Mountain View Voice

News - January 29, 2010

Many hope to open pot dispensaries in city; others make house calls

by Daniel DeBolt

In 2005, Mountain View native Jonathan Lustig came to the City Council with a seemingly radical proposal: Let him open a medical marijuana dispensary somewhere in the city.

"I believe that all patients should be entitled to safe and affordable and practical means for obtaining their medicine," he said at the time.

The idea was short-lived, however, after the council rejected Lustig's proposal in a 4-3 vote after a great deal of contention — and what some felt to be intimidation from the federal DEA agents present at the meeting. Council member Laura Macias explained her no vote by saying, "We're in the most awkward of positions because the federal government has taken a very firm position here."

With that the issue seemed to die, but recent shifts in policy at the federal and state level have led to a resurgence in requests to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Mountain View. So many requests are coming in, in fact, that the city manager is putting the topic of regulating such operations on the council's to-do list this spring.

Among the new crop of requesters is Brian David, whose family ran Eddy's Sport Shop from 1950 to 2002. David says his "Shoreline Wellness Collective" would sell medical marijuana to those with a prescription out of an industrial building in the Shoreline area, and donate all excess profits to local service organizations.

Changes in policy

Lustig said a local dispensary today is "more realistic than it was in 2005, certainly," because in October the Obama administration instructed federal prosecutors to ignore those who use and sell marijuana in compliance with state laws, such as the medical marijuana law California voters passed in 1996.

As a result, dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries have sprung up in the Bay Area without the blessings of local governments, a trend that recently led Gilroy to ban the operations and for San Jose to say it will order dozens to shut down or face fines of up to $2,500 a day.

Another recent regulatory change helping those in the medi-pot business is a state Supreme Court decision made last Thursday which lifts specific limits on the amount of medical marijuana that can be possessed by patients. The decision allows patients to have as much marijuana as is found to be "reasonably necessary" for treatment, making it harder to prosecute them. Santa Clara County's own limits — six mature plants and eight ounces of harvested marijuana per patient — were nullified as well, said Amy Cornell, spokesperson for the District Attorney's office.

"The quantity limits in the (county's health and safety) code do not apply any longer, and additional information provided by a treating physician will now factor into our decisions when charging and prosecuting marijuana cases," Cornell said in an e-mail.

There are no policies specifically supporting or opposing a marijuana dispensary in Mountain View, but a handful of potential operators have found that a lack of appropriate zoning in the city still makes it difficult to open one without a zoning administrator- or City Council-approved variance.

Special delivery

The competition is not limited to those hoping to set up medi-pot dispensaries. An online search finds several groups already operating in Mountain View that will deliver medical marijuana straight to your door.

They include one operation run by none other than Jonathan Lustig, undeterred by the council's 2005 rejection of his dispensary proposal. Lustig described his operation as a "collective" consisting of "myself and a group of patients who lack access to their medication. I drive around and accommodate them."

Lustig's delivery service, Seventh Heaven, is one of at least five such services listed at www.medicalmarijuanapatient.com that serve the city and the surrounding area. He says he started the collective in 2006, and that today his array of customers includes CEOs of Silicon Valley companies and many who are confined to their homes or their beds.

The list of ailments Lustig encounters is long, including multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis, epilepsy, insomnia, Tourette syndrome, chronic pain and glaucoma. There are at least 200 illnesses which can qualify someone for medical marijuana.

Lustig says he spends lots of time with each of his "patients" to discuss their medical conditions, and makes recommendations to new patients about what type of marijuana to use. He himself is a medical marijuana card holder who uses it to treat chronic migraine headaches.

"I probably see seven to 15 patients a day and get three to five phone calls a day from new patients I am incapable of accommodating," he said.

Lustig said his patients spend anywhere from $40 to $300 each during his weekly visits, and payment is in the form of a "donation."

"It's a nonprofit, compassionate organization," he said. Instead of raking in a profit, Lustig said, he works to keep his prices well below his competition — for example, an ounce of a particular strain of pot that might otherwise sell for $450 is available through Seventh Heaven for $300.

Cornell, the spokesperson for the DA's office, said that only patients and "designated primary caregivers" can legally transport medical marijuana. A primary caregiver is defined as someone who "has consistently assumed responsibility for housing, health or safety of a patient."

Local concerns

One thing that appears to make council members nervous is the neighborhood opposition sure to come whenever a marijuana dispensary is proposed. That's why David believes it would be best to locate one near Shoreline Amphitheatre, away from residential neighborhoods and schools.

"There has to be community support," said council member John Inks, who added he would have to know more about a given proposal and the group behind it before deciding whether to support it.

During the 2005 debate, council member Tom Means said he and other council members feared a dispensary would be repeatedly targeted for robbery, as they have in other cities, or turn nearby areas into sites for drug dealing. Lustig said strict rules could prevent problematic people from obtaining membership at a medi-pot club, and David said he doesn't believe the businesses would be any more prone to being robbed than certain others, such as his own family's gun store.

David says the security methods used by other dispensaries include vaults and metal detectors, and he also says he's considering using an armored car service.

In an unusual twist, David is a Republican and a staunch advocate of the right to bear arms. He has voted for every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan, and was ranked best competitive outdoor pistol shooter in the state in 2003 and 2004, he says. David actually thinks marijuana should remain generally illegal.

If it were legalized, he said, "It would be just like alcohol is today — people dying from drinking and driving. There would be a lot of DUIs for marijuana."

Even so, David has been using medical marijuana for over 10 years to treat chronic lower back pain. He says the alternative would be painkillers like Vicodin, which he fears would wreck his liver.

While stories abound about drug users trying to game the system, and Lustig's phone message tells those without documentation to "hang up now," Lustig insists that he "never once came across someone who sounded illegitimate or had illegitimate documentation."

Lustig said his operation does not require a business license of any sort because "It isn't a business, it's a collective," adding that "There are (dispensaries) out there everywhere that don't require a business license."

City officials did not know that the delivery services were operating in Mountain View and said they were not certain about Lustig's claim that a business license is unnecessary.

"Any business organization that does business in Mountain View should have a business license," said finance director Patty Kong. But she and city attorney Jannie Quinn said they would have to research Lustig's claim that his collective was not a business.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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