Marijuana clinics turn to delivery model

May 21, 2013

Richard Clough, Orange County Register

Driving his black Subaru along a residential street in Garden Grove, Steven Owen is careful not to attract the attention of police.

After all, he's got a paper bag filled with marijuana in the back seat.

"When I've got medication in the car, I definitely follow the speed limit," the 20-year-old says as he turns onto Lampson Avenue.

Owen is a delivery driver for OrganaCann Wellness Centers Inc., a medical marijuana dispensary in Garden Grove that last week converted its business from a traditional retail operation to a delivery-only model.

Many of the dozens of pot clinics across Garden Grove have adopted the strategy this month in response to the city's decision to shut down all storefront marijuana dispensaries in the city limits.

Officials ordered all such businesses to stop accepting walk-in customers as of May 14 or face fines of as much as $1,000 per day.

Local dispensary owners are not happy about the move, but they say they are adapting.

"The ban in Garden Grove is strictly on storefront dispensaries," said Todd Smith, director of Euclid Medical Center, which closed its storefront last week and began making deliveries this week. "We try to follow the law to a T."

Smith said his drivers are equipped with iPads that allow them to verify customer information.

"It's done exactly how we would do it at a storefront facility, but it's brought to their door," he said.

Medical marijuana delivery is not an entirely new practice. Mary Jane Rathbun, a medical marijuana activist who died in 1999, was known to bake pot-filled brownies and hand-deliver them to AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital in the 1980s and 1990s.

Rathbun, who earned the nickname "Brownie Mary," was instrumental in getting the issue onto state ballots in 1996 and helping California become the first state to approve the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Storefronts have proliferated in the years since, some of which will deliver. But the California Supreme Court ruled this month that individual cities can enforce storefront bans.

Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater, a vocal proponent of the ban, did not return calls requesting comment.

With a growing number of cities considering limiting or banning pot clinics, delivery-only operations are expected to spread.

"That is becoming more common," said Don Duncan, California director of medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

The adaptation by Garden Grove dispensaries to the changing legal environment has been somewhat haphazard, but it is opening up unexpected opportunities for some clinics.

In a recent interview in the back of OrganaCann's offices, as workers tended to racks of freshly grown marijuana plants nearby, Chief Executive Jason Lopez and Chairman Bob Wayman talked about the possibility of delivering snacks or fast food to customers along with the weed, potentially opening up new revenue streams.

"We're looking into expanding our services," Lopez said.

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