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trol, to deal with auto-immune diseases, to clear up skin rashes: there’s a whole range of non-life threatening medical issues that cannabis can be used for. Because cannabis is so safe, it should be looked at as a fi rst line therapy, not the last line of defense.


Ngaio: To improve the qualify of life, not just catastrophic illness or terminal pa- tients, but just for people who are look- ing for more, to help with their aches and pains, and problems and anxieties.


STEVE: Well, even more than that, it is the world’s best alternative to a lot of dan- gerous and scary pharmaceuticals. Think about the drugs that are prescribed for in- somnia or for depression or for anxiety that you hear advertised on TV every day, right? The list of side effects reads like something out of a Stephen King novel.


Ngaio: And they cause people to sleepwalk.


STEVE: Or maybe cannabis will make you feel good or make you a little bit hungry, but it’s not going to cause liver failures, se- vere skin rash, or possible death.


Ngaio: Possible death, that’s my favorite side effect when they list that: [TV an- nouncer voice] “and possible side effects in- clude dying.”


STEVE: Well, you know, the one I love is the depression pills where one of the pos- sible side effects is suicide. Right?


Ngaio: It’s not really working. STEVE: It’s not really working.


Ngaio: Yeah, I don’t know too many can- nabis users who want to kill themselves.


STEVE: What I have seen every single day at Harborside Health Center is pa- tients walk in who are loaded up with 4, 6, 8, 10 different kinds of pharmaceutical pills, each one of which has its own set of dangerous side effects. No one really knows how they interrelate with each other, right? They come in here; we give them cannabis in combination with other holistic healing services we have here like acupuncture and


chiropractic and naturopathy, and we see patients be able to cut that pharmaceutical habit 10%, 20% and in half. We have seen patients come in addicted to morphine, and after six months be completely free of any opiate addiction.


They often still have the underlying condi- tion that caused them that pain, but they’ve found that they can substitute dangerous drugs with cannabis.


Ngaio: Right. Cannabis is a better tool for their pain management than morphine or oxycontin or any of those other opiates.


STEVE: Right. You know we have to look at how dangerous the opiates are, and hun- dreds of people — thousands of people — worldwide die of opiate misuse and opiate overdoses every year. Aspirin misuse in this country —


Ngaio: You can die of caffeine misuse.


STEVE: So, cannabis should really be viewed as the safest alternative. In 3,000 years, no one has ever died from using can- nabis.


Ngaio: That’s a pretty good record. Well, maybe we need more tests.


STEVE: [Laughs]


Ngaio: So, you guys have been here for 4½ years. Everything’s going pretty well I think. How was it in the beginning? Did you see a lot of opposition or was it pretty simple?


STEVE: We have never seen any opposi- tion to Harborside Health Center in the city of Oakland at all. From the begin- ning, we were welcomed with open arms by the city, by our neighbors, by our fellow citizens, and I will be forever grateful to Oakland. It is a brave and visionary city. If more cities in this world were like Oak- land, the world would be a much better place.


Ngaio: Yep. Let’s talk about the brave and visionary city of Oakland for a moment. You have heard of Oakland’s proposal to allow large-scale marijuana — sorry, Oakland’s proposal to allow large-scale


February/March 2011


cannabis farming in some industrial ar- eas and sites. There was a big hue and cry about the corporatization of cannabis or pushing the small “mom and pop” can- nabis growers out or even exposure to the federal prosecution for that. How’s that coming about? What’s going on there?


STEVE: Well, I think the city made some mistakes in its initial approach to large — scale cultivation. It did two things I think that got it into trouble with the fed- eral government. In the original proposal, the idea was there would be two sepa- rate entities — one that would cultivate the medicine and then it would sell that medicine to dispensaries who would then dispense that medicine. That put it into diffi culty because our state law requires “closed loop” system where medicine that is exclusively cultivated by nonprofi t as- sociations of patients and provided to pa- tients. So, there has to be that loop, that connection between the patients and the cultivation.


The other problem with the initial or- dinance was that it allowed unlimited amounts of cultivation, and, of course, we have a connection in our law in California between the number of plants that are be- ing grown and the number of patients that those plants are being grown for.


So, now, I think the city has gone back to the drawing board and they are address- ing both of those issues. Hopefully, we will see a new ordinance decided on that addressing both of those problems.


Ngaio: Okay, so let me ask you then. So, say the city does allow large-scale canna- bis farming, somebody’s got 500 plants as part of that, and the Feds come in and bust them. Is Oakland going to send lawyers?


STEVE: I don’t anticipate that there’s ever a set of possibilities where the city of Oak- land is going to provide criminal defense to individual defendants who are targeted by the federal government. Anybody who grows or sells medical cannabis needs to understand that the federal government can and may very well come after you and prosecute you. If you’re not willing to take


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