Some California pot sellers are living the high life this summer — because high-tech social-networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are allowing them to legally swap street corners for the Internet.
"Just in! Baby Crunch, Spy Diesel and Critical Mass! Buy a quarter, get a gram," read the "tweets" listing the strains of pot available from the Los Angeles-based non-profit medical-marijuana dispensary Artists Collective, which also promises "free delivery."
Artists Collective has the biggest online presence, with a snazzy Web site, Facebook and MySpace pages and the Twitter feed. San Francisco's more staid The Green Cross has a MySpace page, but like Artists Collective lists its latest arrivals on its own Web site.
"We've been open for six months, and I've been doing this project for 18 [months], and only in the last two weeks with a Twitter account has anybody started paying attention to us," says Dann Halem, director of Artists Collective. "That sends a message — an important one — and it really has been, strangely enough, the fact that we're using Twitter that has opened the door."
California's Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420 — of 4/20 fame — allow for the production, growth and sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The Bush administration ruled that federal drug laws superseded them, and the Supreme Court agreed, leading to many arrests, but in March the Obama administration announced it would not seek prosecutions in situations where state and federal laws conflicted.
"The Bush administration did have a no-tolerance policy, and the federal government was doing more enforcement under the Bush administration," says Lt. Paul Torrent of the Los Angeles Police Department's narcotics division. "I have yet to see any official stance out of the new administration, so I — as many are — am waiting to hear what the new stance is."
But though delivery services can advertise their wares publicly, they aren't able yet to just offer up the goods, eBay-style, to the highest bidder.
"When a person calls us, what we do is contact their doctor and verify that they are a patient," Halem said. "Then they have paperwork that they need to fill out. We need to see their California I.D., and assuming that they jump through every hoop and everything is as it should be, then they are welcome to join our collective."
Once in the collective, members are good to go, gaining the right to grow and sell their own marijuana back to the dispensary for a profit — all of which raises eyebrows in other parts of the country.
"The whole state [of California] seems to be saturated with marijuana farms, and it's a marijuana economy, so if they want to do it, it doesn't bother me," says New Jersey personal-injury lawyer Nicholas Kowalchyn. "It's probably out of control already. That's why the state is in the predicaments it's in. They're all stoned on marijuana."
Halem disagrees, arguing that his organization has followed all state guidelines for managing the sale of medical marijuana, and is hoping to do some good by creating $10,000 grants for struggling writers, actors, musicians and performers with the money raised.
Torrent, the LAPD officer, points out that Artists Collective may be running a risk by promoting itself online.
"[Internet ads] would have the potential to increase the sales of marijuana," he says. "Sales of marijuana out of the collective, if they're not operating within the limits of being a non-profit organization ... are, by definition, in violation of state law."
Still, if the dispensaries play by the rules, Torrent says, the police will have no problem with them.
"Medical-marijuana collectives and clinics that are running within the boundaries of [Proposition] 215 are non-profit collectives that support people that have medical problems," he says. "I mean, that's what the Compassionate Use Act [another name for Proposition 215] was all about."
The conflict between federal and state law may soon be even greater. State Assembly Bill 390, introduced in March, would legalize the growing, sale and use of marijuana, as well as levy heavy taxes on all parties involved.
To Halem, it's only logical that progress is being made to take advantage of what he feels is one of the country's largest untapped resources.
"There is a $125 billion crop in this country right now, and it's illegal. A lot of that money is going to drug cartels," he explains. "If you take $125 billion and put it into the pockets of non-profit charities in the country, you can do enormous good. That's what we want to do with ours, and that's why we're being as aggressive digitally as we are."
Kowalchyn, the New Jersey lawyer, isn't convinced by California's accepting attitude toward the production and sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"I don't think medical marijuana serves any medical purpose," he says. "I think it's a scam. I don't think it has any therapeutic effects. I don't think it has much in the way of painkilling effects. I mean, it's just an excuse for people to smoke marijuana. If they want to smoke marijuana then they should just smoke marijuana and not go through a charade of passing some law that permits them to do it on some bogus therapeutic basis. That's just my opinion."