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Bigger Is Better For Pot Dispensaries, Oakland Advocate Says

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
For Sacramento and other California cities wanting fewer medical pot clubs, Steve DeAngelo offers a potential model: the world's largest marijuana dispensary.

DeAngelo is executive director of the Harborside Medical Center, a 48,000-member patient collective he says serves more marijuana users than anywhere else. For sure, the Oakland dispensary -- one of just four allowed in the city -- is a titan in California's legal medicinal pot trade.

Greeting up to 800 people a day, Harborside's Oakland center has a neuropathic primary care doctor, an acupuncturist and a chiropractor. Its staff teaches yoga, stress management and "universal life force energy" -- and doles out a harvest of weed.

Harborside, which recently opened a second dispensary in San Jose, handles $20 million annually in pot transactions at its Oakland facility, DeAngelo says.

Harborside, by law, operates as a nonprofit. Yet its Oakland location produces nearly $2 million in state sales taxes and another $360,000 under a local levy that Oakland voters approved for marijuana businesses, DeAngelo says.

In Sacramento, where the city is trying to figure out what to do with 39 registered pot shops, officials studied Oakland, which is slightly smaller in population. A proposal before the Sacramento City Council would cap the number of dispensaries at 12.

Council member Sandy Sheedy said a dozen medical marijuana sites was viewed as more reasonable for the capital city. "I would not like to see Wal-Mart clinics," she said.

But DeAngelo, a veteran advocate who smoked pot as a teenager in pro-marijuana protests outside the White House, insists that fewer, bigger dispensaries are the way to go.

"I think it's a real mistake to be afraid of the large facilities," said DeAngelo, who started as a hemp products importer. "They are more easily regulated. They provide a familiar, secure base for services for patients."

He added: "Do we want a lot of 'pot shops' or do we want 'health facilities'?"

Harborside may well be a model for high volume sales outlets should California voters in November expand legalization from medical pot users to all adults over 21. For now, dispensary officials insist their only interest is providing relief for people with medical conditions.

Eighty employees greet medical pot users. And they offer more than the latest cannabis strains of "Grape Ape" or "Green Blackberry Kush."

Nubian Flunder, an on-site licensed acupuncturist, works with "patients with chronic pain and mental health issues" to "assist them on their journey to optimum health."

DeAngelo says the clinic also provides drug counseling because 15 percent of clients have had issues with substance abuse. While some report problems with tobacco and pharmaceuticals, he said others seek "peer counseling" to curb their pot use.

Harborside also offers free marijuana incentives -- up to a gram a week -- to patients who volunteer for advocacy work.

So Mo Pierce, 34, writes supportive letters to federal inmates imprisoned for pot.

"I write to the prisoners of war -- people who have been incarcerated over stupid weed charges," said Pierce, who stopped at the dispensary for a favorite "purple indica" he uses for back pain, digestive problems and anxiety.

Harborside also provides a "care package" free pot program for low-income patients such as Frank Knighten, 58.

Knighten, a former aircraft mechanic and Vietnam veteran, says he suffers from post-traumatic stress. A jazz and blues composer, he uses marijuana "to help me write music and keep me calm.

"The way society is today," he said, "I think everybody should be smoking a joint sometimes."

DeAngelo, a dapper figure recognized for his fedora and long, braided pigtails, established the dispensary in October 2006. His partner was Dave Wedding Dress, a peace activist named for the flowing gown he wore at anti-nuclear protests at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Wedding Dress is Harborside's "holistic services director." DeAngelo is the marketing face of the operation.

He is also a well-traveled medical marijuana advocate who insists Harborside handles more clients and transactions than any place in Amsterdam, the world's acclaimed bastion for legal pot use.

On most any day at Harborside, medical marijuana seekers snake quickly through long lines to reach pot-providing attendants known as "patient consultants."

Ross Halligan, 32, and Eamonn O'Neal, 26, came to buy seedlings for home-growing medical users in San Francisco. They marveled at the scale and pace of the place.

"It's an unenforceable law to try to stop people from smoking pot, be it for medical or recreational use," Halligan said. "Definitely, if you're thinking about making it legal, it should be in this style."

NewsHawk: User: 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: behavioralhealthcentral.com
Author: Peter Hecht
Copyright: 2010 Behavioral Health Central
Contact: Contacts | Contact-Us
Website: Mental Health Behavioral Health Medical Professionals Resources

• Thanks to MedicalNeed for submitting this article
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