February 7, 2011

Medical Marijuana "Coffeeshop" in Oakland Puts it's Patients First


From SFGate.com - In downtown Oakland, Larry Richards is a licensed medical marijuana provider. His boss, Richard Lee, is the activist-entrepreneur who opened Oaksterdam University in 2007 and helped put Proposition 19, the failed state initiative to legalize marijuana, on the November ballot.

Richards, 50, grew up near Portland, Ore., and lived 12 years in Honolulu, where he worked as a hotel desk clerk and waiter. He shares a house in Concord with his three German shepherds and a roommate.

I'm the general manager for Coffeeshop Blue Sky. It's a local marijuana dispensary with a coffee shop in front. We allow people to come in and purchase coffee, pastries, soft drinks. But to get past the soda machine, they need to show a valid medical-marijuana card or a doctor's letter with ID.

We're a small operation. There's a little waiting room in back with a bench, just big enough for four or five patients. The budtender stands behind a Dutch door, and he has a book with plastic folders inside with all the product. Richard Lee actually designed it after Amsterdam pot clubs.

Budtenders know the properties of all the different strains. Let's say a patient has a lot of pain but doesn't want to get tired and sleepy. A sativa like White Widow helps you get through the day. It's an "up" high. An indica like Granddaddy Purple makes you mellow and helps you sleep. We also have hybrids like Hindu Skunk or Mendo Afgoo.

High-grade strains cost $44 for an eighth of an ounce or $352 for an ounce, medium-grade $33 or $264. We also sell edibles. Lemon bars, teas. Chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. Truffles, olive oil. Marijuana-infused honey.

We have our Oaksterdam Nursery, where we grow clones by taking cuttings from other plants, and then sell them in 4-inch rockwool cubes at the dispensary. We don't bud out the plants. We buy the bud from vendors. There's always growers coming in wanting to sell to us, but we can't help them all. There's so much on the market now.

To get into my club, a person needs a doctor's letter or a medical marijuana card. There are people who need medical marijuana who don't look sick. So I would never say, "You look too healthy. You shouldn't be needing medicine." I don't know their situation.

I've got 22 employees. Security guards, budtenders, coffee bar personnel, two managers. I supervise the whole shop, make sure the product is good when it comes in. I do the scheduling, payroll. To work here, a person needs compassion. They need to be friendly, upbeat.

People come in here all day, and they might not be in a good mood. And you've got to not give that back to them. I refuse service only when somebody is intoxicated or belligerent to another patient or the budtender.

I've been living with HIV since 1982. I take HIV medication every day, and I smoke marijuana every day. It helped me with my appetite when I had pneumonia and needed to put on weight. If it weren't for pot, I think I would've had to take more powerful, toxic HIV meds. I probably smoke an eighth of an ounce each day.

I started in this industry in 1995 with Dennis Peron at his Cannabis Buyers Club in San Francisco. I was a security guard, then worked my way up to budtender. I loved it: You got to meet all these different people, from A to Z. From living on the streets to well-to-do professionals. From every ethnic background.

Get all the info at SFGate.com




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