Cannabis Cowboys

It is the things i did not know until recently that determine legal cannabis’s availability nationally.  At the center of this debate is the scheduling by the US government of marijuana and hashish as schedule 1 drug.  This means they have no known medical value and thus can not be prescribed by a doctor, they can only be recommended.

Back in September, i went to the Harborside Health Center, which is Oakland’s largest medical marijuana dispensary. One of the two founders and the current operations manager is my old friend dave wedding dress, who prefers to simply be called “dress”. He gave us the grand tour both of the dispensary and the issue. Good capitalists are making bank on marijuana distribution, dress and Stephen from Harborside are doing more important stuff.

dress in a tie

One of clever parts of their work is to legally force the reclassification from schedule 1 to 2 or lower.  At schedule 2 doctors can prescribe it which means the DEA has to stop busting dispensaries and will likely bring the end of the federal government trying to regulate the states medical distribution of cannabis. The California Medical Association is already on board with the health benefits, the AMA is dragging it’s heals.

This landmark case will be decided by 3 federal judges.  The DEA wishes to maintain the current restrictive and clearly incorrect scheduling.  The medical evidence is now quite conclusive, chances are fairly good that we will win this one and a powerful healing force will be recognized nationally not just on a state by state basis. Harborside and dress are in the center of this fight.

the medicine for about 800 patience a day

Some of their legal fights are less optional. Last July, the DEA showed up on Harborsides door and informed them that they were seizing their landlord’s property. They have always been straight up with their landlord who has been supportive and is now in the middle of the case with the DEA. The case will be determined by the “greatest harm” between continuing operations or stopping them. Since my visit, Oakland which makes over a million dollars a year in tax revenue from Harborside alone, has filed for an injunction against the Federal Government’s harassment of Harborside; now if only the State of California would. But the tipping point may well be the thousands of Harborside patients who can testify how the center helps them.

inside the Harborside medical marijuana dispensary Oakland CA



There are lots of illusions about medical marijuana. The biggest is the DEA’s fantasy that it has no application what so ever and that dispensaries are simply helping stoners get off. Dress retold the story of one young boy who had been having seizures almost his entire life. Medical marijuana was the answer his father finally found after a long frustrating search. This story was depicted in the second episode of Weed Wars, which is the reality show that captured Harborside’s complex adventures. It brought in another mother who was bordering on suicide because she could not help her child until she started treating with cannabis.

Harborside was featured in the reality show Weed Wars

This is where dress is most satisfied. The other thing that Harborside does with some of its revenues is to provide free health care services in a huge collection of healing modalities (most which have nothing to do with cannabis use) to registered medical cannabis patients. Next to dress’s office is the room where nearly 100 patients come for free health services every week, almost all of which have very limited other health services options.

They also provide free medicine to 500 financially challenged patients a week. Harborside is a high end dispensary, not because their prices are higher – cannabis dispensing is highly competitive – but because of the testing they do. Dress took us their lab, which includes a device which determines the THC and CBD content of the marijuana they bring in, which is then labeled for the patients. This device costs $5K per month to rent.

They also send out their products to another lab which tests for mold which can be life threatening. Part of the reason that Harborside is so successful (it dispenses 80% of the medical marijuana in Oakland) is they do this rigorous testing. Harborside has over 500 regular suppliers. These are medical marijuana patients who grow for themselves and are registered with Harborside.