State of the weed

Cannabis Issue: Medical cannabis industry thrives even as the economy and legalization movement sputter

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steve@sfbg.com

CANNABIS When we did our first Cannabis Issue a year ago, the Bay Area's medical marijuana industry was booming, and there was high anticipation that California would soon legalize weed for everyone.

Proposition 19 divided even those who fully support decriminalizing cannabis — partly because the existing system was working so well in San Francisco and many other cities, so people were wary of an uncertain future — and voters rejected the measure in November.

But only the most dogmatic anti-drug warrior would take that vote as a repudiation of the wonder weed, because California's love affair with its top crop today is stronger than ever. And the burgeoning industry that grows, processes, and delivers marijuana continues to expand rapidly amid a stagnating larger economy.

Three new high-end cannabis dispensaries have opened in San Francisco in the last six months, bringing to 25 the number of licensed clubs, and the selection and quality of indoor and outdoor buds, concentrates, and edibles has never been greater. The industry's many opportunities are starting to attract top talent from unrelated sectors of the economy, such as Mark Williams and Nic duTemps.

Williams recently quit his job at Apple to start CloudNine, which is developing a high-quality portable vaporizer called Firefly that will be assembled here in San Francisco and released this summer. Unlike current vaporizers made of plastic that use butane heaters to release the cannabanoids from the weed without burning it, Firefly is made of metal and glass with customizable wood inlays, uses advanced batteries in its heating element, and will retail for about $300.

"I decided now is the time," Williams, 42, said of his decision to leave the corporate cubicle world after 20 years. "The market is maturing and the users' ability to make a discerning choice about how they're going to take marijuana is maturing."

DuTemps worked in public relations for many years and she also jumped ship to do something she loves a few years ago: landscaping backyard gardens. "But then the bottom fell out of the economy," she said, and people growing marijuana were the only ones who still wanted her expertise.

Yet the supply of cannabis products had grown faster than the number of dispensaries and delivery outlets in recent years. "The clubs were becoming incredibly flooded," duTemps said. "People have found themselves with copious amounts of product and nowhere to sell it."

So she decided to marry her PR expertise with her cannabis connections and last month started Sweeter Made, a medical marijuana cooperative and delivery service that uses an old meter maid vehicle for deliveries. DuTemps said she loves "the secret thrill of delivering medical cannabis, hash, and edibles in something that used to give people parking tickets."

They're just a couple of the countless Bay Area residents involved in the pot business, an expanding and evolving sector of the economy that even cash-strapped government agencies are getting involved in.

Oakland city officials recently stepped back from their ambitious plan to permit large-scale pot farms in industrial warehouses, mostly because of legal concerns, but that city and Berkeley last year moved forward with plans to legitimize and tax the industry at a higher rate. And the big next step — full legalization of weed for even recreational users — is still lingering on the horizon.

Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, who bankrolled placing Prop. 19 on the ballot, has announced that he'll try again on the November 2012 ballot. He told the Guardian that he's currently developing his battle plan, consulting his allies, and determining what the measure will look like.

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