By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
A growing trend in California's billion-dollar medical marijuana industry -- which has recently come under attack from the federal government -- is the presence of delivery-only dispensaries to deal with an legal environment that is increasingly precarious for storefronts.
Threats of property forfeiture against landlords, lawsuits and raids have made brick-and-mortor locations less attractive to the collectives, reports David Downs at the San Francisco Chronicle.
"When you have a storefront, you're on the map," said Oakland defense attorney William G. Panzer, who represents recently raided Northstone Organics, a delivery service based in Ukiah, Mendocino County in the heart of the Emerald Triangle. "You don't have those issues with a delivery service. No one's going to know about it."
The exact mechanics of legal marijuana distribution have been cloudy in California since voters in 1996 made the Golden State the first in the U.S. to legalize the possession and use of cannabis by qualified patients. In 2003, state Sen. Mark Leno's SB 420 expanded and clarified the state's medical marijuana law, giving patients the right to collectively grow and distribute cannabis.
San Francisco created a dispensary licensing system in 2005 that resulted in 24 dispensaries and one delivery service, The Green Cross, which was founded after its storefront location was shut down four years ago.
The Green Cross was awarded San Francisco's first medical cannabis delivery (MCD) permit to operate exclusively as a delivery service in 2007. Today, the collective remains the City by the Bay's only licensed, delivery-only medical cannabis club.
But cities in the southern part of the state -- including Los Angeles and San Diego -- took another path, trying to ban the pot shops with mixed success. That enforcement climate led to many, mobile delivery services.
In fact, the number of storefront dispensaries and mobile delivery services are inversely correlated, according to Los Angeles Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg.
After all four of California's U.S. Attorneys declared a coordinated crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry, claiming profiteering and illegal exports to other states, hundreds of warning letters went to dispensary landlords and operators.
More than two of every three shops in San Diego closed within weeks, according to industry observers. Dozens closed in Sacramento County; at least three San Francisco clubs closed, and one in Oakland moved.
"My sense is they're switching out of brick-and-mortars, or just going to the black market," said Justin Hartfield, founder of the online dispensary locator service WeedMaps.com.
Since the crackdown by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) does nothing to curtail supply or demand, but rather just re-routes it, it's very problematic, according to Lisa Gygax, a California dispensary attorney.
"Delivery is dangerous, it's extremely difficult to regulate, but they're extremely successful if there is no safe access," she said. "What else are patients going to do -- go to the park?"
"The recent federal crackdown, with willing accomplices masquerading as public servants and state police, on medical cannabis clubs has managed to close shops and restrict patients' access to medical cannabis -- but nowhere near as much as they would have hoped," Southern California patient advocate Dan Murphy told Toke of the Town.
"While some cannabis clubs close their doors, I believe that the majority of closures will result in a new delivery service or private (members only) club," Murphy said. "If you have been a medical cannabis patient for some time, then it is likely that you have a network of patients to rely on, or at least one club you are a member of will stay afloat in some fashion.
"The actions taken by the Feds have the greatest impact on the fence-sitters and brand new medical cannabis patients," Murphy pointed out. "Having no resources to rely on to find find quality cannabis will make the faint-of-heart and the uninitiated scramble for their Pharma alternatives.
"Unfortunately, this is what the federal crackdown is designed to do," Murphy said. "To separate those dedicated to medical cannabis reform and those that would swell the ranks -- normal-looking, decently dressed, well-spoken sick people."
Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.