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Brown Clamps Down 

On Monday, yet another branch of government took yet another stab at imposing some order on California's chaotic medical marijuana system. This time it was state Attorney General Jerry Brown, whose office published an 11-page set of guidelines meant to define some ground rules for the implementation of Prop. 215, the generous but vaguely worded citizen initiative that legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996.

The new attorney general guidelines touch on any number of issues that have habitually confused both patients and local law enforcement agencies since the coming of legal medical marijuana 12 years ago. They decree that employers will not be required to tolerate marijuana usage on the job, for instance. They deny medical marijuana rights to people incarcerated in state jails or prisons. Henceforth, marijuana shall not be smoked in a moving vehicle, or within 1,000 feet of a school.

The meatiest sections of the guidelines deal with those gray-area institutions that have come to be known as "cannabis dispensaries," or "pot clubs," or, simply, "weed stores." The city of Arcata is home to four such operations in which people with recommendations from doctors may purchase their marijuana over the counter. The four vary wildly in organizational structure and intent, but all are currently engaged with the city's concurrent efforts to bring its booming gray-market marijuana sector to heel.

For his part, Eric Heimstadt, president of the board of directors of Humboldt Medical Supply -- that's the dispensary right off the Plaza, in the old P.C. Sacchi building -- said Tuesday that he couldn't be more pleased with the attorney general's guidelines. "We got this thing, and we thought it was written for us," Heimstadt said. He said that his organization's mission was to provide low-cost medicine to the truly ill, not recreational users with a generic recommendation from a shady doc, and that the AG seemed to have the same interpretation. He didn't foresee any problems from the new regime.

Upon further discussion, though, it became clear that there might have been one area where HMS might have a hitch. The attorney general's office seem to strongly and specifically mandate that a club must be structured as a non-profit organization if it wishes to avoid police action and prosecution. (In fact, the recommendations ban the term "dispensary" entirely, saying that only "cooperatives" and "collectives" may qualify under the law.) Right now, HMS is organized as a limited liability corporation -- technically, a for-profit operation.

That didn't bother Heimstadt, though. The LLC incorporation was merely a convenience, and he said his organization would have no trouble qualifying as non-profit if the attorney general required it to do so. Already, he said, it gives away a good deal of its pot to very low income members, and all others get their medicine at rates well below street prices.

The other three clinics in town had little to contribute yesterday, so soon after the guidelines were released. Mariellen Jurkovich of the Humboldt Patient Resource Center said that she only had a moment to glance through them, but that they seemed encouraging. "We're excited they're out, and we're excited they're positive in a lot of respects," she said. Steve Gasparas of the Arcata iCenter did not return a call. Dennis Turner of The Humboldt Cooperative did not wish to speak over the telephone.

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Hank Sims

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