Running A Medical Marijuana Collective

Interview with Daniel Sung, Director of LA Wonderland Caregivers

A Little Background: In November of 1996, California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 or Proposition 215 with 55.6% of the vote. It allowed patients to use marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of a variety of ailments from cancer and Aids to sleeplessness and chronic pain.

With a doctor’s recommendation these patients could cultivate their own marijuana for personal use. But many of them did not have the wherewithal, strength or knowledge to grow pot so they had to turn to the street to get their supplies. Little old ladies suffering from Cancer, forced to turn to the street to score, was not what the bill intended. So Senate Bill 420 amended 215 and gave people permission to share what they grew in Medical Marijuana Collectives. But these were insufficiently regulated and City Hall put a moratorium on any new Collectives until they could come up with an ordinance clarifying requirements and guidelines.  Lawyers finding loopholes in the moratorium, began advertising and advising interested parties on how to get through the loopholes with a resulting sudden proliferation of Collectives throughout the city, much to the dismay of the communities they were mushrooming in. The community noise sent City Hall scrambling to come up with an ordinance which passed this January and was signed into law by the Mayor Feb. 3.  

TNN decided to interview Daniel Sung, Director of L.A. Wonderland Caregivers one of our advertisers. Daniel defies the imagined picture of a grower and supplier of  marijuana. Articulate, educated, knowledgable, Daniel is sincerely passionate about the true benefits of medical marijuana.

TNN: How did you get involved in running a clinic?

Daniel: I was a patient myself. I had a very hard time sleeping and because I snowboarded a lot, I had fallen hard on my knees during the winter and they hurt badly.  So I did get a prescription to help me with these issues, but I was having difficulty finding the kind of medicine I needed. There were collectives that lacked a lot of information about their product. How it was grown and which medicine worked for which ailments. The collectives I was going to had a lot of money for big advertising so they got a crowd coming in but the people who were more responsible and conscientious kept it low key, conservative, interacting with the community around them.

TNN: So you wanted to create a more responsible business?

Daniel: I felt I owed it to the community. There were no standards back then. Each collective would do their own thing. You would have ones that might not even call the doctors to verify that the client was really a patient or check paperwork. I was always impressed by the collectives that would operate professionally and had “budtenders” that were educated.  They were helpful to their patients.  They would ask about their ailments and knew what strains to present to help alleviate pain, nausea, insomnia, etc. There was a clear difference between
professionally run collectives and amateurs. 

TNN: What kind of improvements did you bring to the business?
Daniel: I modeled our business after certain collectives that I felt safe and secure at. The one’s that held themselves to a higher standard, like GLACA, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance. They are self-regulators that came up with their own procedures. We became a member.

TNN: What do members of GLACA do that others don’t?

Daniel: Verify that the patient is really a legitimate patient by calling the doctor, having sign in and release forms, hiring security guards and having educated budtenders. There is no school for learning how to grow effective medical pot. You learn by being conscientious and having experience. I was drawn to this.

TNN: Are they politically active?

Daniel: Yes. Yami, a director at Pure Life Alternative, (another collective and one of the originators of GLACA)  worked with Councilmen Ed Reyes and Dennis Zine who visited their collective and met with their members. Pure Life made suggestions for the ordinance. GLCA realized they had to work with the City and take the necessary steps to make marijuana, used as a medicine, acceptable in the public eye. I was fortunate to have jumped into this boat. It was comforting to see there were people who were as conscientious as I wanted to be.

TNN: What is your understanding of the concerns people in the community have about collectives?
Daniel: They seem to be mainly concerned about their kids being exposed to marijuana and crime. But I do think that many of the concerns come from a lack of information.

TNN: But you have talked about Collectives that are not responsible, sloppy. So in those cases the concerns seem legitimate.
Daniel: Absolutely and I respect those concerns. But I would say those collectives are not the rule and that the majority of the collectives are not irresponsible and shouldn’t be punished because of the bad apples. People need to be educated about how the collectives are run. For instance we operate about 500 feet from a preschool. I have a letter here from the Director stating they have never received a complaint about us since we’ve been here. The parents are walking in front of our business with their kids all the time.  There’s a junior high school a couple of thousand feet away and they use a bus stop that is close by. They are so engrossed in their own world that they don’t even notice us. They also know they couldn’t get past the front door because we have a security guard present.  We also operate in a low key fashion and don’t have a neon marijuana leaf in our window.

TNN: What about crime?
Daniel: Well the new Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck recently stated on the Daily News that medical cannabis collectives do not attract crime and were not a haven for crime. He said that banks were more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries. He had the department prepare a report and they discovered that the idea that clinics were magnets for crime just wasn’t the case.

TNN: So how are these Collectives run?  Where do you get your medicine?

Daniel: We get it from our patients. A patient will designate us as their collective. Now, some of our patients can grow their own and some cannot. They are too ill or don’t have the means or the knowledge.  Growing quality, effective marijuana takes about two years of hands on training. Then there are patients who do have the time and willingness including some of the people who run our collective. We do it because its an education for us and it allows us to ask the right questions of our members who are growing it and bringing it to the collective.  One of the problems with the current ordinance is that it requires all members to be involved in growing but this is unreasonable and physically impossible for some of our members. 

TNN: What are some of the other problems in the ordinance?

Daniel: There are a lot of problems. Members of City Council approached the collectives asking for suggestions but then ignored them and cut us all out of the negotiations. GLACA has been reading it from front to back everyday discovering inconsistencies. One of the big problems is that once it becomes effective, (when the Mayor has signed it and PLUM -Planning and Land Use Management- determine their pre inspection fees) collectives have 7 days to tell Plum (who have to inspect and approve of the place) where they are going to move to.  If they opened legally, before the moratorium, they have 6 months to move to the a new place. So we have 7 days to find a place, who knows how long before PLUM inspects, and if they don’t approve we have a few months or maybe weeks to find another new place depending on when they make their determination in that six month period. On top of that Councilman Wesson introduced a requirement that makes it all but certain that most collectives will have to close.

TNN: Do tell
Daniel: No collective can share a property line with a residence.

TNN: What if there is an alley between them and the residents?

Daniel: He also included prohibiting us from being up against an alley.  All the businesses on the main streets are up against either an alley or a property line so this basically forces us into industrial areas. Now we have seven days to find a place out in the middle of nowhere miles away from our clients, six months to have PLUM come and approve and what if they don’t approve. Do we shut down or do we still have time to find another place?  But what is worse is
that our clients, many of whom have aids, cancer, debilitating
diseases, now have to find a way to get to these outlying
industrial areas.

TNN: To sum up...the voters said that those who are suffering from certain illnesses should be allowed to use marijuana to alleviate the symptoms, the city then allowed collectives to facilitate legal access. But they were unregulated  and  in response the city has gone to the opposite extreme by creating restrictions that are so draconian most legal collectives will go under or become so difficult to get to, that patients will probably go back to buying from the street.  In effect City Council has succeeded in cutting off the feet of legal access for medicinal use and given the street drug trade reason to celebrate.
Daniel: Your taxpaying dollars hard at work.

As of  this writing Mayor Villaraigosa has signed the ordinance while  Americans for Safe Access, the nation’s main medical marijuana advocacy nonprofit along with the Venice Beach Care Center and the PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, have filed a lawsuit against the city saying the ordinance violates state law, They seek a court injunction and restraining order to stop the measure from being enforced.

 

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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