#407 California Marijuana In The News

Date: Fri, 24 Jul 2009
Subject: #407 California Marijuana In The News

CALIFORNIA MARIJUANA IN THE NEWS

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #407 – Friday, 24 July 2009

Thursday’s front page article in the Wall Street Journal is a worthy
target for your letters to the editor.

The newspaper is know for printing letters in response to articles, as
illustrated by the seven letters printed in response to this
editorial: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v98/n439/a04.html Perhaps
this DrugSense Focus Alert will not result in a similar boxed
collection of letters but if letters are not sent the newspaper will
not have good letters to select from.

Sources for facts for your letter may be found at http://www.drugwarfacts.org/
and http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/

We note that the lobbyist for the California Peace Officers’
Association trots out the same old propaganda. Perhaps he is not aware
that HighWire Press provides links to the studies in peer-reviewed
medical journals about the medicinal value of cannabinoids on an
almost daily basis. HighWire Press is a division of the Stanford
University Libraries. For more information see http://highwire.stanford.edu/about/

News items about marijuana in California may be found at
http://www.mapinc.org/find?115

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Pubdate: Thu, 23 Jul 2009

Source: Wall Street Journal (US)

Page: Front Page

Copyright: 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Contact: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com

Authors: Justin Scheck and Stu Woo

WITH ‘MED POT’ RAIDS HALTED, SELLING GRASS GROWS GREENER

LAKE FOREST, Calif. — Sellers of marijuana as a medicine here don’t
fret about raids any more. They’ve stopped stressing over where to
hide their stash or how to move it unseen.

Now their concerns involve the state Board of Equalization, which
collects sales tax and requires a retailer ID number. Or city planning
offices, which insist that staircases comply with the Americans With
Disabilities Act. Then there is marketing strategy, which can mean
paying to be a “featured dispensary” on a Web site for pot smokers.

After years in the shadows, medical marijuana in California is
aspiring to crack the commercial mainstream.

“I want to do everything I can to run this as a legitimate business,”
says Jan Werner, 55 years old, who invested in a pot store in a
shopping mall after 36 years as a car salesman.

State voters decreed back in 1996 that Californians had a right to use
marijuana for any illness — from cancer to anorexia to any other
condition it might help. But supplying “med pot” remained risky. The
ballot measure didn’t specify who could sell it or how. The state
provided few guidelines, leaving local governments to impose a
patchwork of restrictions. Above all, because pot possession remained
illegal under U.S. law, sellers had to worry about federal raids.

But in February, the Justice Department said it would adhere to
President Barack Obama’s campaign statement that federal agents no
longer would target med-pot dealers who comply with state law. Since
then, vendors who had kept a low profile have begun to expand, and
entrepreneurs who had avoided cannabis have begun to invest.

Some now are using traditional business practices like political
lobbying and supply-chain consolidation. Others are seeking capital or
offering investment banking for pot purveyors. In Oakland, a school
offers courses such as “Cannabusiness 102” and calls itself Oaksterdam
University, after the pot-friendly Dutch city. As shops proliferate,
there are even signs the nascent industry could be heading for another
familiar business phenomenon: the bubble.

Medical use of pot now is legal in 13 states. It is also facing some
resistance. New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, vetoed a
med-pot bill this month, citing inadequate safeguards. Los Angeles,
which passed a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007, is trying to
close a loophole that has led to an explosion of new ones.

John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Peace Officers’
Association, objects to “the notion that marijuana is safe and can be
used for any and all purposes to heal any and all ailments,” adding:
“There are 34 different elements in marijuana smoke that are shared
with tobacco.” He and others also complain about the ease with which
patients can get pot recommendations from certain doctors.

Still, at a time of deep recession, the med-pot business is attracting
career switchers. Mr. Werner was the sales manager of a Chrysler
dealership, and dismayed with the collapse of car sales. He had a
doctor’s recommendation to smoke pot, for pain from a spinal
condition. One day a car-dealer friend, Bill Shofner, who also had a
pot recommendation (for migraines), suggested: Why not become pot vendors?

The mellowing of federal regulations for selling medical marijuana has
created a crop of pot entrepreneurs with dreams of taking their
homegrown businesses into the stock market. Justin Scheck and Stu Woo
report from California.

Each invested $40,000. Following state guidelines, they set up as a
nonprofit, called Lake Forest Community Collective, from which they
would draw salaries.

It is on the second floor of a strip mall in the Los Angeles suburb of
Lake Forest that also houses Mexican restaurants and a Peet’s Coffee
shop. A customer first encounters a brightly lit front room with a
security window and an Obama poster, then is buzzed into a vestibule
with an ATM. Beyond that is a spotless room with glass cases
displaying pot in pill bottles.

Scribbled on a board are prices, from $10 to $25 a gram, for different
strains: Sour Diesel, Purple Urkel, Bubba Hash. Sour Diesel is
popular, says a volunteer, and “really potent.”

This still is a far cry from, say, Amsterdam, where pot remains
illegal but authorities are so tolerant that pot is available in
coffeehouses.

In California, pot sales, legal and illegal, are estimated to total
$14 billion a year. Medical marijuana makes up maybe an eighth of
that, says Dale Gieringer, director of the state’s chapter of the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He estimates
the state has three million pot smokers, including 350,000 with
doctors’ recommendations.

The state taxes med-pot sales, and on Tuesday, the city of Oakland
added its own special tax.

In Lake Forest, Messrs. Werner and Shofner pay about $4,000 for a
pound of marijuana, retailing it for about $6,000. They don’t break
even yet, the two say.

The business is a little like selling cars in one way, Mr. Shofner
says: The longer they hold their stock, the less it is worth. Aging
marijuana loses both potency and weight.

Med-pot sellers say they generally avoid marijuana from Mexican
cartels; the risks are higher and the quality is lower. Messrs. Werner
and Shofner say they at first bought largely from far-northern
California, where clandestine growers also supply the underground market.

For reasons of cost and consistency, they have been taking fuller
control of the supply chain. A few months ago they gave money to
members of their collective for grow lamps and other equipment, and
now they get much of their supply from them. “It’s like McDonald’s”
making deals with potato farmers, Mr. Werner says.

Some vendors are toying with another familiar business model: vertical
integration. In pot, that means growing as well as dealing. This was a
risky approach when a federal raid could cost an owner his pot, his
computers and maybe even his liberty. Now, one Los Angeles-area
med-pot vendor says he has acquired land in Northern California and
begun to grow his own.

Mr. Werner and his partner recently decided to expand. They signed
leases for two new outlets.

They also have lost their wariness of advertising. The proliferation
of dealers makes promotion essential. The two now pay several hundred
dollars a month for ads on Web sites like Weedmaps.com, which helps
people find medical pot.

Justin Hartfield, who started Weedmaps, says it has grown quickly to
about $20,000 in monthly revenue, half from ads.

The rest comes from referring people to doctors who recommend pot. Mr.
Hartfield bills the doctors $20 for each patient he sends them. The
American Medical Association ethics code says payment for referrals is
unethical. Mr. Hartfield says the doctors are keenly aware of the
ethics issue and consider their payments not to be fees for referral
but “advertising fees that change every month.”

Shane Stuart, 23, says he used to buy weed from street dealers but in
February saw an online ad for a pot-friendly doctor. He realized then,
he says, that medical marijuana was becoming more mainstream and
having a pot ID card wouldn’t hurt him with employers. He came away
from a $200 doctor visit with a note recommending pot for pain from a
hyperextended knee.

Mr. Hartfield, the Weedmaps impresario, has a doctor’s recommendation
for marijuana “to ease my anxiety and help with my insomnia.” Mr.
Hartfield says the med-pot system is really just a way of legalizing
marijuana for anyone who wants to smoke. He says his anxiety/insomnia
isn’t really serious enough to require treatment. “I’m fine. I don’t
really have it,” he says. “The medical system is a total farce. I’m an
example of that. It just needs to be legal.”

Med-pot advocates say marijuana can ease chronic pain, spur appetite
in anorexics or chemotherapy patients, and relieve eyeball pressure in
glaucoma patients. The law voters approved in 1996 listed several
conditions that might be helped but said so long as a doctor
recommended pot, all “seriously ill Californians” had a right to it
for “any…illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

David Allen, a former Mississippi heart surgeon, last month opened a
general practice in Sacramento and listed himself on a Web site as a
pot-friendly doctor. Marijuana, says Dr. Allen, 57, “helps the common
conditions that affect every human being — for instance, anxiety,
depression, insomnia and anorexia” — and can relieve certain
arthritis symptoms and muscle-spasm conditions.

Still, he says, many of his patients are people who already used pot
but just wanted a doctor’s recommendation to avoid legal trouble. “If
I was to deny them, I would put them at more risk, and I’d be hurting
society by doing this as well,” he says. “Cannabis is safer than aspirin.”

Dr. Allen smokes pot for insomnia, anxiety and stress. He says he quit
heart surgery because what he does now is more lucrative. He says he
doesn’t pay for referrals, a practice he considers unethical.

As the business matures, ancillary ventures are springing up. In
Oakland, OD Media manages advertising and branding for about a dozen
pot clients. An Oakland lawyer, James Anthony, and three partners have
started a firm called Harborside Management Associates to give dealers
business advice. A pot activist named Richard Cowan has opened what he
envisions as an investment bank for pot-related businesses, called
General Marijuana.

Mr. Cowan is also chief financial officer of Cannabis Science Inc.,
which is trying to market a pot lozenge for nonsmokers. It was founded
by Steve Kubby, a longtime medical-marijuana advocate who a decade ago
was acquitted of a pot-growing charge but briefly jailed for having
illegal mushrooms in his home. Mr. Kubby says there is “no more
alternative culture” at the company, which went public in March and
has hired a former pharmaceutical-industry scientist to try to win
Food and Drug Administration approval for the lozenge. Mr. Kubby left
as CEO this month in a dispute with the board.

Part of the opposition medical marijuana continues to face is rooted
in concern that unsavory characters from the illegal-drugs business
will get involved. The city attorney of Lake Forest, where Messrs.
Werner and Shofner have their store, recently sent a letter to the
landlords of pot dispensaries asking them to evict tenants. Mr.
Shofner says he reached a settlement with his landlord to stay.

To defend their interests, some pot proprietors are hiring lobbyists.
Messrs. Shofner and Werner pay consulting fees to Ryan Michaels, a
political organizer with an expertise in med-pot compliance issues.

There are signs medical pot’s increasing business legitimacy is
crowding the market. A 20-mile stretch of Ventura Boulevard in the San
Fernando Valley now has close to 100 places to buy. “So many
dispensaries have come along, the prices are dropping,” says one
operator, Calvin Frye. Two years ago, his least expensive pot was
about $60 for an eighth of an ounce. Now it is $45.

Across the country, a med-pot bill is working its way through New
York’s state legislature. If it makes it, entrepreneurs are getting
ready.

Larry Lodi, a 49-year-old Little League umpire from Long Island, spent
two days at Oaksterdam University in May, learning the fine points of
cultivation and distribution. Mr. Lodi envisions a business that would
link the growers and the sellers of medical marijuana. “I want to be
the middleman,” he says.

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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor http://www.mapinc.org

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