Lassen County and medical marijuana cooperatives may be on collision course

by Buddy Vapesit

Lassen County and medical marijuana cooperatives may be on collision course

Lassen County and medical marijuana cooperatives may be on collision course

While the county asserts local zoning regulations do not allow medical marijuana cooperatives in Lassen County, the cooperative operators maintain their activities are legal under California state law and the county lacks the authority to restrict their activities.

The unrepentant operators plan to remain in business despite the Lassen County Board of Supervisors’ recently enacted moratoria and insist their activities are permitted under state law. They also argue the newly enacted ordinances do not apply to them because they were in business before the moratoria were passed.

The newspaper visited all three cooperatives in Lassen County last week to see how medical marijuana cooperatives work.

Californians for Safe Access Collective Cooperative

Tim Ziegler, the operator of Californians for Safe Access cooperative in Susanville, said he’s ready to battle the county. He’s in the process of planting 600 medical marijuana plants on part of a 12-acre parcel on Johnstonville Road just east of Susanville to provide medication for cooperative members.

“I don’t want to have to sue the county,” Ziegler said, “but the day I get cited is the day I’ll go to court, and by God, it’s on … I’m practicing civil disobedience. I’m violating an unconstitutional law or ordinance.”

According to Ziegler, he’s obeying both the spirit and the letter of California state law, and he should be immune from arrest and prosecution if he follows the attorney general’s guidelines on medical marijuana.

“This is for the sick people in Lassen County,” Ziegler said. “Our board of supervisors showed very clearly they discriminate against seriously ill people in California.”

Ziegler called the special meeting at Jensen Hall on May 11  “a dog and pony show” and said the board didn’t listen to its constituents or listened with deaf ears.

He also disputed the claims made by law enforcement that medical marijuana activities lead to an increase in crime. He said there hasn’t been a single police incident in the six years he’s been operating his cooperative just off Main Street in Susanville.

Ziegler called a cooperative “a closed loop” because the patients and the growers are all members. A member must join the cooperative in order to obtain medical marijuana.

Ziegler said prospective members make an appointment, bring a valid California identification card, proof of California residency and the original copy of the recommendation from their physician. Staff at the cooperative will then verify the validity of the recommendation with the physician.

“At that point, we can help them,” Ziegler said.

He said people just can’t walk in off the street and purchase marijuana with a recommendation or a county issued medical marijuana card as they might at a medical marijuana dispensary.

According to Ziegler, a cooperative is an entity in California law that creates a tax structure and requires a board of directors. He said when CASA generates more money than it needs to care for its patients, it gives that money away to non-profit organizations such as the Lassen County Arts Council or the Acoustic Café or Summer Nights on the Green programs at Lassen Community College.

The cooperative operates just like any other business, Ziegler said. It has as few as five employees and at harvest time as many as 20. He said the cooperative incurs the same costs as any other business such as sales tax and workers compensation insurance.

The number of members served by the cooperative goes up and down, but Ziegler said it averages about 300 recommendations.

Patients Choice Wellness Cooperative

Kevin Rust, the manager of the Patients Choice Wellness Cooperative in Janesville, said he was surprised by all the uproar caused when the cooperative recently opened on Main Street in Janesville.

“We’re not trying to hide anything here,” Rust said. “We cater to Proposition 215 qualified patients who are existing members with a valid recommendation from a physician.”

Rust noted there is no signage on the building and the door is locked at all times. Someone has to let you enter the building.

“You can’t just walk in here,” Rust said.

The cooperative takes a scientific approach to the use of medical marijuana, and Rust said the particular genetic strain members use makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of the drug.

“Medical marijuana is medicine,” Rust said, “and this is why one size does not fit all. It’s not a new medicine. It’s an old medicine. It’s just been forgotten … This is another choice. It’s between the patient and their doctor.”

For example, some members may use medical marijuana to help with their appetite. Some may use the drug to help control pain. Others may use the drug to help them sleep. Still others may use the drug to help them sleep and deal with pain at the same time. Different genetic strains provide different results.

“This is medicine,” Rust said. “It’s relief for people that they can’t get anywhere else.”

Many medical marijuana users prefer the drug over prescription medications, and claim it may even be more effective.

For example, Rust said his own wife suffers from multiple sclerosis, and medical marijuana has stopped the progression of her disease and provided relief she just couldn’t get from prescription drugs.

He also blasted both the city of Susanville and Lassen County for their failure to find solutions to issues regarding medical marijuana. Rust said he couldn’t get any cooperation from either the city of Susanville or Lassen County when he approached the government entities about starting the cooperative.

From his perspective, the city and the county have had 14 years since the voters’ approval of Proposition 215 to decide on how to deal with medical marijuana, and they haven’t until now.

“They’re the ones who caused this problem,” Rust said. “There’s been no crime, so why is there an emergency all of a sudden?”

Rust admits this is his first experience running a cooperative, but he said he spent a year going around the state, observing and learning how the good cooperatives operate. For example, in Santa Rosa there’s a $1,600 annual fee for medical marijuana cooperatives, and the operators must pass background checks. He said the county has an opportunity to generate much-needed revenue by issuing special use permits, and he’s all in favor of regulation.

Regulation leads to responsible operators, and Rust said he wants the city or county officials to work with him. He said there must be somebody in government who is reasonable and is interested in more than just “fight, fight, fight and pointing fingers.”

The cooperative currently serves about 60 patients in Lassen and Plumas counties. No marijuana is grown on site and the cooperative provides a delivery service for members.

Patients Choice Wellness Cooperative plans to use any excess money to provide conventional and alternative medical care for its members and may also make contributions to the Janesville community.

The cooperative discourages smoking marijuana and recommends members who want to smoke use a vaporizer. Instead it recommends ingesting edibles, drinking tea or using tinctures.

It also recommends members educate themselves by reading a variety of books on marijuana and its effects and the California laws regarding medical marijuana. It also advises its members to use the drug responsibly.

Alternative Health Care Group

The Alternative Health Care Group cooperative is located on Big Sky Road just east of Susanville.

Dr. Granville Marshall, Jr. is the chief financial officer and medical director. The cooperative, the only one of the three with signage, furnished a written statement from its board of directors for this story.

According to that statement, the board would like the public to know about its “strict policies to stay within California’s compassionate use laws, California state laws and local laws as well as keeping the good of the community in mind.”

The cooperative also screens its members and verifies their recommendations. Marijuana is not grown on site.

“Future endeavors of AHG will be at the discretion of our board of directors and our members and aimed at the welfare of our members and the community as a whole,” the statement reads.

May 25, 2010 — County officials and the operators of three medical marijuana cooperatives in Lassen County just don’t see eye to eye. Imagine that.
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