Marijuana goes mainstream

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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I've smoked marijuana on and off for most of my adult life, usually in the evening to help let go of the anxieties associated with being a progressive wage slave in an increasingly conservative capitalist country.

Buying my pot, which is California's biggest cash crop, has always been a criminal transaction: in hushed tones or coded language, I arrange to meet a dealer I've been set up with through friends. And when I meet him (they've always been men), I give him cash in exchange for an eighth- or quarter-ounce of whatever kind of pot he's selling.

I don't know what variety I'm buying, who grew it, or how it was grown; whether violence or environmental degradation have occurred along the supply chain; or even whether it is an indica or sativa, the two most basic cannabis families that have differing effects on users.

I've been completely in the dark, both in terms of what I was buying and who was benefiting from the transaction, but that changed recently. I obtained a doctor's recommendation to legally smoke weed — honestly citing anxiety as my affliction — and set out to explore the area's best cannabis clubs.

It was a little strange and disorienting at first, this new world of expert purveyors of the finest Northern California marijuana and the various concentrates, edibles, drinkables, and other products it goes into. But what eventually struck me is just now normal and mainstream this industry has become, particularly in San Francisco, which has long led the movement to legalize marijuana.

Unlike in cities such as Los Angeles, where the rapid proliferation of unregulated pot clubs has made headlines and raised community concerns, San Francisco years ago made its clubs jump through various bureaucratic hoops to become fully licensed, permitted, and regulated, free to join the mainstream business community, pay their taxes, and compete with one another on the basis of quality, price, customer service, ambiance, and support for the community.

As Californians prepare to decide whether to decriminalize marijuana for even recreational use — on Jan. 28, advocates plan to turn in enough valid signatures to place that initiative on the fall ballot — it's a good time to explore just what the world of legal weed looks like.

Pretty much everyone involved agrees that San Francisco's system for distributing marijuana to those with a doctor's recommendation for it is working well: the patients, growers, dispensary operators, doctors, politicians, police, and regulators with the planning and public health departments.

"It works and it should continue to be replicated," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who created the legislation four years ago that led to the current system, told us. "It's now mainstream."

Public health officials agree. "In general, we're very happy about our relationship with the industry and their commitment to the regulations," said Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, San Francisco's environmental health director. "We did this well and we did it cooperatively with the clubs."

Bhatia said there are now 22 fully-permitted clubs (and two more under review) in San Francisco, less than half the number operating when the regulations were created. He also said the city no longer receives many complaints from neighbors of clubs.

Misha Breyburg, managing partner of the nonprofit Medithrive, which opened just a few months ago on Mission Street, supports the process too. "The regulations generally are not easy, but I think that's okay," he said. "The process was long and cumbersome and stressful, but very fair."

Martin Olive, director of the Vapor Room, one of the city's largest and best dispensaries, agrees that the permitting process professionalized the industry: "I'm proud to be here because the city government has been amazing."

Comments

Great roundup, Steve, and enjoyable to read as well.

Posted by alapoet on Feb. 02, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

Excellent article. The time has come to end this ridiculous prohibition!

Posted by geofos on Feb. 02, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

Hayward is one of the largest cities in the Bay Area, and on Tuesday 2/16/10 they're going to meet to enact a ban on medical marijuana clinics. They say it's because they're for safety -- how can forcing that trade into the streets and increasing criminal activity and violence be safer? It's almost as if some of the city's elected leaders are being influenced to vote against compassion. URL in header for link to story.

Posted by DanB on Feb. 15, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

So many taboos are being struck down in this society. Not only are the dispensaries still legal and in business, but there's a movement in November (just in California... for now) to vote and legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Incredible. I love this.

Posted by Katie on Apr. 22, 2010 @ 12:25 am

Here's my issue:

I don't have a whole lot and, those perscriptions are, not only, expensive but, I feel, are a
violation of the cannons of my religion (contributing to the pharmaceutical industry is not
[exceedingly] humane).

I tried to get a "compassion" bag from a pot club once (I don't have a whole lot of much) but,
was turned away for not having a medical pot card.

I realize that, those bags, are distributed as a courtesy and, that those clubs are in the busi-
ness of being in business;However, I have to wonder about clubs who advertise those com-
passion bags but, won't give a little to local "folks" who, because of the "economic dispar-
agement" , need a little to help with our stress (it isn't easy being "economically disparaged"
in San Francisco [ask Mayor Newsom]).

This is just "food" for thought.

Posted by DanielW on Jun. 06, 2010 @ 10:58 am

DanielW: You have to be joking? Nothing is free and if you want the same perks as patients then you have to be one, it is a "club" not a soup kitchen!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 07, 2010 @ 2:08 pm