provides consultation for patients, Carrnshimba said.

Patients must have a state medical marijuana card issued by San Mateo Medical Center, a doctor’s recommendation and valid state identification, Carrnshimba said.

The main point of contention between the clubs and police is how much they were a cooperative and how much they were a dispensary making money off the sale of marijuana. A cooperative is when patients pool their resources to cultivate and distribute marijuana. That is something the three clubs were not doing, said District Attorney Jim Fox.

“The only thing they are collecting is money,” Fox said.

There is no federal law regulating medical marijuana. State law passed in 1996 regulating medical marijuana is vague. With proper approval, the law allows state residents to grow medical marijuana themselves, allow a primary caregiver to grow it for them or participate in a cooperative. A number of state court of appeals decisions have cleared some of the ambiguity and ruled that the law does not apply to dispensaries, Fox said.

San Mateo County will enforce the state law. However, individual cities are free to form their own laws governing medical marijuana centers. South San Francisco recently passed an ordinance limiting the centers. Colma voted last week to ban them.

The city of San Mateo has no plans to draft any ordinances supporting or prohibiting the centers, City Manager Arne Croce said.

Carrnshimba plans to address the City Council at its Tuesday meeting. He still feels slighted by local officials who allowed him to open the center. He tried to do right by local and state ordinances, maintain a friendly relationship with police and was still shut down, he said.

“It’s sort of sad that they decided to do this and how they did it,” Carrnshimba said. “We’re only helping people here.”

Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: dana@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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