San Diego medicinal marijuana co-op, patient shatter stereotypes

April 10, 2011

Esther Rubio-Sheffrey, San Diego Gay & Lesbian News

Seaside Herb Company, a full service medical marijuana collective that offers comfort and wellness, is nestled between businesses in Pacific Beach. Although its exterior is bright yellow, this cottage-style storefront blends in so well that even the small sign hanging from the window does not reveal that the small business legally sells marijuana products.

In an exclusive interview, San Diego Gay & Lesbians News steps inside to speak with Seaside employee Erika and Seaside client and patient Vey Linville, about public misconceptions about such stores, the co-op’s community involvement, and what they stand to lose if the San Diego City Council passes strict new ordinances at its meeting on Tuesday, April 12.

“The biggest misconception people have is that co-ops bring crime into neighborhoods, and make marijuana accessible to their children, which is completely false,” Erika said.

Linville, who has been a patient for about 15 months, knows a lot about the legality of medical marijuana, as he is also the East County Coordinator of Americans for Safe Access’ San Diego Chapter.

“Crime in our communities is at its lowest point since 1963,” Linville said. “The sheriff’s website illustrates this clearly in black and white. The only surge in crime that stands out in that picture is the time when the collectives were closed for two years, so it is very easy to make that correlation.”

Seaside Herb Company is one of the smaller co-ops in San Diego. It operates as a members-only collective, abides by all regulations set forth by the state, and implement its own guidelines.

“Seaside is a different kind of place, and has a number of rules that go beyond the norm,” Linville said. “It is part of what makes it very comfortable to come here. Nothing about their environment fits that paradigm of a negative stereotype. It is a very calm, clean, quiet, peaceful and adult-spa type of environment.

“While a lot of others accept patients as young as 18 years old, which is perfectly legal, at Seaside you have to be 21, they have guidelines for growers, and it is very safe.”

“Not everyone has the same rules,” Erika added. “We are stricter because we have an idea of what we want and by keeping it more close and small, it keeps it more legit. Of course, any patient can get medicine, but our member grower program is set up so that we do not associate with vendors who come down during certain seasons from Northern California and want to quickly sell their excess supply. We don’t want to partake in that.

“Ideally, the way that a co-op is supposed to work is as a collective of people growing marijuana and sharing their medicine. But not everyone can grow. It takes great skill to grow good medicine, and it is very costly.”

Seaside’s grower guidelines state that a grower must be a member of Seaside Herb Company for a minimum of 60 days before any of their goods are purchased. Growers must also provide a two-gram sample of their product to be tested for THC, CBD, mold and pesticide content; and all suppliers are required to fill out a W-9 tax form.

With regards to the non-profit status, Linville said that, “the Attorney General guidelines simply state the dispensary has to operate in a not-for-profit basis. There are a number of ways in which the co-ops share their profits.”

“We do get compensated for being here and helping the patients,” Erika said. “But the money we make as profit goes to different charities or back to patients in the form of generous discounts.

“Believe it or not though, it is really hard to give money away to people when it comes from this kind of industry. Most of the people we have approached do not want work with us; they don’t want to show us a sponsor, so we are looking into other forms of giving back to our community like beach clean-ups.

One of the charities they do work with is Mama’s Kitchen. Seaside is not only helping with their food drive, but Mama’s Kitchen AIDS patients also get certain edibles for free.

“We really want to give back to our community in any way we can,” Erika said. “Anywhere we can give our money we will.”

“They tend to be one of the lowest priced co-ops in town,” Linville said. “I have great confidence in the integrity of their medicine. From a patient’s perspective they have been more than compassionate with me. Without batting an eyelash they bend over backwards to help me get what I need, and I know they have never been close to being properly compensated.

“It is very different than the paradigm that the public has of the storefront drug dealers, that is not what is going on here. I have yet to see the kinds of things you read about in some papers myself, and I have been in most co-ops in the city.”

In addition to its flower form, medicinal marijuana is also available as edibles, capsules, lotions, concentrates, oils, olive oil, peanut butter, honey and several other ways. All of which are purchased from certified vendors.

Linville’s prescription

Three years ago, Linville was diagnosed with severe infazema, and has since been relying on an oxygen tank.

“In the beginning they kept giving me more and more drugs,” Linville said. “I was even taking stomach medicine to keep all the other pills down. I lost my job and subsequently my insurance, so it go to the point where I had to literally pay cash for every breath and buy all the medicines.”

Some of Linville’s prescriptions cost a lot of money. In order to afford to fill them all, he began buying medicine from other countries for a fraction of the cost.

“I found a place that delivered for $30 a month a medication that cost me $350 here,” Linville said. “But I was dealing with a company from New Zealand that shipped from India. I had drugs coming in the mailbox from all over the world.

“Not only did I live under constant fear of arrest for filling my prescriptions, but they were killing me faster than the disease.”

Out of desperation, he turned to medicinal marijuana.

“I was in primary pulmonary failure and quite frankly dying. The doctors told me to put my affairs in order, and I got desperate,” he said. “I learned through research that hemp oil was sold by many drug companies in America all through the 1800s in every drugstore. Up until the '30s, you could go out and buy medicine just like this.”

Linville carries with him a little dropper bottle with his sativa medication in the form of an oil, which he drops into his tea every five hours.

“I could barely drag my tank behind me when I went to the first co-op,” Linville recalled. “If there had not been a robust community of many co-ops in San Diego who were able to cooperatively come together and provide me with the large quantities of concentrates like this, I would not have survived.

“It took over 4 ounces of concentrated kief oil before I started getting better. I would have never been able to buy that on the black market. And I was very sick, I could have never produced this kind of medicine.”

In the first 10 weeks, Linville said he had to take large doses, but now takes a lot less, and more importantly, he is no longer taking any prescriptions.

“As far as the doctors are concerned,” Linville said. “I am still a terminally ill patient and expected to die. However, I don’t think that is the case. I was obviously dying before and I am obviously not dying now. I still need oxygen, but I absolutely feel much better."

But what about the kids?

“Nobody here is bothering anybody,” Linville said. “I am certainly not a threat to the neighborhood children!"

If there are concerns about kids getting medical cards and buying marijuana, Linville and Erika feel those issues begin with the doctors issuing the cards. They both state that nobody is looking at them, and the co-ops do their part by checking proper identification.

Additionally, they both feel that the co-op’s younger patients are unfairly judged.

“This is an issue that has been from the beginning, been about racism, bigotry, hate and the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality,” Linville said. “I was really bigoted about this when I first started. I saw all these young males, in general not really well-dressed, and I had a lot of opinions about that. It did not matter that when I was younger I used marijuana recreationally, I still had all those opinions, but I was wrong.

“It is so bigoted and prejudicial for people to say that because of someone’s age that they are not ill. They may not be obviously ill but for the community to look at a segment of our society and say ‘I can tell from their age and their clothes that they’re not really sick’ is just wrong. You don’t know if that person has AIDS or some other life-threatening disease.”

“There are so many things that marijuana can help with and not all of them are obvious,” Erika said. “For example, we get a lot of young people who have MS, others suffer from chronic migraines. Marijuana in all is forms is basically an alternative drug for all sorts of other drugs, and I think it is your civil right to choose what you put in your body.”

Some co-ops have been accused of hiring thugs as security guards, or of trying to keep their storefronts hidden, and again Linville and Erika both feel those are misconceptions.

“Sure, there are dangers involved when you have a business that brings in more revenue then other retail stores,” Erika said. “Banks have to have security guards and the new ordinances will mandate that we also have a security guard here for safety reasons, which I understand.

“But it’s not like we are trying to hide. We just want to be discrete and respect our neighbors. It is different in every neighborhood. In OB, they are really embraced and a lot of the co-ops there have murals and are easily identifiable, but here it is a little more family-oriented, and we want to be discrete and professional. If their kids walk by, we do not want them to think, 'Oh my God, there is pot in there.'”

“I am not trying to decide this for everyone,” Linville added. “But I would rather, if the co-ops that I go into didn’t have a flashing 16-foot neon leaf. Seaside has a nice-looking place that fits in with the things around them, and belongs. Many other co-ops do the same thing. They fit into the neighborhoods in a positive way and are not a negative presence.

“I am a parent. I have kids, my youngest daughter is a National Merit Scholar, a very good student, and one thing does not have to do with the other. She knows that I use this for medicine, and she knows that has nothing to do with her being too stoned to do her calculus. I know that if I saw anyone selling to a minor I would call the police myself, and so would every patient that I know. I have never seen anything like that go on in these co-ops.”

Regulations and the fight with City Hall

Many medicinal marijuana advocates are concerned that the new ordinances the City Council will vote on for a second time tomorrow, will affectively shut down every co-op in San Diego. When they reopen, they will be able to do so in few areas, mostly in industrial zones.

“No one wants to be put out of business, and we don’t want our patients to go without medicine,” Erika said. “These ordinances make it very difficult for people to get their medicine, and there’s no reason why. This is a state law that is being trampled by zoning issues.

“Even if we found a place zoned according to the ordinance, we would still have to apply for a process 3 permit. That can take up to a year to get approved, meaning our patients would have to wait, and that makes it very hard. In PB, there would be no place to open because they have said no commercial buildings.”

Linville and Erika have been actively involved in attempting to persuade the City Ccouncil not to enact such strict ordinances, but there is a mutual sentiment that the councilmembers are not listening to the needs of their constituents.

“The councilmembers nominated members to a Medical Marijuana Task Force,” Linville said. “They let them work for two years, they praised their efforts at the City Council meeting, and they have completely ignored everything they have said. Instead of compromise, they have thrown the baby out with the bath water.”

“I think they think we don’t want to be regulated or that we don’t want rules, but that is the complete opposite,” Erika said. “I don’t understand where their thinking is coming from. I would like to see them implement regulation that is fair for smaller businesses to operate. The new process is very expensive.

“It is also a business, and it is great way to stimulate the economy, a great way to help people get jobs. This industry has helped so many people get off unemployment that it is ridiculous, and for them to shut us all down is just going to make our economic situation ten times worse.

“Everything is in the air right now, until the council votes,” she added. “But it seems our only option will be litigation. Yes, we can just give up, but nobody wants to do that, so it’s going to be a very expensive battle, and it is just sad because the city is broke, and all this taxpayer money could be put to a better use.”

“There is no doubt that a lot of co-ops will sue immediately,” Linville said. “ There will also be patient lawsuits filed, and I know I would much rather be able to come over to Seaside and get my medicine, then to get involved with a suit with the city, but it would be very difficult for me to say no if I was asked to join in such a suit.

“It is difficult for people who have never been around it to understand,” Linville continued. “But there is nothing wrong with non-profits competing with each other. Goodwill, American Veterans, etc., all compete for our donations and we tend to give our money to those that appeal to us the most. As patients, we would like the opportunity to be able to choose a dispensary that has good medicine at a reasonable price, and that is a good member of the community.

“It is just like an ATM. People want to go somewhere close to home, someplace well-lit and safe.”

“Hopefully this will come back to bite them,” Erika added. “We are voters and we have every right to vote them out office, and hopefully that will happen. They don’t see eye to eye with their own people.”

There is still time to help

Linville and others have been working diligently to get San Diegans to contact the Mayor’s Office and their respective City Council members before tomorrow's final vote.

“There is still time to make amendments,” Linville said. “They can very easily fix this by tossing the zones back in that they took out, and they can comply with state law that says 600 feet from schools and nothing else. Those two things alone would put this almost completely back to what the medical marijuana task for recommended.

“I encourage everyone to visit our website and to call and email the Mayor – he is our last hope on Tuesday. We are all hoping he will take action to implement this in a better way and to amend it.”



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