Marijuana goes mainstream - Page 2

Take a tour of the Bay Area's best cannabis clubs, which are proving that prohibition is the problem, not pot

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Richard Lee — founder of Oaksterdam University in Oakland, which teaches marijuana cultivation and is the main financial backer behind the initiative to legalize and tax pot — said San Francisco and Oakland have demonstrated that cannabis clubs can function like any other legitimate industry and become a real asset to their neighborhoods and the local economy.

"Once they started legalizing the clubs, they had no more problems," Lee told us. "It really is boring and really not a big deal. It's only the prohibition that makes it exciting and a little scary."

In fact, Lee said that normalizing and legalizing the marijuana industry is the best way to deal with the problems associated with the illegal drug trade, such as violence, creation of a criminal class, respect for law enforcement, wasted public resources, lost tax opportunities, unsafe growing operations, and environmental damage.

"We need to end cannabis prohibition to end the violence," Lee said.

Bringing marijuana above ground also has created an artisanship that's similar to the wine industry, elevating cultivation practices to an art form, improving the science behind it, and making users more sophisticated about subtle differences in taste and effect among the dozens of varieties now on the market.

But the growers themselves still exist in a murky gray area. Although they can get some legal cover as registered caregivers to a cooperative's members, they're still exposed to thefts, shakedowns, logistical difficulties, and raids by federal agents or even local police, such as the series of raids in the Sunset District last fall that targeted even legitimate growers for the clubs.

"Right now, cultivators have no air cover at all and they're getting mixed messages," Mirkarimi said, calling for the city to better protect growers and even consider getting into the business of growing pot for the clubs and patients. "General Hospital should dispense medical cannabis."

That issue and others related to the city's relationship with the industry are currently the subject of a working group convened by Sup. David Campos, a byproduct of which is the proposal to create a Medical Cannabis Task Force to advise the Board of Supervisors, an item the board was scheduled to vote on Jan. 26.

Mirkarimi said he's also concerned about current rules that ban smoking in clubs that are within 1,000 feet of schools or drug treatment facilities, which has served to prohibit smoking in all but a few San Francisco clubs. Oakland bans smoking in all its clubs. "That's where the laws could be modified, because you don't want to take away that social vibe," Mirkarimi said. "San Francisco needs to be a leader in activating the next step."

Olive, whose club allows smoking and has a great social scene, agrees that something is lost when the clubs are forced to be simply transactional.

"This is a social healing medicine, and we're here to promote an inviting atmosphere where people can share their stories," Olive said. "The whole point is not to just come in and get your medicine, but to be a part of a community."

That community can range from young stoners to dying old patients, who can both benefit from their communion. "It's the hippies and the yuppies. Everyone comes here," Breyburg said. Or as Olive told me, "There is something intrinsically rewarding to sharing a joint with someone, as silly as that sounds."

The voter-approved Proposition 215 and state law are deliberately vague on what ailments qualify for a doctor's recommendation, spawning a sub-industry of physicians who specialize in pot, like the ones at the clinic I visited, Dr. Hanya Barth's Compassionate Health Options in SoMa.