Controversial pot delivery program raises concerns

June 6, 2010 11:40:05 AM PDT
Getting medical marijuana is now as easy as ordering a pizza. Pot prescriptions are now being delivered right to your doorstep.

It's a great convenience for patients in communities where there's no dispensary, but according to our media partner California Watch, it can raise a whole new set of issues.

Most farms don't go to the measures Northstone Organics goes to keep people out.

"It's all fenced in and secured and we have cameras on all four corners. These are like laser beams that connect the whole facility, so no kids can jump the fence and try to get in here without setting off a burglar alarm that calls the police," Matthew Cohen from Northstone Organics said.

Cohen is the owner of a medical marijuana farm in Mendocino County. The fact that he is open about his farm isn't particularly special. What is special is how he and a growing number of pot farms get their product to patients.

"And that is direct delivery, not storefront dispensaries that we see around some of the towns here in San Francisco or other places, but people who will bring it straight to your home, to your office or to other locations," California Watch reporter Michael Montgomery said.

Montgomery uncovered a growing trend in the state: medical marijuana delivery services.

"What we found is that there are about 750 services advertising on the Internet for direct delivery of medical marijuana. What's interesting about that number is that it's increased by 40 percent since just February," he said.

California Watch is part of the independent, non-partisan center for investigative reporting. They shot much of the video for this story.

Cohen says his pot delivery business is growing 30 percent a month.

"I think that we could take on quite a few more farms and grow a lot larger as a co-op," Cohen said.

He says he has business licenses in every county where his company delivers.

California Watch went along with Cohen on several deliveries, including one on the East Bay.

"I've been coming here for the last month and half or so, two months since your surgery and every week she looks way better," Cohen said.

Angel Raish suffers from conditions related to a brain tumor and doctors suggested marijuana to help her feel better.

"I was really, really sick, Matt will tell you, and then I came home and I was home for two days and then I got a brain blood clot," she said.

Raish says she was too weak to get to a medical dispensary. Deliveries were essential to her recovery, but these deliveries are not being regulated.

The California Watch investigation found no statewide directory of growers, no registry of legal dispensaries and no regulation of delivery services.

The state legislature put all the responsibility for regulation in the hands of cash strapped local cities and counties, and most have done little or nothing.

"But it does appear that it needs to be regulated a little more carefully, again, dropping off one pound of marijuana to a person on the street in the middle of the night does not appear to be a well-regulated pharmaceutical program," Richmond Police spokesman Mark Gagan said.

Gagan points to the robbery of a pot deliveryman last week as evidence more regulation is needed. The thieves got away with a pound of weed, and a thousand dollars.

"In this case it was a set up for a robbery and it's all too easy for these people to be victimized like that," he said.

Both the California Bureau of Narcotics enforcement and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency told ABC7 they won't be chasing "legitimate" delivery people because they fall under the protection of state law.

"I think there's a concern that this is kind of a wide open area. There aren't any regulations and that it could be very exploited by unscrupulous dealers, criminal gangs," Montgomery said.

That's why Mendocino County is taking action. Cohen is already working with the sheriff to ensure no illegal activity happens at his farm or with his delivery service and now he's helping create standards for other growers too.

Those standards will only apply in Mendocino County, but will likely spread to other communities.

"Some city officials we talked to sort of privately say that they prefer the delivery service model because it's less of a nuisance," Montgomery said. "There aren't these storefronts that sometimes bother neighbors and it's more discrete."


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