Horticulturalists, doctors and lawyers among instructors after Michigan legalizes drug as a medicine

November 20, 2009 – It goes without saying that there’s no smoking in class. But there is a good deal of sniffing of leaves, discussion of the finer points of inhaling and debate over which plant gives the biggest hit.

Welcome to Detroit’s cannabis college, recently opened with courses on how to grow marijuana – and harvest, cook and sell it too – after Michigan legalized the drug as a medicine.

Students get instruction from horticulturalists, doctors and lawyers as well as hands-on experience cultivating plants and guidance on how to protect their stash from the criminal element.

“Growing pot by chucking seeds in the garden is fine for the recreational industry,” says the college co-founder, Nick Tennant, whose wholesome and youthful appearance, including acne-covered cheeks, startles some of the more ragged-looking students. “But when we’re using this from a medicinal standpoint, you really need to document your strains and your genetics. The horticultural process is very complex. If you want to do it right you’re going to need to learn. There’s a lot of money in this if you do it right.”

With more than 1,000 medical marijuana certificates issued each month in Michigan for users and growers to sell to them, there is demand for places at MedGrow Cannabis College, located in a small office block.

Among the first students paying $475 for six evening classes are people reliant on marijuana for pain relief and those who help them, including a clergyman who runs an Aids clinic.

Then there are young men such as Ryan Hasbany, a 20-year-old business student. He’s still a year too young to get a grower’s license but he wants to learn the trade. “My father is a family practice doctor and he is issuing medical marijuana cards so I know there are a lot of people getting them. It could turn into a very lucrative business. The street prices are ridiculously high,” he says of medical grade marijuana, which sells at $250 an ounce in Michigan. “There’s Harvard economists who say this is what we need to bring the economy back.”

Hasbany has no hesitation in admitting that he might be in a good position to judge the quality of what he grows. “I smoke it. In my high school graduating class, I’d say 25% of them were smoking it,” he said.

Michigan became the 14th state to legalize medicinal marijuana this year after about two-thirds of voters supported the measure in a referendum. The move reflects growing acceptance of the drug in large parts of the country. In the past week, the US’s first marijuana cafe opened in Oregon and Colorado ordered cannabis sales subject to tax.

The path was carved by California, where permission to buy marijuana requires little more than telling a sympathetic doctor it would make you feel better. Attitudes are changing in Washington too, where the Obama administration has told the FBI and other federal agencies to adhere to state marijuana laws in deciding who to arrest.

For all that, there is still hesitation over identification with what is now a legal industry in Michigan.

The first class of the evening at cannabis college is led by a physician who wants to be known only as Dr Powell. “Don’t mention my first name. It’ll make it harder for them to identify me,” he says.

Powell explains to the students the range of conditions that permit him to issue a medical marijuana certificate, from cancer and Aids to a broad category of severe chronic pain. “If someone’s had back surgery or a gunshot wound,” says Powell.

There are questions. “Can I get it for gout?” asks a student. Powell thinks it unlikely.

The doctor says he is not concerned about addiction but regular cannabis users should find an alternative to smoking. That’s why the course also includes a cookery class with recipes as varied as hash cakes and marijuana sushi.

The horticulture lecturer is even more wary than the doctor about being identified. “They might ask how I know how to grow all this stuff,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for rather longer than it’s been legal.”

He, like many of those who lecture at Cannabis College, is also a consumer because of severe injury in a bad sporting accident. Tennant obtained a medical marijuana certificate to deal with a stomach condition that causes nausea. It is what brought out his acne.

The horticulturalist pulls open a couple of large white doors that act as an entire wall at the front of the classroom. Bright white light streams through the cracks and across the classroom to reveal a den of silver-lined walls, air conditioning ducts, fans and intense lights. At the heart sit a handful of plants – some of them bushes really.

The teacher runs through soil versus hydroponics, lights (red and blue better than LED), pruning (pluck, don’t cut) and the intricacies of cloning. There’s an explanation of ozone generating devices to cover the smell. “You might not want the neighbours to know. You don’t want them raiding your house for your supply,” he says.

Pasted to the wall is a chart of the labyrinth of marijuana species, their effect on different diseases and their particular tastes.

The horticulturist explains that there’s money to be made from the trade in medicinal marijuana but growers must tailor the plant to the customer’s need. “There’s pot that makes you not shut up for five hours. There’s pot where you sit on the couch and drool for five hours. That’s not what you need if you’re going to hold down a job. There’s thousands of people getting patient cards and they all have needs. If you can work out how to meet those individual needs you’re gonna get rich,” he says. Source.


September 14, 2009 – All drug users and dealers in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other neighboring countries know that marijuana grows mjborat in the Chuy River Valley (in the northwest partof Kazakhstan). There is no way this narcotic herb can be dug it out of the land just to see more of it growing there in the next year. A decision was made in Kazakhstan to build a hemp processing plant to manufacture medicine and fiber. However these intentions counter bureaucratic hindrances and lack of understanding on the side of drug fighters.

This place is ill famed not only in Kazakhstan, but far beyond it as well. It has been known for ages that Chuy (Shu) valley is a paradise for drug users and drug dealers. Much has been done to do away with the evil called marijuana. Unfortunately the humanity could not outwit the nature: the hemp neither burns nor drowns.

Turn poison into a medicine and a rope

There are some people who decided to use the hemp for constructive purposes. They plan to build a plant in Jambul region to process wild hemp growing in Chuy valley. Currently a company from Almaty Special Partnership “XELORIA” is developing 15 hectares of land in the almaty-report-1953-6southern industrial zone of Shu town in Shu district for building the enterprise. The cost of the industrial component of the project is about 54 million USD, and that of the pharmaceutical component totals to 20 million USD. Founders of “XELORIA” along with international and Kazakh financial institutions will generate funding for the project implementation.

First the plant plans to launch pharmaceutical production of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the active element of cannabis.

In the second and later stages they plan to develop industrial (textile) line. Such industrial and commodity goods as fiber, rope and cord products, hemp oil, clothes, shoes, and etc.

The first stage is expected to be set in operation in the beginning of the next year.

However, there are certain objective circumstances that impede the project implementation. Some of them are related to acquiring clearances, development and straightening out the technological production regulations.

General director of “XELORIA” Special Partnership Marat Kulmanov says that they have license for storage of the marijuana herb, processing and selling it. However, they lack the key document – license for collecting marijuana. Last August the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan appealed to the UNO International Committee to allocate a certain quota, but has not got an answer yet. When and if the quota will be given, the Kazakh government will issue an ordinance on approval of the quota for collection of marijuana over the calendar year and based on it a license for hemp collection can be issued.

The technology to be used for pharmaceutical production also matters. There are several pharmaceutical companies in the world, including those in Germany and England that do scientific research on and produce medicine made of marijuana. Their experience and technologies of raw material processing can be borrowed but there are some restrictions to do with technology patents. Moreover, cannabis that grows in Shuy valley differs from the hemp processed by foreign producers as it is the hybrid of the local wild growing hemp and the Indian hemp. This means that pharmaceutical production technologies should be selected taking into account the contents of the plant. Once the quota and license are received, the company plans to make tests and analysis to define the standard sample and prepare corresponding pharmacopoeia article. (State standard of the medicine quality, which includes the list of obligatory indicators and quality control methods).

The area allocated for construction of the plant is currently enclosed. Design investigation works are underway. Facilities are being prepared to ensure access to electricity supply, sewerage and heating. As the general director of Special Partnership “XELORIA” informs the construction and mounting will be done by local contractors.

The Entrepreneurship and Industry Management Unit of Jambul Region informs that construction and operation of the plant would create up to 150 jobs for the locals. The management of the company “XELORIA” anticipates occasional seasonal rise of employment as the hemp will be picked by hand and people will be needed to collect it.

Cultivation of what others fight against

Not everyone is happy with the idea of building a new plant in the region. For example, employees of the Unit for Fighting Against Drug Business of the Internal Affaires Department of Jambul Region do not find the idea brilliant at all.

Jenis Begmatov, acting deputy head of this unit informs that policemen at the borders work very hard to close channels of drug smuggling, and to detect and prevent drug distribution. He fears that the plant for marijuana processing can become asylum for hemp lovers. He further continues his line of thought saying that opponents of the idea do not object to the idea of using the cannabis for other useful purposes. However, industrial production demands significant volume of raw materials supply. The hemp growing wild around would not be sufficient. Coupled with the uncertain nature of marijuana, there can be no guarantees that the producers will be able to collect the required volume of the raw material. To stock raw materials for production they may have to cultivate anew several hectares of hemp plantations. They would have to cultivate marijuana that we are fighting against! Besides this, hemp pickers can any time be tempted to earn money illegally.

J. Begmatov also mentioned that stricter criminal liability measures adopted in 2008 impacted the level of drug related crimes in the region. This year there is less smuggling, and twenty channels of contraband from neighboring countries were eliminated. Regardless of doubled imprisonment terms twice the volume of drugs was confiscated this year compared to the last year- about seven tons versus four and a half.

Policemen of the special department “Delta Dolina” say that the marijuana harvest is low this year due to rainy and cloudy spring. However, the number of marijuana pickers who come to the valley for harvest is the same as ever. The visitors from the adjacent countries come here most often. For example, an Uzbek man came allegedly to visit his relatives in Taraz, while his true purpose was to stock marijuana for the winter, as the commodity is unaffordable by the market prices. A ton of marijuana at the black market costs more then three thousand dollars, making the “pleasure” beyond his buying capacity, he complained.

Residents of the Chuy valley do not see any benefit in construction of the new plant. “Marijuana has been a problem. It will remain a problem. I doubt that the cause of sufferings of many can be used for the common good. Maybe only businessmen will benefit.”- wonders Kairat, resident of Shu town.

The immortal herb

The head of the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) Eric Hamrin, the head of the Department of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement of the US State Department Antony Beever and a Programs Manager of the same department Raushan Kasymbekova recently visited Taraz, the administrative center of Jambul Region. Head of Internal Affairs Department of Jambul Region, police general Meyirhan Jamanbaev and deputy chairman of the Committee on fighting with drug business in Kazakhstan, colonel Nigmedzhan Saparov welcomed the guests.

The chief policeman of Jambul Region M. Jamanbaev informed the Americans of the situation in the Chuy valley.

“Wild cannabis grows only in Jambul Region area in six districts. The marijuana has been here fore ages. Ancient Kazakhs used it in every day life- twisted ropes, wove carpets, and did not even know that hemp contained narcotic substances. Our forefathers used cannabis as a useful materials as ropes and carpets made of it were very durable”- was the introduction M. Jamanbaev started with.

“Today people use it for absolutely other purposes. Therefore we do everything we can to get rid of marijuana and prevent its export out of the region. It is a rough task as it is unevenly scattered around, making it almost impossible to eradicate it. In 1990 a group of scientists from 60 countries, including scientists from a US drugs research lab came to study the wild hemp. They went to the Chuy valley to study the area and its conditions. Different ways were tried to kill the herb, but the science was helpless. If you dig over the place where cannabis grows, it multiplies the next year. You cannot burn the marijuana fields as pastures and private crop fields neighbor it. Scientists warn against pulling out the cannabis as its roots stretch seven meters deep and it grows on sandy soil. If you eradicate the herb pulling its roots out, the sand threatens to bury railroads and settlements.

They try to smuggle marijuana to Russia or Kyrgyzstan. We exchange information with Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia on regular basis. We are concerned that Kazakhstan is a transit area for heroin supply. Heroin is supplied to Russia and other countries through Kazakhstan. Illegal traffic of heroin – is a big problem for Jambul Region. Just a couple of days ago seven kilos of this drug was confiscated”-said the police general.

During the conversation the head of Internal Affaires Department said that a special unit “Delta Dolina” responsible for supervision over the fertile valley works under tough conditions. The cannabis grows in sandy places that have no water and are difficult to access. The summer temperature runs as high as 50 degrees above zero. The unit lacks basic work conditions.

The Americans replied with narration about a program of the Anti–Drug Department of the US Embassy. The major goal of the program is to facilitate cooperation between parties involved in fighting against drugs, international cooperation, study of subject legislation and provision of funding. Having listened to the head of IAD Eric Hamrin promised that he will tell his American colleagues about the situation with drugs in Kazakhstan to solicit material support for Kazakh counterparts. By Guzal Mirzarahimova.

September 12, 2009 – Some people cancel holidays abroad, others stage yard sales or start shopping at low-cost supermarkets. To that list must now be added a new way to get through cannabis-leaf-460x276economic hard times: grow cannabis.

Law enforcers on the west coast of the US and in the middle states straddled by the foothills of the Appalachian mountains are reporting a common trend. It is boom time for marijuana cultivation, and much of the incentive they say is to beat the recession.

So far this year, police in parts of the country where cannabis is traditionally grown have chopped down plants with a street value of $12bn. The core growing area is in California, Washington and Oregon to the west, but the Appalachian states of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia are also witnessing an explosion.

More than 600,000 cannabis plants have been cut and burned in those states this summer, reversing a previous decline in production brought about by stringent law enforcement. It is not only the quantity of crop that is on the rise, the nature of the growers is also changing.

Ed Shemelya, who leads the marijuana eradication programme in the Appalachia region, says a new type of grower is emerging wholly different to the family cartels that have cultivated the drug for generations. “We are seeing a lot more individuals who wouldn’t normally be growing marijuana. They are not your professionals.”

Shemelya puts it down to the dire economy in this part of America. The region is almost entirely dependant for jobs on coal mining, which has suffered severely from the recession.

“People are growing marijuana to supplement their income or support themselves in poor economic times. This is about economic necessity,” he said.

The newcomers to the business are typically restricting their practices to fields of around 80 plants – that’s tiny compared to the mega cultivation seen in California where 5.3m plants were destroyed last year up from 4.9m in 2007. But at around $2,000 a plant, that still provides a good living in Appalachia.

Growers tend to locate their crops as close to their homes as possible, on the edge or just inside the forest that carpets much of the foothills. They clear foliage from the trees to allow in light, then grow the plants between the trunks to hide them from aerial detection by the drug authorities.

On top of the economic incentive, the clampdown on marijuana traffic across the border from Mexico has also provided a reason for new participants to enter the market. Dave Keller, a drug enforcement officer in Appalachia, told the Associated Press that both small and large growers were trying to fill the void.

The booming business is proving challenging not only for law enforcement. A devastating forest fire in the mountains of Los Padres National Forest in California last month was found to have been started by a Mexican drug cartel that had been cooking marijuana on a camp fire. Some 30,000 plants were seized from the farm hidden away in the forest. Source

September 9, 2009 – COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Military marijuana? The U.S. Army planned to cover a chemical weapons site with grass and weed – but not the kind of grass and weed that’s actually cropping up – the kind that’s image5296871xillegal.

The Army made the unwanted discovery during the cleanup of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal northeast of Commerce City, Colo. Part of the cleanup includes reseeding some areas. But when that seed started to grow, marijuana popped up.

It isn’t commercial grade, but it’s still an illegal drug. Known as ditch weed or feral hemp, it grows wild in some places.

The army’s Charlie Scharmin, who’s in charge of the cleanup, was caught off guard by the discovery.

“Not something you expect in an environmental cleanup job,” says Scharmin. “It was a little surprising.”

Scharmin says the army was finishing containment of two large contamination areas at the former chemical weapons production site, when they laid down rock and clay, and then put vegetation on top. But it wasn’t just any vegetation.

“The specification is that we acquire weed-free mulch from the supplier,” explains Scharmin.

Weed-free? Not exactly.

The military blames the supplier for the snafu, saying the mulch for ground cover was purchased from a place in Kansas where the low-grade weed is common.

Some of it apparently got mixed in with the grass. So to speak.

The Army made the first discovery of hemp on the property in June. So far they’ve picked about 100 plants that Scharmin says are low-grade. He says they plan to mow, burn or maybe even have bison eat the rest.

“Fish and Wildlife Service does not seem to have any concern about having bison out there,” Scharmin says.

Pass the buffalo wings? By Shaun Boyd. Source.

August 27, 2009 – At first glance, the One Brown Mouse Boutique looks like a typical hippie artisan shop–its ceiling festooned with tie dye, stained glass tributes to Bob Marley and brownnederpost-Sgt. Pepper Beatles hanging in the window, racks of handmade jewelry, crocheted hats, and silk-screen T-shirts for sale. Only the sweet stank of high-grade marijuana permeating the room distinguishes the Brown Mouse of Nederland, Colorado from such patchouli-infused boutiques across the country. Proprietress Kathleen Chippi’s shop nearly fell victim to the recession’s retail stagnation earlier this year, until she altered her business plan to become the small mountain community’s first medicinal marijuana dispensary.

What can only be rightly described as an explosion of ganjapreneurship is currently underway in Colorado, sparked by the Obama Administration’s new policy announcement in February, which directed federal agencies to defer to state law enforcement on the issue of medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana has been technically legal in Colorado since 2000, when residents voted to add Amendment 20 to the state’s constitution. The Bush Administration, however, always maintained a rigid stance that federal anti-drug laws took precedence over state rights. Regular DEA raids on medical marijuana distributors in states that legally permit such commerce effectively intimidated citizens who would have otherwise officially registered as patients or caregivers.

At the beginning of this year, only 2000 people had applied for Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Registry since the system was established on 2001. In the past six months, kathleenthe registry has grown to nearly 10,000. The registry card is actually optional under Colorado law–a doctor’s note is sufficient–so it’s difficult to determine the precise number of medicinal users. About thirty dispensaries currently operate to provide verified patients with locally-grown kind bud, up from just a handful in previous years. And the number of dispensaries is expected to double to 60 by the end of 2009.

Even though it passed the medical marijuana amendment nearly a decade ago, Colorado is just now entering a phase of transition that embraces that legal reality. The longtime lucrative blackmarket in a forbidden agricultural product is being legitimized–all the financial transactions that used to flow underground are now being raised to the taxable surface, creating a new era for an ancient industry, and fertile ground for ganjapreneurial start-ups to sprout like new shoots of Cannabis sativa.

Chippi has been a proponent of hemp and pro-medicinal marijuana activist for over twenty years, but had never considered opening a dispensary until the recession hit her boutique. With sales down 75% early this year, Kathleen faced financial probabilities of losing her business. After Attorney General Eric Holder announced there would be no more federal raids on legal medical marijuana dispensaries, Kathleen decided to look into the requirements for starting one. “Our law is so gray and open,” she explains, “there are no guidelines about dispensaries except that you have to collect sales tax.” After procuring a business license identifying the new product she would sell, on June 26 Kathleen’s modest artisan shop transformed into the One Brown Mouse Cannabis Healing Arts Center…. and Boutique.

The success of her new venture has been nothing short of astounding, with implications that reverberate far beyond the four walls of her tiny shop. From the micro-view of her own personal experience, Kathleen suggests, “Marijuana is the only thing pulling Colorado out of the recession right now.” Not only has her own small business been saved, but whereas her previous sales tax bill would run about $500 per quarter, Nederland will be getting a $5000 check out of her first few months as a dispensary.

Most of the farmers Kathleen works with have been cultivating their product illegally for many years–the oldest has been in the illicit business for 35, more than half have ganjagrown marijuana for over two decades. Now that they sell their product to a legal commercial enterprise, weed farmers will have to register their income and pay taxes on it, just like anyone growing tomatoes or tobacco. “To have these people coming out of the closet after so many years, that’s the really heartening thing about what’s happening right now,” Kathleen says.

Since marijuana farmers have begun selling exclusively to legitimate dispensaries, the underground market for illegal weed has been quashed, putting drug dealers out of business for lack of available stock. One such dealer I talked to in Boulder, who I will call Quark at his request, told me that with the supply of high-quality Colorado hydroponic weed redirected to dispensaries, he has only been able to procure cheap Mexican schwag for the past few months. Since the implications of indirect association with brutal Mexican cartels unsettles him, Quark is currently seeking a regular job so he will have money to pay tuition this year. Though it has negatively impacted his own solvency, Quark has nothing but praise for the new phase in Colorado’s marijuana industry. His only concern is that the change in employment status will burden his study time as he nears completion of his advanced degree in astrophysics.

Opponents of legalization/decriminalization of marijuana–medicinal or otherwise–argue that legitimizing the industry will lead to increased usage by young people, though rational analysis and official statistics indicate otherwise. California examined the issue a decade after their 1996 legalization of medicinal marijuana. The state attorney general discovered that over the previous ten years, teen usage had declined dramatically, at a rate much faster than the national trend. As compared to California statistics pre-1996, different teen age groups evidenced 25 to nearly 50% fewer numbers reporting that they’d used marijuana in the previous month.

I would bet that one could find their way to a pot dealer on any college campus in this country by asking the first three people you meet where to procure ganja. Considering the prevalence of the underground market, legitimizing the business has the effect of tightening controls over it, regulating who can legally purchase, sell, or grow it, which puts unscrupulous drug dealers out of business, this reducing the availability of product through any but official channels. The controls that come with legalization effectively reduces its availability, rather than the contrary.

Kathleen acknowledges that the cultivation and sale of marijuana has been a thriving underground industry for decades in her tiny mountain town about 15 miles west of Boulder. “It’s always been happening; it’s just not been taxed until now,” she says. The massive blackmarket is emerging into the light, though the Colorado Department of the Revenue says they have no plans to keep track of how much money the rapidly growing legitimate industry will be feeding into state coffers. The largest dispensary in the state, serving 1400 patients in Colorado Springs, generates $30,000 per month in sales tax revenue for the state. “And now that the legal dispensaries have killed the underground market, it will only get bigger,” Kathleen predicts.

For her own ambition, that is most certainly the case. One Brown Mouse currently corners the medicinal marijuana market in Nederland, though half a dozen more dispensaries are preparing to open there in the coming months. Kathleen represents the leading edge of a growing movement of ganjapreneurs, and wants to carve out a substantial market share before the field becomes crowded with ambitious latecomers. Her fine-tuned business acumen, clearly unharmed by decades of casual marijuana use, recognizes the much larger market for her goods lies thirty minutes east in Boulder.

So Kathleen now has a business partner, with whom she has secured a 3-story 7,000 square foot building zoned for retail in Boulder. The opening of her new medicinal marijuana megastore is slated for October. Much more than simply a dispensary, Kathleen says her new “cannabis center” will sell growing equipment and art created by her patients. It will also offer a schedule of classes on cultivation techniques, and a club where those with the right paperwork can hang out, have a coffee, and smoke a joint or eat a “space cake” with friends. She even got a florist license so she can display and sell live marijuana plants, which will be a first for Colorado when she opens her doors.

Not only will Kathleen’s cannabis center be feeding state coffers with tax revenue, but it will directly create jobs for those employees she will have to hire to run the complex operation. Further, the economic ripple from such an operation will generate business for gardeners talented in the delicate process of nurturing baby marijuana clones and bakers specialized in creating snacks infused with cannabis.

To learn more about ganjapreneurs who are stimulating Colorado’s economy, check back tomorrow for part 2 of this story, where I will introduce you to the founders of Ganja Goods. By Christina Davidson. Source.

August 22, 2009 – SAN FRANCISCO — Lt. Sonny LeGault and 11 other officers from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department woke before dawn one recent morning, hiked three miles through the woods and just missed the apparently hungry men they had hoped to arrest.Picture 7

“They’d been cooking breakfast: there were a couple of quails dressed out, and a soup going,” Lieutenant LeGault said. “But they were gone.”

Those the officers had been hunting were workers at one of the scores of remote, highly organized outdoor marijuana “grows” that dot the vast forests of California, largely on federal property.

Long a fixture of the nation’s public lands, such criminal agricultural enterprises, law enforcement officials say, have increased greatly in recent years. And they were cast squarely into the limelight this week when the authorities said a 90,000-acre Santa Barbara County wildfire, known as the La Brea fire, had begun with a campfire built by marijuana growers believed to be low-level workers for a Mexican drug cartel.

The fire, which started on Aug. 8, is expected to be fully contained on Saturday. About the only thing that did not burn, Lieutenant LeGault said, were the areas where growers had been watering some 30,000 marijuana plants.

“Ironically, it probably saved their lives,” he said of the growers, who have eluded arrest.

Officials say the rise in the number of such grows has resulted in part from a tightening of the border with Mexico.

“It’s made it much more difficult for the cartels to smuggle into the country, particularly marijuana, which is large and bulky,” said the Santa Barbara County sheriff, Bill Brown. “It’s easier to grow it here.”

California is also popular with marijuana growers for all the reasons that customary farmers like it. “The conditions are very conducive: the water and the soil and the sunshine,” Sheriff Brown said.

According to the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, a multiagency task force managed by the state’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, this year is already one for the record books. In more than 425 raids since late June, some 3.4 million plants have been seized, up from 2.9 million all of last year. And, officials note, they still have roughly a month and a half before the campaign expires with the end of harvest season.

Raids occur daily, from southern counties like Riverside, where some 27,000 plants were found on July 2, to northern ones like Lake and Shasta, in each of which more than 400,000 plants have been destroyed by the authorities this year. (Mature plants are usually incinerated, younger ones simply uprooted.)

About 2.7 million plants, nearly 80 percent of the seized crop, have been found on federal, state or other public lands. Officials attribute the plants’ prevalence there to the vast area investigators are expected to cover.

“It’s rugged terrain, very difficult to get to and very difficult to see,” said John Heil, a spokesman for the United States Forest Service, which in California has jurisdiction over 20.6 million acres, home to nearly 60 percent of this year’s seizures.

Mr. Heil said drug operators could be blamed for a handful of wildfires each year in California, which is already dealing with a prolonged drought and budget-stretched firefighting resources. Environmental damage of a different kind can also be severe, with pesticides seeping into soil and streams, and trash and human waste left behind.

Lieutenant LeGault said he was impressed by how far marijuana growers would go — deeper into forests, higher in the mountains — in an effort to avoid detection. “They call it a wilderness because it is,” he said. “Not even the billy goats go there.”

Once established, Lieutenant LeGault said, the workers, usually in teams of 4 to 10, must labor hard to cultivate. Streams and springs are dammed to provide water for irrigation, with miles of irrigation line laid. Plants are laid out under trees to avoid surveillance by law enforcement aircraft, and large areas for planting are sometimes cleared of brush, rocks and so forth by hand.

Living is rudimentary. In the case of the camp that started the La Brea fire, workers seemed to have been sleeping in small dirt beds next to a handmade irrigation pool, with tarps hung overhead.

Then there is the natural world to contend with. Marijuana workers often set traps or diversions for bears, hanging bags of food from far-removed trees. Poison is laid out for rats and other rodents that apparently do not mind the taste of marijuana, which is usually dried and packaged at the camps.

But the biggest danger for growers is law enforcement. Lieutenant LeGault and his fellow officers often land at camps via helicopter, dangling in the air on harnesses and ropes.

Yet arrests are rare. Growers are typically armed, but they most often flee if they hear helicopters overhead or officers hiking toward them. In Santa Barbara County, officials say that in 18 raids, they have netted 225,000 plants but made no arrests.

Lieutenant LeGault said he would love to catch someone, but he understands the odds of running down anyone so deep in the woods.

“It’s like fighting any crime,” he said. “This is just a little more physically challenging.”


July 24, 2009 – 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. tfs_mm_hollywoodog

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, 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. Source. By JUSTIN SCHECK and STU WOO

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