The Great California Weed Rush

How medical marijuana is turning L.A. pot dealers into semilegit businessmen — no beeper required

April 18, 2011 9:00 AM ET

THC Breath Strips. That's what Daniel is thinking about — taking some of those gelatinous Scotch-tape thingies that Listermint makes and putting oil made from marijuana trim in them. There's a guy who's good at producing marijuana concentrates, and he figured out how to bind oil to pullulan, the same carbohydrate gel that Listermint uses for its strips. Now a bunch of people are selling the things, in plastic baggies with a sticker reading for Medical use only for five or six dollars a strip. Most people recommend taking only one, even though they don't kick in for a long time, because two will knock your dick in the dirt for six to eight hours.

MarijuanAmerica: The Green Revolution Sweeping Across the Nation and Changing the Weed Business Forever

"Everything in America is controlled by big corporations now," says Daniel, breezing down the Los Angeles 405 freeway, the controlled climate inside the car the same balmy seventy degrees as it is outside. "But in my industry we can still get individuals together and innovate with good, old-fashioned Yankee know-how, like we did at the beginning of the history of this country." He checks the rearview mirror. "It's a beautiful thing."

This article appeared in the February 22, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

The industry that Daniel is talking about is medical marijuana, the great new frontier that has opened up in California in recent years (because some of how Daniel operates may be illegal, his name and other details have been changed to conceal his identity). Contrary to popular belief, medical marijuana is not only for AIDS and cancer patients: The health statute associated with Prop 215, the groundbreaking law passed ten years ago, legitimizes weed for those with any "illness for which marijuana provides relief." There are a lot of people who fall into this category, and business is good for those who make a living by serving them: compassionate caregivers, freedom fighters, botanists in love with the art of growing, Long Beach homeys, Valley boys, Oakland thugs and even one savvy gal who wants her girlfriends to sell medical marijuana while wearing pasties. But as in any drug business, a criminal element persists — storage lockers of product, safes of cash, hustlers trying to rob those lockers and safes, guns to protect one from the hustlers, and the constant risk of arrest.

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Today, the word "pot" is no longer PC — marijuana is "medicine." Schwag is "low-grade medicine," and chronic is "high-grade medicine." Growers are "vendors." Nor is Daniel a drug dealer — he is a "medical-marijuana provider." In December, there was even a medical-marijuana "cannabis cup" (a weed-tasting competition) in a Hollywood warehouse across from Amoeba Records. As Cypress Hill's B-Real performed, patients got stoned the healthy way, with 100 percent natural cellulose rolling papers and herbal pipes filled with products like bubble hash, made by extracting resin via ice. At one booth, a NorCal "vendor" sold eighths of Kush, two dead bobcats splayed on the table next to his cash register; at another, a mustached guy in green hospital scrubs hawked pizza slices with a gram of weed inside, and "medicated BBQ chicken breast" for ten dollars each. "I've been astonished by the way medical marijuana has become a commercial business," says Dale Gieringer, director of California Norml (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and a Prop 215 author. "The energy is in medical marijuana for the younger generation, and there's an actual economy of it."

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