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Medical Marijuana Growers Face Risky Legal Environment

Audio

Aired 11/23/09

Patients with a doctor's recommendation can legally possess and smoke marijuana in California for medical purposes. But where do they get their pot? The recent crackdown on marijuana dispensaries in San Diego has raised questions about legality of growing it and selling it. KPBS Reporter Tom Fudge spoke with two people who run marijuana cooperatives in San Diego.

Patients with a doctor's recommendation can legally possess and smoke marijuana in California for medical purposes. But where do they get their pot? The recent crackdown on marijuana dispensaries in San Diego has raised questions about legality of growing it and selling it.

California law says patients and caregivers can form collectives or cooperatives to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes. And that's what Josh Bilben said he's doing. He said he's providing a place for patients, who don't grow, to get medication from people who do."

"One of the big concerns that communities, city planner, everybody has is where is this coming from," said Bilben. "And what I'm able to say is this is coming from right here. No other place."

Bilben is the director of Delta Nine Therapy, a medical marijuana collective in San Diego. He spoke as he pushed aside a metal cage door and unzipped a plastic sheet, that covers the inside of a seven by seven foot room containing 24 marijuana plants. The room is one of two locations where his collective grows product. Banks of lights hover over the plants. A fan keeps the air moving and a humidifier puts out a stream of vapor. Bilben says he's growing a variety of plants.

"Now the Indica, the Purple Kush... when you take that it basically, in stoner terms, is called a couch lock," said Bilben. "You sit on the couch. You don't get up. You don't really think about a whole lot. Like I said, the purple Kush is really good for chronic pain."

The collection of plants doesn't look like very much. But Bilben hopes, once the plants reach their flowering apex, they will provide ten pounds of smokable buds for him and three other patients. The collective charges its members 18 dollars a gram for Purple Kush to cover the cost of production.

In September, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced raids on 14 medical marijuana operations. She accused the dispensaries of earning a profit and selling to anyone who came in the door, both of which violate state law. Dumanis and police chief Bill Landsdowne went on to say they knew of no medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego that were following the law.

But Josh Bilben believes he is following the law. Will Johnson does too. Johnson is director of the Kind Gardeners Collective, which grows plants in several San Diego locations.

"We have somebody's patio. Somebody's spare bedroom. We have an area in a commercial office. And this next month we'll have the basement of a residential home," said Johnson.

Johnson speaks from the patio of his Kensington home, located on the same street where the San Diego mayor resides. The growth of the medical marijuana business has raised concerns that dispensaries have gotten marijuana from illegal sources. Johnson says that's certainly possible.

"Is there a loophole where the cartel can come in and join the collective, and then start supplying the collective? I can imagine that," he said. "But think about that. Because we're not talking about Mexican pot being brought up here, because no dispensary is going to sell Mexi. It's crap."

The tussle over medical marijuana in California heated up last week when the District Attorney of Los Angeles said his office would prosecute any collective that sold marijuana. In September, San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis said patients who need medical marijuana should grow their own.

But while state guidelines require marijuana operations to be non-profit, they do not say sales are illegal. Josh Bilben points out his marijuana collective generates state sales tax. Alex Kreit, the chairman of San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force, adds that the law makes no requirement that patients just grow their own. He makes the comparison between a marijuana cooperative and a food coop.

"Anyone who's been a member of a food cooperative knows, it's not like everyone who's a member has to come in and grow their own turnips and grow their own radishes," said Kreit. "I think that is just not consistent with what is meant by a collective and cooperative, and what the law contemplates as a collective and cooperative."

The task force is writing recommendations to the San Diego City Council as to how medical marijuana businesses should be permitted and regulated.

Comments

Avatar for user 'RSteeb'

RSteeb | November 25, 2009 at 8:31 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Earth to Dumanis:

Liquor stores make a profit, and sell to anyone 21 years of age that come in.'

Same with pharmacies, if you have a prescription. They'll even sell Marinol to teenagers at a profit, if they have a prescription...

So you need to back off and get real.

Keeping Cannabis illegal while tobacco and alcohol are dispensed freely is *MURDEROUSLY STUPID*.

Raiding the providers of medicinal relief to suffering patients is beyond unconscionable.

-Richard P Steeb, San Jose California

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Avatar for user 'TheKindGardenersCollective'

TheKindGardenersCollective | November 25, 2009 at 9:24 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I appreciate the fact that KPBS shows the interest in this very important topic, and look forward to follow-up reports, in particular, on the current prosecution of several collectives that were raided following completely legitimate sales of medical marijuana to qualified patients (who turned out to be police officers, who lied to get their doctor recommendations).

So, this is a pretty good, balanced report, however...

The reporter, Tom Fudge and I spoke on tape for quite a while, and the "cartel" comment was a bit out of context. I emphatically stated that I believe NO 'cartels' are involved in supplying medical marijuana (mmj) to dispensaries in San Diego County. (Though I can 'imagine' a lot of things).

For over a decade, California Law has provided for safe access to medical marijuana, and our County Supervisors, our DA, and many in law enforcement conspire to circumvent those laws, and continue to do their best to crush any and everyone who is involved in growing and supplying medical marijuana to their patient/members.

In my opinion, THAT is the story here.

The statement by our DA, Bonnie Dumanis, that 'patients should grow their own' is preposterous. Medical marijuana results from consistent careful cultivation, in a very controlled environment. For inexperienced novice growers, crop failure is the rule, not the exception. Our Collective was formed to provide much-needed assistance to patients who do want to buy mariijuana off the street (since Dispensaries remain under attack here).

If you want to REALLY know what's happening in San Diego, spend a few moments at these links:

http://www.eugenedavidovich.com/ - A collective delivery service, making a delivery of medical marijuana to a qualifed patient. Unfortunately, this was a 'sting' operation called "Operation Greejn/RX" - designed to crush all the medical marijuana delivery services in SanDiego.

http://www.normlsc.org/ - San Diego NORML

http://www.safeaccessnow.org/ - Americans for Safe Access

http://www.canorml.org/ - California NORML

If you are outraged by the actions of our local law enforcement and County Board of Supervisors - GET INVOLVED and speak up.

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Avatar for user 'rasmarcus'

rasmarcus | December 2, 2009 at 12:43 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

UPDATE!!! VERDICT IS NOT GUILTY!!!

Now it's time for Bonnie's Prohibition Clan to look at the "REAL" evidence behind Bonnie's personal medical marijuana hangups and drop all current medical marijuana cases and exonerate all prior cases where the DA's office bullied the court system into intimidating innosent patients into plea bargain convictions.

Bonnie attempted to do the same to Jovan Jackson, but he endured the persecution by Bonnie's Clan of Prohibitionists... Did you know that Jovan Jackson endured solitary confinement? Incarceration without representation? And he was jailed for a month WITH NO BAIL? ALL FOR TRYING TO REPRESENT HIMSELF? Isn't that a constitutional right? Or was that also done away with in the Patriot Act?

On http://BonnieDAMantis.wordpress.com. . . you can read more and see an exclusive video interview with Jovan after the 12/01/2009 jury acquitted him of all medical marijuana related charges. . . the post is located here... http://bonniedamantis.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/verdict-is-in-bonnie-dumanis-violates-jovan-jacksons-civil-rights-court-says/

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | December 2, 2009 at 1:13 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

A man died and went to heaven, when he finally met God, God asked - "Well, how did you find things down there?" The man replied - "It was horrible, so much death and destruction, war, rape, murder, just all kinds of pestilence." God then replied "Didn't you guys get that plant I left you!?"

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