In May, police in riot gear in Santa Ana, California raided the Sky High Holistic medical marijuana dispensary, claiming that it was operating illegally under California law due to the lack of a permit.
Officers forced customers to the floor, used threatening and menacing language, and — after they thought no cameras were recording them or civilians were present to hear their comments — engaged in theft of property (marijuana-infused edibles) and behavior that was neither professional nor becoming of an officer of the law.
During the raid, officers were secretly recorded on video cameras they failed to locate and disable. This infamous video segment that went viral on social media shows officers destroying recording equipment, allegedly eating edibles they have stolen from the dispensary, and disparaging the dispensary’s manager, Marla James, a 54-year-old wheelchair-bound amputee.
In the surveillance footage when referring to James, an officer asks,
“Did you punch that one-legged old benita?”
“I was about to kick her in her f-ing nub.”
Steven Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, said in response to the raid,
“Look at what’s happened to law enforcement. You don’t have peace officers in our communities anymore, you have warriors, drug warriors.”
The dispensary in June filed a federal lawsuit against the Santa Ana Police Department claiming misconduct, including $100,000 worth of damage to the dispensary and its inventory and the use of excessive force. In response, the Santa Ana Police Department announced that it would conduct an internal investigation.
Now the officers involved in the May raid have filed their own lawsuit, this one claiming that the secretly-captured and embarrassing video segments were a violation of their privacy. They claim that they “had a reasonable expectation that their conversations were no longer being recorded.”
While activists are pessimistic that the Santa Ana PD’s internal investigation will yield anything surprising, medical marijuana advocates are using the incident and ongoing litigation to shine a spotlight on police bigotry against both medical and recreational cannabis consumers and the businesses that serve them. The lack of professionalism in the officers’ behavior — especially toward the dispensary’s manager, James — is an embarrassment to the police department.
The officers also claim that the viral video was edited in a fashion intended to reflect poorly on them. However, the dispenary’s attorney, Matthew Pappas, has provided police with a full-length, unedited version of the recording.
It remains to be seen if this latest lawsuit in the Sky High Holistic raid drama will gain any traction. If the officers win their suit, the video recordings could not be used against them. Many are cautiously optimistic that the officer’s will lose their case and the video footage will stand against them in an investigation or trial.
Regardless of the outcome of this event, the Santa Ana Police Department — and the officers involved in the Sky High Holistic raid specifically — have received a failing grade from community members, their peers in Los Angeles, and progressive citizens throughout the nation who are frustrated with the drug war and its cost to society.
As the medical marijuana industry continues to grow, so does the need for the people who work at the dispensaries to really know their cannabis.
When Mariellen Jurkovich (photo below) first started working at the Humboldt Patient Resource Center in Arcata, California, eight years ago, she said the dispensary only provided certain strains of cannabis that were easy to grow. Now, the director says that they are offering patients a wide variety of items, including tinctures, salves and edibles.
The general manager of the dispensary, Bryan Willkomm (photo below), said the staff tends to get a lot of questions from patients who are younger. When looking at edibles, they want to know about any dietary restrictions, sugar content, allergies and specific dosing information. As opposed to older patients, who might simply smell a plant and choose, Willkomm said younger patients are asking for cannabinoid and terpene profile analysis, and asking questions such as whether the cannabis has high levels of limonene or myrcene.
These are also the patients who often ask for alternative treatment, such as the salves. Willkomm noted that two years ago when he began working at the dispensary, there were only 15 products available. He said,
“We have over 300 products now.”
People who work at a medical marijuana dispensary have to wear the hats of many, including researcher, pharmacist and even physician. Due to legal restrictions, however, researchers are limited in the work they can do to learn more about the medical benefits of cannabis. Marijuana is still viewed as a Schedule I substance under federal law. Willkomm said that in order to share information with patients, the California dispensary workers are meeting with Israeli physicians in Oregon.
The dispensary sees many patients who are treating terminal conditions, according to Jurkovich. It offers reduced-price and free products through its compassion program, which serves people who are seriously or terminally ill.
Jurkovich (photo below) intended to create a holistic environment for patients by providing a dispensary alongside a wellness center. Unfortunately, the wellness facility was only open a year before she found that pursuing permits for both operations was too expensive.
However, she still believes in providing comprehensive services. She has trained staff to better treat patients and pays her employees to participate in educational conferences and workshops.
Further, the Humboldt Patient Resource Center is a learning center, approved by Humboldt State University. Students are able to visit and learn about the operation, and staff are encouraged to learn more about cannabis. Jurkovich said:
“It’s not basic anymore. We’re constantly on the computer, doing research, buying books. It’s really kind of exciting.”
And the dispensary workers are tested on their knowledge. The facility was just reviewed and passed a Clean Green Certification. During the process, an inspector asked staff to trace a product from the shelf back to processing, inventory and the garden where the cannabis got its start.
Willkomm said that having an unbiased third party evaluate the facility adds legitimacy to the operation. Wilkomm says,
Ever since voters approved a 2012 ballot initiative for medical marijuana, the people of Massachusetts have been waiting for the opportunity to legally purchase cannabis. Finally, on Wednesday, June 24, Alternative Therapies Group in Salem gave people their chance.
Early Wednesday morning, dozens of patients stood in line waiting to buy marijuana legally for the first time. Access to the dispensary is currently by appointment only, and already on the first day there were 120 patients signed up to make their first purchase.
Medical Marijuana patients waiting in line at Alternative Therapies Group in Salem.
According to state records, there are now 18,000 people who have acquired the necessary physician certifications to legally purchase marijuana in the state of Massachusetts. After issues with the system arose under Gov. Deval Patrick, it appears that more dispensaries throughout the state will be up and running by the end of the year. Although it took three years after the original vote to make this happen, it appears that the system is here to stay under the guidance of Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration.
Wendy Atwood, a 53-year-old woman who uses marijuana to help with her arthritis, depression, and anxiety, was one of those citizens waiting in line on the first day. While she has been a long-time cannabis user on her own, she is glad that her use will now be legal:
“I am a law-abiding citizen, a mom with two kids, and a day-care provider. It’s going to be very exciting” to walk into the dispensary, she added. “I’m happy that it’s not under wraps anymore.”
As most would expect, the first day of business was slow-moving as patients and suppliers alike were trying to get a feel for the whole process. After waiting in line for up to an hour, small groups of customers would be moved inside and asked to watch a short video about the different strains being offered at Alternative Therapies Group, even though only two different types were available on Wednesday. Patients would then place an order and be led into another area to pick it up.
Police officer guards the door of Alternative Therapies Group in Salem.
Even though prices were higher than most patients expected, most customers seemed satisfied just to finally have the opportunity to buy marijuana legally. Peter Hayashi, a 59-year-old former neuropsychologist who suffers from a neurological condition that makes temperature changes very painful on his skin, was among the first to get inside the building:
“We fought a long time for this. Marijuana has helped me be up and around more normally.”
Alternative Therapies Group was allowed to open early after the state granted a temporary waiver to sell cannabis that has not been full tested for pesticides and other contaminants. Due to Massachusetts having the toughest testing standards for medical marijuana in the country, it could be months before more dispensaries are able to be up and running.
Fourteen dispensaries throughout the state have received the the necessary preliminary state approval and are finalizing details before they are open for business. At least two are expected to be ready by fall 2015.
Colorado continues to set records for the amount of cannabis that it sells through legal shops and dispensaries — and the volume of tax revenue that it collects as a result.
In February, more than $39 million worth of recreational cannabis was sold in the Centennial State. This beat the previous record, set in January of this year, by nearly $3 million. Growth has been steady; in January 2014, the first month of legal recreational use, about $14.7 million was generated from pot sales.
This increase is attributed to additional retail shops that have been appearing in cities like Aurora, located just east of Denver, which began selling recreational cannabis last October. Statistics haven’t been released regarding the demand at individual shops and dispensaries, so it’s impossible to say how much of the growth in sales is the result of recently opened retail outlets serving new customers and what portion is an increase in demand by existing users.
While sales of recreational cannabis continue to climb, medical consumption has actually decreased somewhat since the state’s recreational law went into effect.
Medical Sales Declining
During the era of recreational legality, medical pot sales peaked at $36 million in February 2014, more than a year ago. That record was nearly $7 more than was sold one year later in February 2015, when medical sales totalled $29.3 million.
The decrease in medical sales is attributed by some observers to the fact that eligible patients must register with the state. With consumption of any type illegal at the federal level — and individuals and dispensaries in states like California and Washington continuing to be busted by the feds — the risk of having one’s name in a government database is believed to be pushing the state’s pot patients to instead pursue recreational herb, which doesn’t require such registration.
This could obviously have a major impact on Colorado’s medical dispensaries, which, like any business, must generate enough revenue to remain profitable and keep their doors open.
Overall Upward Trend
These numbers all point toward a bright 2015 for Colorado in terms of tax dollars collected. Unless trends change dramatically, the state will sell more cannabis in 2015 than 2014. Which will, of course, benefit public schools and other services.
In January of this year, Colorado schools received $2.3 million from recreational sales, generating media headlines across the nation. In February, schools collected $2.1 million. At this rate, the state’s school system will likely receive an infusion of more than $25 million during the year from the sale of marijuana.
In 2014, Colorado sold more than $700 million worth of cannabis ($386 million for medical and $313 million for recreational). With 2015 projected to be an even bigger year for the state’s pot business, it’s no wonder that so many other states — even conservative ones like Arizona, Ohio, and Michigan — are seriously considering legalizing medical and recreational marijuana in an effort to decrease law enforcement expenses, generate much-needed tax revenue, and eliminate the criminal element that’s ingrained in the black market.