California cannabis advocates and government officials unite to regulate a growing industry.
WRITTEN BY STEPH RODRIGUEZ
PHOTOS BY RACHEL VALLEY
A Therapeutic Alternative's dispensary director, Kimberly Cargile, comfortably sits in her second-floor office, shortly followed by the soft jingle of the collar of the resident office cat before it scurries under a table. Located inside a century-old Craftsman building in Sacramento, this cannabis dispensary has a vibe that feels more like that of a cozy home rather than a place to buy every marijuana product imaginable, from cannabidiol patches to pre-rolled joints. But Cargile, who's been a tireless advocate for the medical marijuana industry and the patients it serves for more than a decade, recalls a time when working for a dispensary wasn't so pleasant.
In 2007, Cargile managed one of Sacramento's first operating dispensaries, Capitol Wellness Collective, but it was a different time back then, when there were no regulations or permits, and employees worked in fear that at any given moment the federal Drug Enforcement Agency would burst through the front door.
"When we used to go to work, every day, we were like, 'Today's the day. We're going to be raided. We're going to prison. We're going to be thrown on the ground with guns to our heads,'" Cargile says.
But it wasn't her dispensary's time to be raided. In fact, Cargile's recurring nightmares were actual reality for many now-defunct dispensaries such as El Camino Wellness Center and River City Wellness in Sacramento. Still, Cargile, ready with protest signs in the back of her car, always closed shop, headed over to a fellow dispensary, and protested right outside whenever a raid occurred, she says.
"It was happening every day," Cargile says. "I've been the only person protesting outside of federal raids until other people showed up, or I would call all the advocacy organizations and get people to protest."
A voice for change
Cargile graduated from Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., with a bachelor's degree in liberal studies and a minor in psychology with a focus on social justice. She worked her way through college as a personal fitness trainer and yoga instructor, and she's always had a keen interest in natural medicine such as cannabis and its long history of repression.
"There were no advertisements for dispensaries, so patients had to hear about these places by word of mouth, and it really was unfair to patients because they were just regular people who were using medical cannabis for a variety of different illnesses and disorders that were legitimate," Cargile says. "They really deserved better."
Back at Capitol Wellness Collective during those unpredictable times, Aundre Speciale, Cargile's boss at the time, asked her to film the day-to-day operations at the dispensary to truly show how the business was run, in case officers came knocking at their door. Cargile says not only did she portray the high standards under which the dispensary operated, but she also spent weeks sitting down one on one with patients, listening to their stories, and learning why they were using medical marijuana.
"It actually woke me up one night, and I thought, 'Wow, this is serious. I need to help these people,'" Cargile says. "I realized that they have so much to lose. Just being a medical cannabis patient, you have no rights to your job. You have no rights to your housing. You have no rights to your health care. Recently, we finally just passed a few laws which give you rights to kidney transplants and to your children. But, before that, children could be taken away, and you couldn't get an organ transplant if you were a medical cannabis patient."
Deanna Garcia tends the cannabis plants growing at Alternative Outlet in Sacramento
Determined to be a voice for those who were too sick or too scared to speak for themselves, Cargile started collecting written testimonials, and every Friday she mailed a different personal story to every sitting city councilmember as well as the mayor.
Cargile also joined Americans for Safe Access, a member-based organization that works to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research, through legislation, grassroots empowerment, and advocacy. The group has more than 100,000 active members in all 50 states.
"Eventually, we started organizing patients for city council meetings; we would hold signature drives and letter-writing campaigns, and we would organize protests at city hall," Cargile says. "The Capitol is right there. So we have access to senators and assembly members. I think that having access to them and showing them that we are just normal people, and that we're good people trying to make the world a better place helped them begin to understand."
Legislation goes green
In 2010, all the protests, sleepless nights, and countless testimonials paid off when city officials allowed dispensaries to operate, followed by state officials passing regulations in 2015.
"Sacramento was one of the first ordinances put into place, so it has been a model ordinance throughout the State of California," Cargile says.
In November 2016, California voters overwhelmingly favored legalizing cannabis for recreational adult use, and on Jan. 1, 2018, the official Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act took effect. At the time of this reporting, 11 out of 30 operating dispensaries in Sacramento had received licenses to become both adult-use and medical-use retailers.
With recreational use now a reality, Cargile stores her old protest signs in the basement of A Therapeutic Alternative, a fitting and symbolic reminder that those difficult times are now behind licensed retailers.
For the first time in decades, marijuana industry advocates, in conjunction with both state and local government officials, are working together toward a common goal: providing safe and legal access to cannabis while protecting the environment, consumers, and public safety.
Now a couple months into the enforcement of MAUCRSA, Sacramento's chief of cannabis policy and enforcement Joseph Devlin says he's glad the new law is in place and the rules for those who wish to become adult users are clearer. Devlin, who's toured A Therapeutic Alternative and worked with Cargile throughout the years, says although members of the government and marijuana industry are collaborating, they're not always in agreement. But who better to learn from than those who've lived and breathed this fight for so long?
"We're not always at odds, and we're not always aligned. In the case of [Cargile], I think she has a very altruistic approach and holistic approach to cannabis, and it's community-centric and specifically patient-centric," Devlin says. "I have spent time getting to know her and getting to know the industry, and I think the only way to effectively regulate an industry is to put myself in her shoes so that the regulations are meaningful and effective."
Although adult use now is legal in California, users still must follow a handful of basic rules to comply with the law. They must be at least 21 years old to partake in cannabis products. No, a person cannot spark a joint at a popular restaurant and bar. Yes, employers still have the right to a drug-free workplace. And as far as the amount an individual can carry on his or her person, that's one ounce of cured flowers or eight grams of concentrates such as oil, capsules, or tinctures.
But the most important rule to bear in mind when partaking in some legal bud? It must be lit or consumed within a private residence, so avoid smoking while in public and especially while driving a vehicle.
A state economist study found that in 2016, the Sacramento Valley produced 1 million pounds of marijuana, with 77 percent of that coming from outdoor cultivation. The same study revealed that California produced 13.5 million pounds of marijuana, and the retail sales value of the state's industry was an estimated $2.4 billion.
The morning that adult use became legal, Deanna Garcia, cultivator and director at Alternative Outlet in Sacramento, attended the morning ribbon-cutting ceremony at A Therapeutic Alternative. Her farm provides cannabis flowers not only to ATA, but also seven other dispensaries and four manufacturers in California. Garcia also is a board member of Yolo County Farms, a high-CBD farm in Yolo County. Additionally, she is a board member and chief financial officer for both Dixon Wellness, a medical collective in the city of Dixon, and Nevada County Wellness.
Growing cannabis for more than 20 years, Garcia got emotional from the public response that she witnessed at ATA's ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"I was crying. I was standing out there crying," Garcia says. "I cannot believe that everybody who's over 21 now gets to use the medicine because regardless whether you call it a medicine or not, you're medicating. You're medicating to fix something, whether it's your anxiety, your stomachache, your depression, your headache, your aches."
She recalls the days when only one hydroponics store could be found in Sacramento where farmers could buy the equipment needed to successfully produce healthy marijuana plants. Now, she says, an abundance of helpful hydroponics businesses exist throughout the region.
Garcia says every bit of her plant is used, from the leaves to the trim, and, of course, the flowers. Alternative Outlet's main focus is high CBD strains — such as Ringo, Charlotte's Web, or AC/DC — because, she says, they're pure medicine that people use for varying degrees of illnesses.
One new regulation Garcia notes is that distributors now act as the middlemen between farmers and dispensaries. Distributors now are in charge of testing, whereas previously farmers were self-regulated and took their own plants to a lab to be tested for molds, fungi, and pesticides.
"So now, the distributor comes out and picks the samples they want to take to a laboratory that also has a state license, and then when the results come back, the distributor picks up my crop, has it packaged and taken to the dispensary," Garcia says.
The way the state broke up the various responsibilities may involve a few more steps, but it also created more jobs in the industry, more licensing, and a lot more oversight.
"It's just to ensure that all of the product that's on the market is regulated product and not untested or harmful medicine," Garcia says.
Right now, some licensed dispensaries have untested products on their shelves, which are indicated as such on their labels. Those stores that do, per the new law, must replace them all with tested products by this July. The good news is that, subsequently, all cannabis items found in retail shops will meet California regulations.
The new norm
Will Sacramento see cannabis cafés, where adult users can partake in on-site consumption while chatting among friends? If so, when?
According to California's Bureau of Cannabis Control chief Lori Ajax, they could pop up sooner than we think.
"Our retailer cannabis licensees can do on-site consumption if the local jurisdiction approves it," Ajax says. "Every city and county can establish their own rules, and they can determine whether or not they're going to allow something. You're going to have some cities that outright ban commercial cannabis, some that allow it all, and then some will say we'll only allow some commercial cannabis activities. When it comes to on-site consumption, it's just going to vary from locale to locale and whether they're going to allow that on cannabis retail premises."
For a cannabis retailer to pursue on-site consumption, it first needs a state license and then approval from the city or county in which it plans to operate. Because Sacramento County still bans all cannabis-related businesses, the first cannabis cafés will likely be within city limits.
"In our case, if we wanted to add the café-style dispensary where you can consume on site, it has to be a dispensary, it has to be a storefront, and we will have to add some number of on-site dispensaries," Devlin says. "There also is the microbusiness model, which allows cultivation, manufacturing, and retail with on-site consumption. So sometime in 2018, we will begin having those conversations with the council on whether or not they want to permit these on-site consumption cafés."
A caring approach
On a quiet evening at A Therapeutic Alternative, the waiting room is calm as knowledgeable budtenders wearing blue scrubs fondly explain the various products that fill the glass cases. In an adjacent waiting room, thick binders list all 24 strains of cannabis on the menu as well as sundry edibles, concentrates, inhalers, and CBD medications. Framed notes of gratitude from California politicians such as Tom Lackey and Rob Bonta and some Golden State colleges and universities adorn the walls.
Cargile takes the time to share these accolades proudly because, more than a decade ago, during her fight to carve a path for safe access, these acknowledgements simply didn't happen. Now, Cargile says, those thoughts don't even cross her mind, and she rests a little easier knowing her voice ultimately mattered.
"I've been called everything from a criminal to a terrorist, to a charlatan, to a circus act, and now, I have thank-you letters," Cargile says. "We've come so far, and I think the biggest change is that everything is becoming more accepted, and the stigma associated with cannabis is being relaxed."
Steph Rodriguez is an award-winning freelance journalist who keeps a close eye on the food and music scene in Sacramento. With more than 10 years' experience as a writer, she crafts stories that mirror the vast and diverse culture of the region. From entertainment and lifestyle features to profiles with a farm-to-fork interest, she aims to capture the best of Sacramento.
Know the law for adult use.
WRITTEN BY STEPH RODRIGUEZ
New year, new recreational marijuana law. But don't find yourself in an illegal situation when it comes to the dos and don'ts of legal adult use. Here are five common questions and their answers.
1) Can adults 21 and over purchase marijuana at any dispensary?
No. As of this issue's press time, 11 out of 30 operating dispensaries within Sacramento city limits had officially been granted their licenses for adult use. For details on which dispensaries were granted adult-use licenses, visit Weedmaps.com.
2) Is it legal to operate a marijuana farm at home?
Not quite. Although adults 21 and older may possess up to one ounce of flowers or eight grams of concentrated cannabis, adult users only are legally allowed to grow up to six plants per residence.
3) Will my workplace quit drug testing its employees?
No. Under California law, employers still have the right to a drug-free work environment, and this also goes for medical cannabis patients.
4) Will individuals incarcerated for weed-related activities before the new law went into effect (on Jan. 1) be freed?
Proposition 64 allows for those previously convicted of cannabis crimes to apply to have their sentences reduced or convictions reclassified. Individuals' records could be cleared in the future in accordance with the written law. Also, Prop. 64 cut penalties for more than a dozen weed-related offenses outlined in California's criminal code, as most adult felony convictions were reclassified as misdemeanors.
5) Can I smoke and drive?
No. It is still illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. So whether someone smoked a joint before hitting the road or popped a cherry-flavored cannabis lozenge, law enforcement officials will cite individuals suspected of partaking while behind the wheel.