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Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on February 5th, 2016, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 16, Issue 48 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 16, Issue 48

Spotlight on: Medical cannabis dispensary drivers

By DAVID MINSKY

Editor’s note: The last names of delivery drivers were withheld.

The Compassionate Use Act (CUA), or Proposition 215, gives medical marijuana patients an exemption from criminal prosecution in California and was passed by voters in 1996. It’s a milestone against the prohibition of cannabis in the U.S., becoming the first ballot initiative of its type passed at the state level. 

While the CUA was in conflict with federal law, it didn’t stop providers from erecting storefront dispensaries in various parts of California. Storefront dispensaries are prohibited in most of Santa Barbara County, leaving providers to deliver medication to their patients. This is good for some patients who aren’t able to leave their homes, but bad for delivery drivers, who are left vulnerable to ambush and robbery.  


STILL UNDERGROUND
Wishing You Wellness was one of North County’s first brick-and-mortar marijuana dispensaries, but it closed down in April 2009. Dispensaries like these are still prohibited in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and drivers say they are left vulnerable to robberies.
FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

The Sun found that this is the case for some drivers in North County. Many times, these types of robberies go unreported to law enforcement. 

“It’s a risky job,” Connie McLaughlin-Miley previously told the Sun. “The Santa Maria, Nipomo area is a dangerous area for delivery drivers.”

McLaughlin-Miley runs Sweet Green Apothecary dispensary, which has operated since March 2015 and serves all of San Luis Obispo County. She said it would be better for authorities to monitor storefronts instead of the dozens of delivery drivers roaming the area.  

Santa Maria Police Department (SMPD) officer Jason Zickuhr corroborated what McLaughlin-Miley and other local drivers already know: that Santa Maria is not the most ideal place to deliver medical cannabis. 

Zickuhr said that the SMPD doesn’t receive very many reports of delivery drivers getting robbed, although he knows of at least one robbery call and even a homicide that was associated with a medical cannabis grow back in 2011. 

“A lot of times they’re not exactly forthcoming with licenses and patients,” Zickuhr told the Sun. “Santa Maria is not a place a delivery driver would go.”

It’s hard to verify the risk drivers face when making deliveries in the North County area. Statistics are hard to come by since many robberies go unreported. Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Craig Bonner said the only type of dispensary calls his office receives have more to do with home invasion robberies rather than with drivers. 

However, there is anecdotal evidence and a real fear among some drivers. 

One delivery driver by the name of Javin, who makes deliveries to the Santa Maria market for Mr. 805 Organics, told the Sun that he knows of other drivers getting robbed, and another one who was stopped by an officer from the Guadalupe Police Department and his product confiscated. 

“The laws are gray to say the least,” Guadalupe Police Department’s Chief Gary Hoving told the Sun.

Hoving confirmed the incident, although he said it happened in September and that the driver was in possession of a “significant” amount of medical cannabis. The driver was not arrested, but cited for a felony, Hoving said. It’s not clear if the driver was charged.

And then there’s the recent uptick in homicides in Santa Maria that has drivers worried, Javin said, although it’s not deterring dispensaries from serving their patients. 

“The increase in violence is on their minds,” Javin told the Sun. “But at the same time we’re just trying to keep business going.” 

Ethnobotanica was banking on opening an actual storefront dispensary in Nipomo after receiving approval from the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission, but the county’s Board of Supervisors ultimately shot down the plan. The dispensary filed a lawsuit on Jan. 4 challenging this decision. 

Justin, a driver for Ethnobotanica, challenges the idea that a storefront would attract crime and said that having one would instead give employees a level of protection. 

A provision in the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) has caused many cities in Santa Barbara County to pass ordinances prohibiting cultivation, although deliveries were largely left in place. A proposition to legalize recreational marijuana made the California ballot for November 2016, but until the voting results are in, the marginal legality of medical cannabis seems to put many drivers in a difficult spot.  

“The bad guy wakes up and the good guy wakes up and they both come looking for me,” Justin said. “I’m the biggest target right now, and it needs to be more in the open.”  

Staff Writer David Minsky wrote this week’s Biz Spotlight. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, email, or mail.










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