OAKLAND, Calif. – The Blüm marijuana dispensary sits on a clean downtown neighborhood corner here. The storefront would be easy to miss. Its front window is frosted, making it impossible for passers-by to look inside.
The only clue that it might have something to do with medical marijuana is a green version of the iconic Red Cross logo painted on the glass and the security guard out front.
Blüm’s understated facade is exactly what the Nevada Legislature wanted when it authorized medical marijuana dispensaries, grow houses, testing labs and kitchens for edible products in 2013. The dispensaries are not expected to be in business in Nevada until next spring, state officials estimate. Under Nevada law, all medical marijuana must first be grown in Nevada before it can be sold there — backing up the dispensaries’ debut by six months or so.
Yet if this is the model for Nevada, it would alleviate the concerns of Washoe County Sheriff’s Lt. Eric Spratley. He testified before lawmakers in 2013 that he did not want the new dispensaries to be like “Ben-and-Jerry-type head shops.”
Blüm’s owner, Derek Peterson, also runs Terra Tech, a publicly traded company seeking licensing in Clark County to enter Nevada’s medical marijuana industry. He’s proud of his Oakland dispensary and the transformation it has helped spark in the neighborhood.
“Crime has come down in the area, and those numbers are from the city itself,” Peterson said. “This corner has been revitalized by planting gardens, by painting and by sweeping up all the hypodermic needles that were in the vacant lot in the back.”
“This all goes, in our opinion, to improving the economic value of the city itself,” said Peterson, who employs about 20 people whose pay ranges from $15 to $35 an hour. Twelve to 30 people also work at the dispensary’s grow house, where its marijuana is cultivated.
“We have created jobs, we have 24-hour security,” Peterson said. “Then these people take the money from these jobs and they go to local restaurants, local gas stations, local retailers and they spend that dollar, over and over.”
A look inside
When you walk in from the street into Blüm, you enter a small, spartan room where you must show a California medical marijuana card to the person behind the thick glass. If you don’t have one, you leave. A security guard is close by.
If you have a card, you’ll be buzzed inside through a locked door.
It’s sunny and bright inside. Blüm gets about 700 customers a day.
“It’s a good situation here,” said customer Jerome Benton, a Marine veteran who smokes marijuana to ease his post-traumatic stress disorder. “It takes it (marijuana purchases) out of the inner city. It takes out the crime situation. Because, if I can’t buy it here, I’m going to East Oakland to try to buy it there. But there, I might get jacked. Or I might have to jack somebody.”
Marijuana can be purchased in an array of forms: Brownies, cookies, cookie dough, gummy candies, chocolate bars, butter, oils, Rice Krispie treats, peanut-butter cups, lemonade mix, soda pop and even cotton candy.
It can be smoked, chewed, swallowed, sipped, sprayed and vaporized.
Edible pot products look innocent and have whimsical names like “Mr. Pete’s Treats” cookie dough, though they can have a much more dramatic effect than smoking the drug, said Salwa Ibrahim, co-owner of Blüm dispensary.
“It affects your body much differently than inhaling or vaporizing the cannabis,” Ibrahim said. “When you are eating it, it affects your entire body. It almost has a multiplier effect.
“Edibles are treated with a sense of caution, so anybody who is purchasing edibles knows what they are getting into.”
Edibles have advantages for some patients.
“It is easier to dose yourself, like a pill,” Ibrahim said.
Buying the pot
The big attraction, however, is the regular or “roll your own” type of medical marijuana. Customers line up in front of employees behind thick glass windows, like ticket-buyers at a movie theater.
On the wall is a giant electronic board listing the names of products such as “Candy Jack,” “Cherry Pie” and “Pineapple Express.”
“I know the names are a little wonky, but it is just our way of tracking the genetics,” Peterson said. “A lot of these names stem from the ’60s and ’70s and they have been bred and cross-bred with other names created in the ’60s and ’70s.”
The marijuana is also described by the particular strain’s effects. Peterson said different types help with different ailments, from insomnia to the effects of chemotherapy.
Before buying the drug, customers also can see the percentages of the dominant cannabinoids. Those include THC, the psychoactive ingredient that makes a user high. Then there’s CBD, the main ingredient in marijuana oils and tinctures to treat children with epileptic seizures. And high levels of CBN can make the user feel confused rather than high.
“There are a variety of aliments: anxiety, sleep disorders, back pain, cancer, HIV,” Peterson said. “A lot of the time, they (customers) know what strains they like to offset the symptoms. Other times, they come in and consult. When they walk up to the window, the employees are well-trained in the various strains that we carry.”
When doctors write a prescription for medical marijuana, they usually don’t indicate what type of marijuana would be best for the patient. That’s why the expertise of a dispensary is vital, Peterson said. The wrong strain can hurt instead of help.
“There are strains that actually aggravate back pain and make you concentrate on the pain,” he said.
“And that is why Nevada, when it issues its permits, needs to issue them to people who have experience operating these facilities,” Peterson said. “We are the ones who actually know what the patient wants or what works. We know what is effective and what isn’t.”
In a locked room, round-the-clock security guards monitor crystal clear images from the many cameras in and around the property. The customer parking lot is surrounded by a high fence and monitored by a guard. No marijuana is allowed to be consumed on the property.
Inside, employees cut buds off branches and pack them into small bags ready for sale. They roll large joints and package hash into small containers for sale.
The marijuana, sold in units from a 16th of an ounce to an ounce, costs $330 to $365 an ounce, depending on the strain.
“In comparison to pharmaceutical, it is much more reasonable, financially,” Ibrahim said. “We get to know our patients and to understand their circumstances. And our seniors, they get discounts, as do veterans and low-income patients.”
A sense of compassion is necessary to run a dispensary, Ibrahim said.
“It is really important to us that we serve our patients, keep in touch and understand what they are going through,” Ibrahim said.
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