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The Great California Weed Rush

Page 4 of 4

The freeway is streaming nicely up the 101 — Daniel genuinely believes that outside of rush hour Los Angeles has the best freeway system in the world, and he tries to locate his businesses within five minutes of a freeway. He looks at his cell phone. "Should I call the store?" he worries. "If I call them, they're going to try to hide something before I get there. Maybe they've been buying on the side, or they're sitting on the couch playing PSP, or one of them closed the shop to bang a patient in the back room. It's definitely happened before."

The shop is calm. A couple of young guys man the counter. In the back, two blondes in miniskirts and frosted lipstick are putting Blueberry stickers on a mountain of plastic prescription bottles. A mutt romps by. "No animals in the store — how many times have I told you?" fumes Daniel. "It's not medical." He looks around for something to eat, but all he can find are half-eaten pot Rice Krispies treats and pot brownies. "Can someone order some food, please?" he asks, irritated again. One of the girls gives him the menu for an Italian place in the neighborhood. "It's really great, because the delivery guys are also our patients!" she says brightly.

The other girl smiles at Daniel, looking very proud of herself. "I just sold some Pussy Kush to a patient," she says, coyly, "and I told the guy, 'You can smell it, but you can't finger the $100 pussy."'

The weed goes up on the new scale, next to a calendar of hot chicks in bikinis. Daniel tells the staff to blow out the Sensei and Purple Haze, and gives his buddy a couple of pounds that he wants him to get rid of — insofar as the medical-marijuana-compound business is a turnover game like any other drug business, Daniel makes extra money by selling pot that he can't move to other stores. He takes out the 189 grams that doesn't have a name. "I'm not really sure about this," he says. "I'm not sure if it's Purp." A clear plastic bag, the kind used for frozen turkeys, goes around. "God," says one guy, nose deep in the bag, "in all honesty, it has a skunky smell, big time."

"What about Grape Ape?" says another guy. "Except High Times had a big spread of it last month, so people probably know what it looks like."

Daniel thinks. "Fruity names always do well," he says. "What's a fruit you really enjoy? Or maybe Skunkenberry?"

"Skunk Fruit!" says the first guy. Everyone laughs, and Daniel writes it on the bag in black permanent marker.

The next morning, Daniel wakes up at his girlfriend's house, nuzzling deep in her sheets. He sleeps the sleep of the just. He really thinks he's doing good. "This is our life out here — feds keep their nose out!" he says. "Washington will never understand California, so they write us off as liberal, gay, Jewish subversives undermining the value of America. They don't like us, and I don't like them. This movement is one more way of saying to D.C., 'Step back.' We will not stand for states' rights eroded." He is also in favor of pot as an alternative health-care system: "We have the right to do our own thing, to not support Pfizer, Eli Lilly and the health-care system just because they have more powerful lobbyists in Congress than we do," he says. "If I wanted to smoke pot, I would feel I could. I mean, it's a plant."

There are things that Daniel still does want to do in this business, like make an affordable vaporizer — "I made those in shop class in high school for ten bucks," he fumes — but he really doesn't want to have to hide his money somewhere, always afraid that the feds are going to seize his assets. He'd like to get a little further into growing — he started a grow house, but his growers haven't turned out much, and one of their dogs had a mess of babies on the upstairs carpet. He's thinking of buying a farm in Mendocino, near the kush-growing parents of a friend he knows in Hollywood. Up there, in the mountains, growers exist in a perfect world of themselves and plants, he thinks. They call him up sometimes at 3 A.M., to tell him that they've got some bud blooming, to see if he wants to drive up to take a look. "They're just incredible American farmers," he says. He wishes his life could be that quiet, so quiet in a magical medical-marijuana field. It really is a beautiful thing.

The next time I meet Daniel, it's a couple of weeks later at a hip vegetarian place on Melrose. He searches his pockets for an Ativan, but comes up empty — this is his choice of medicine, which he needs to take off the stress, much as others need what he sells. He is nervous today. There's a new crew of thieves going around who have figured out how to open safes: He thinks they might be a bunch of ex-dispensary security guards handy with diamond-bit drills. Then there's his irritating friend: He wants $50,000 to go up north and buy weed for them to sell down here. "I get the point, because it is really annoying that we pay vendors $300 to $400 per pound simply to drive to L.A. for seven hours," he says. "But I'm taking the risk that he's going to get stopped and lose $50,000." He tells me one of his security guards caught a guy photographing license plates in his parking lot last week — it's a police investigation, he thinks, but he doesn't know into what.

We hug on the street, and he goes off to find his Ativan. Two days later, the nature of the investigation becomes clearer: In the afternoon, 120 DEA agents, helicopters flying overhead, descend on eleven Los Angeles dispensaries, detaining nearly two dozen providers. According to Special Agent Pullen, 5,000 pounds of pot, 163 plants, $200,000 in cash, seven handguns and one shotgun were seized. Within a week of the raids, L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton has pushed through a moratorium on more dispensaries until the city passes new regulations.

Daniel won't say if any of his places were raided, but he did go to one that was, and the police weren't even allowing anyone on the same side of the street. "Given that there are over 100 clubs in the city, it's a relatively minor action," he said, struggling to put a good spin on the events. "Dude, it's amazing: The feds didn't even realize that one of the shops they raided had a second floor! A couple of guys hid up there, watching the cameras as they were wheeling out the ATM machine and destroying the place."

His phone was ringing off the hook, with medical-marijuana advocates organizing a protest at West Hollywood's city hall. Soon the feds would seize one provider's Ferrari. "This is a political thing," he says. "Someone is mad that marijuana is out in the open now. It's just not even close to being hidden." He couldn't bear to visit anyone's raided stores — the damage that the DEA did screwing around in there, he was sure, was worse than a pogrom. He was focusing on the future, helping people make plans to reopen. "All eleven stores are going to open their doors again," he says, "and I can't wait to see the look on their faces when we do."

This movement, he thinks, is too big to stop.

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