Cannabis Dispensaries Have Both Friends and Foes

Cannabis Dispensaries Have Both Friends and Foes
Posted by CN Staff on April 11, 2005 at 06:36:19 PT
By Karen Holzmeister, Staff Writers
Source: Daily Review
Ashland, Calif. -- The Health Center appears to represent the best and the worst of medical marijuana dispensaries. On the positive side, business is thriving, customers praise its service and prices, and a neighboring business manager says center employees have helped her with unruly customers. On the negative side, other business operators and property owners claim some of the center's customers urinate on and vandalize nearby buildings, clog the area with traffic, and drive away business with what appears to be drug dealing.
Now The Health Center (THC) and six other dispensaries in Ashland and Cherryland are in the spotlight because Alameda County supervisors are looking at ways to regulate and reduce the numbers of marijuana sales centers. In volume, THC attracts the most customers, an average of 200 to 300 people a day, center operator Jack Norton and county sheriff's Sgt. Kelly Miles agree. While the sheriff's department is not happy with marijuana sales in its jurisdiction, deputies have issued some citations  and made only a few arrests  to customers since THC opened in January 2004. The department has received "lots of calls" from businesses and residents about THC clients loitering, drug dealing and urinating, Miles said last week. At least one undercover stakeout resulted in no drug dealing arrests, Miles recalled, and complaints aren't treated as "high priority" by deputies unless a fight is reported or weapons are brandished. "Jack is receptive to us, and he says he will do what we say," said Miles, who has visited the center with other officers. "The center is the busiest of all the centers, and it goes to show that medical marijuana is a big-time business. I wouldn't be surprised if it brings in $20,000 to $30,000 a day." Norton wouldn't disclose daily sales figures, but contended that he and the center's 18 employees receive only small salaries and benefits.  The money is plowed back into the business, buying quality marijuana from patients who raise small amounts and keeping prices low, Norton added. One-eighth of an ounce of marijuana can range in price from $45 for high quality to $15 for lesser quality. THC operates out of a drab building with no identifying sign on East 14th Street. It was the first dispensary on the newly repaved and landscaped street, although two other ones have since opened within a two-block area. It's open for business from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. During an interview last week, as the pungent odor of marijuana wafted through four waiting and sales rooms cooled by nonstop electric fans, Norton said he was "nervous" about county efforts to reduce the number of dispensaries. Oakland "messed up" when it decided to allow only four dispensaries, he said. Many of THC's customers come from within a 15- to 20-mile radius, including Oakland. County regulations don't bother him, explained Norton, who is in his early 20s and started in the medical marijuana business a couple of years ago as a clerk at a Hayward dispensary. Norton said he and his security guards cooperate with police, patrol the area to prevent loitering and any illegal activities, and sweep the center and neighboring sidewalks. He also sends guards due north to ensure none of his customers are causing problems for insurance agent Ralph Smith's office complex. Smith, 72, has been at his location since 1971. While he admits problems in the past with transients and drunks, he blames customers of THC and the other dispensaries for urinating on his property, parking in his lot and using it as their own smoking den. "The concentration of centers, and this particular one, are my problems," said Smith, who describes many of the men he confronts as "huge 20-year-olds." Smith said his second-degree black belt in karate makes him  feel secure in the presence of younger, bigger men. His tenants, including many who signed leases after the street was redeveloped, aren't so sure. "I'm not a NIMBY (not in my back yard), and we don't need this type of business in a redevelopment transit area with schools nearby," the outspoken businessman explained. "I just don't think it's an honest operation." Wendy Francis, who manages a cellular phone business across East 14th Street, said the situation with THC "is not always so bad" as other business operators claim. Last week, an "obnoxious" customer wouldn't stop yelling, Francis said Friday. She called Norton, who came over with a security guard and remained until the unruly customer left. Their presence, she added, was reassuring. "Reassuring" also describes the service that Doug Nielsen of Tracy receives at the center, he told supervisors at a community meeting last month. Nielsen, who has used a wheelchair  after breaking his neck a year and a half ago, said marijuana helps relieve spasms. "The prices this club charges help get me through the month," he said. "Security accommodates me. They take good care of me in an uncomfortable situation." But Shi Vawn Hutcherson, whose public storage facility shares a fence with THC, claims she's losing business. Customers, she said to applause from center opponents at the community meeting, are turned away by "drug dealer-type looking people" in "flashy cars." "They go and pee on my walls," she insisted of THC customers. "I get disrespected when I ask them not to do it." Complete Title: Local Cannabis Dispensaries Have Both Friends and Foes Source: Daily Review, The (CA)Author: Karen Holzmeister, Staff WritersPublished: April 11, 2005Copyright: 2005 MediaNews Group, Inc.Contact: revlet angnewspapers.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Medicinal Cannabis Research Links's Noble Pot Experiment Debate on Pot Clubs Smolders Would Scatter Area's Marijuana Clinics
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