Inside Marin's Pot Club

Inside Marin's Pot Club
Posted by CN Staff on July 17, 2005 at 07:50:28 PT
By Paul Liberatore
Source: Marin Independent Journal
California -- The Rev. Lynnette Shaw, Marin's mother superior of medical marijuana, has been doing a lot of praying lately. Since last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding federal authority over marijuana, she's been on edge, uncertain if U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents will feel inclined to crack down on her little operation in Fairfax, Marin's one and only pot club.
It's been more than two years since anyone involved with the club has been busted for pot, so trouble now seems unlikely. But you never know."I'm so worried about my babies," she said one recent afternoon, speaking of the members of her club. "Two weeks ago, we thought the feds were coming. No one should have to be that worried and afraid. You can't get well when you're in constant fear."Shaw opened the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana nine years ago, when California became the first state in the nation to allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.Statewide, the measure, Proposition 215, passed with 56 percent of the vote. Seventy-three percent of Marin voters favored it. In Fairfax, a town with a well-known countercultural history, the figure was 89 percent, surpassed only by Bolinas, an even more famous outpost of tolerance, with 94 percent.Since then, Shaw's club has been doing business in a former medical office on the second floor of a rustic mall beside the town's baseball field.As she led me on a tour of the modest premises, redolent with the pungent resins of the high-grade herb the club dispenses, she was approached by a middle-aged woman who asked if there was anything she could do to ease the stressful situation."Burn a candle," Shaw suggested.Moments later, an elderly man came over and thanked her profusely for all her efforts on behalf of people who are ill and in pain."Bless you," he said.Meanwhile, the club's staff of three full-time and three part-time employees was busily trying to keep up with clients piling up in the waiting room. After showing their county-issued identification cards, members are given a number - to ensure confidentiality - before sitting down and waiting for their turn to make their purchase."1476," a staffer announced at one point, then added good naturedly: "You're on the hot seat."Behind a wooden counter in a salesroom about the size of a walk-in closet, a white board listed the day's menu. Members, taken one at a time, may choose among an array of brands - Rooty Tootie, Shiskaberry, Mendo Minis, Super Skunk, Sensi Star, X Haze, B-4 and Train Wreck.There is also a selection of edibles - brownies, candy, rice crispy bars, a potent cookie called a Flying Saucer, even ice cream. For those in a hurry, an express service offers a more limited selection.But, at a top price of $60 for an eighth of an ounce, most people prefer to take their time. On this day, 49-year-old Terry Fierer of Mill Valley, who was a doctoral candidate in history before becoming disabled, sat on a stool at the counter, eyeballing large zip-lock bags of neatly-trimmed buds, opening the seals and deeply inhaling the rising aroma before making his choice."Compared to most of the medical community, which treats you like you're not a person, they really care about their patients here," he said. "Having a place like this really reduces stress in my life."'Pot as a Gift from God'Between 2001 and 2004, the county's office of vital statistics issued more than 1,900 photo ID cards for medical marijuana. To get a card, applicants must have a form approved by a doctor for medical conditions that include AIDS, chronic pain, anorexia, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines and cancer, among other ailments.Card holders spent $1 million last year at the Fairfax club, which gets its marijuana, all of it organic, Shaw notes proudly, from a cooperative of about 30 local growers."Several members who have growing talent grow an extra pound for us," she said. "That way it's all over the place in little patches. We're not depending on one place. If something bad happens, like a raid, we still have 30 or 40 little gardens with an extra pound."To guard against abuse, members are limited to buying an ounce a week, and are asked to visit no more than once a day. The club, operating under a set of 84 conditions worked out with the city of Fairfax, serves 700 to 800 people a month.Half of its members are women, a surprisingly high percentage that Shaw attributes to a pair of factors. "One of the reasons is the breast cancer problem in Marin," she explained. "And the other is that we're the safest club. Women feel safe coming here. We're the kind of club that you can feel safe to bring your grandmother."Shaw, who is 51 and says that marijuana has been a godsend in relieving symptoms from environmental and chemical allergies as well as freeing her from bouts of suicidal depression, has been on the frontlines of the medical marijuana campaign for more than a decade.After serving time in jail on a marijuana charge in 1991, she became an "acolyte" of pot pioneer Dennis Peron, going to work in his seminal San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, which she fondly calls "the mother ship."Eight years ago, she took the title of reverend when she was ordained "a marijuana minister" in Hawaii by Religion of Jesus founder Jim Kimmel."We believe Jesus created pot as a gift from God," she said. "I know I'm on a mission from God."When she isn't working at the Marin Alliance, she fronts a reggae band that recently released a CD with the pot songs "Hemp Required," "Wish It Was Hemp" and "Grow Da Plant."Legal UncertaintyWhen the Supreme Court ruled last month that state laws don't protect marijuana users from federal authorities, Marin has been as cautious as the rest of California in figuring out where to go from here.Sausalito, faced with an application for a pot club at Gate Five Road on its waterfront, extended its moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries until next year, acknowledging the confusion over the conflicting laws as well as the potential for abuse by garden-variety potheads and dope dealers."We have people in tremendous pain who can benefit greatly (from marijuana)," Mayor Dennis Scremin said. "At the same time, we are aware that the difficulty right now is how it is dispensed and how easy it is to get a cannabis card."Mill Valley did the same, imposing a freeze of its own. In both cases, it looks like a wise decision. The guy who wanted to open the new clubs, Richard Marino, is already in big trouble with the federal government.Last fall, DEA agents with guns drawn stormed his Capitol Compassionate Care center in Roseville, the first pot club in conservative Placer County.At the same time, they raided his home in nearby Newcastle, seizing 250 plants growing behind barbed wire, 20 pounds of processed marijuana and $105,000 in cash. The feds took action against Marino after his neighbors turned him in.The U.S. attorney is now moving to confiscate his home and five-acre property under federal drug laws. Marino has since shut down his Roseville operation and has apparently abandoned his plans to open pot clubs in Southern Marin or anywhere else."I'm just living a nice little lifestyle," he said. "I'm not going to push anything. You can't push the federal government."Staying Under The RadarJust last week, state health officials - not wanting to put patients and state employees at risk of federal prosecution - stopped issuing ID cards for medical marijuana in a pilot program covering three Northern California counties.Marin was set to join the program in August, but will now continue to issue its own cards just as it has in the past, according to Rochelle Ereman of the county's vital statistics office.In San Francisco, supervisors have put the brakes on new pot dispensaries, imposing a six-month moratorium. Unlike Marin, though, the city is rife with marijuana outlets, including 43 unregulated ones. From her mellow operation in Fairfax, Shaw calls San Francisco "the wild west."On this side of the Golden Gate Bridge, however, it's the status quo that seems to be prevailing."Things will stay pretty much the same," said Barry Borden, Marin's chief deputy district attorney. "The feds will do what they will, and we will continue to do what's appropriate under California state law."For the Marin club, the strategy is business as usual, don't rock the boat, stay under the radar and hope (pray in Shaw's case) for the best."Our legal status is very tenuous, the same as everybody else's," said Greg Anton, the lawyer for the Marin Alliance. "But the Marin club is one of the longest-running places. And they're incredibly together. They're very conservative, very tight with regulations and books. They just very much want to help sick people." Note: Fairfax dispensary stays the course, but worries about federal crackdown.Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)Author: Paul Liberatore Published: Sunday, July 17, 2005Copyright: 2005 Marin Independent JournalContact: opinion marinij.comWebsite: Alliance for MMJ Medical Marijuana Archives
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