Dispensary delivers pot to patients

by Andrea Ruse

The lines shaping medical marijuana laws are getting hazier.

The state says it’s legal. The feds say they’ll ease up on medical marijuana retail establishments. Manhattan Beach, along with its beach city neighbors, still says no marijuana dispensaries allowed.

Door-to-door medical marijuana delivery services are popping up, providing patients with their prescriptions in an effort to skirt the conflicting laws.

Heal the Harbor, a Manhattan Beach-based non-profit organization, has launched a medical marijuana delivery service for patients in the South Bay, called Ship’s Dispensary Distribution Project. It is one of 55 projects currently handled by the organization, most of which are related to environmental issues.

“We want to show the city how to distribute medical marijuana without store fronts enticing people,” said Tim Beck, president of Heal the Harbor. “We are developing a prototype.”

Similar to storefront distributors, Ship’s Dispensary involves a co-op of growers that collectively cultivates marijuana.

But instead of selling it on site, Beck — who has a license to grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes — mails the harvested product to patients who have established membership with the co-op. He personally visits each patient during the first delivery, to verify identification, age, and doctor’s prescription.

“If you’re truly sick, then you can’t drive around to get medicine,” Beck said. “This is for people who need medicine and need to plan ahead.”

Ship’s Dispensary serves a handful of patients right now. The project started in November after Beck applied was denied a storefront license by the city and was told that dispensaries were prohibited.

The state has allowed the sale and use of medical marijuana since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, making California the first state to legalize the sale and use of medical marijuana prescribed by physicians. But many cities have banned dispensaries, frequently citing conflicts with federal law, which, until recently, hasn’t recognized a difference between medical and recreational use of marijuana.

Manhattan Beach passed a moratorium on medical marijuana storefronts in 2006 and banned them in 2008. Nearby cities, such as Redondo Beach, have adopted similar bans.

“When the ban was adopted, there was some concern because the feds considered it illegal and were raiding dispensaries,” City Attorney Bob Wadden said. “The other issue was concern that the impact would provide blight on the neighborhood.”

According to Wadden, the city ordinance applied to brick-and-mortar store properties only and that delivery services are not included in the ban.

When Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in March that the U.S. Justice Department would not prosecute pot dispensaries operating legally under state laws, an already growing number of dispensaries began to soar.

In 2005, the city of Los Angeles housed four dispensaries. By last year, that number had soared to nearly 1,000, prompting the city to begin an aggressive campaign to clamp down on dispensaries operating illegally. L.A. City Council is considering capping the number of dispensaries citywide at 70.

Opponents of medical marijuana have long argued that storefront dispensaries provide marijuana exposure and access to minors. This factored into Manhattan Beach’s ban.

“In a city so small, there really aren’t any areas far away enough from places like schools, to put a dispensary where residents wouldn’t be impacted by it,” Wadden said.

Beck believes that providing a delivery service limits that problem.

“We don’t want to this going to high school kids.” Beck said. “This way there’s no storefront near schools or for kids to go to. If we regulate it this way, we don’t have to worry about it falling into the wrong hands.”

Beck, who has a B.S. in Botany from UCLA, said Ship’s Dispensary offers low prices by negotiating costs with growers who provide sinsemilla-grade marijuana. A slight markup is added to the retail cost to cover advertising costs, but no profit is made by the organization, according to Beck.

Wadden said that while the delivery of medical marijuana is not prohibited under city law, there is always concern whether such services comply with state law.

“The law is murky at best,” Beck said. “We feel that by following the attorney general and not making a profit, we are within the law. If Obama said the federal government won’t interfere with state law, then it should be legal.”

Ship’s Dispensary Distribution Project may be reached at (310) 904-9230. ER

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