Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

Defying the Ban: Medical Marijuana Patients Find Ways Around Local Bans

Jan 21, 2016

"None of us want to break the law. And live against the law. That is not who we are," Diane Kirby, medical marijuana patient

Communities throughout the valley are rushing to ban medical marijuana. In part one of this two part series, Valley Public Radio introduced you to the people pushing or resisting the ban and how they have affected your community. In part two, we some of the people to find out how they are dodging the ban.

Even for a square person like me, finding a storefront medical marijuana dispensary in Fresno wasn’t that hard even though they are banned.  A quick Google search lead me to a nondescript brown building at the end of a cul-de-sac in the central part of town.

The store owners would not talk to me but I waited around and found a patient on his way out who confirmed it is a marijuana dispensary.

“It is pretty discrete. They keep a low profile. They only let in individuals who only have valid cards. They don’t allow people who don’t have valid cards in there,”

That’s Jason. That’s not his real name but he says he is a 24-year-old army vet who uses marijuana to cope with PTSD.  He tells me he found this place by word of mouth of his friends.

"If you think about alcohol prohibition and they used to have speakeasies. You had to go up and knock on the door three times. Well, the patient recommendation is a knock on the door," 'Bud' Green, Fresno Cannabis Association

Without that, he says never would have known where to go because, again, this place is not supposed to be here.

“(If you didn’t know it was here. You wouldn’t know it was here) No. Not at all. It is very safe, clean. Everything like that. They have a nice environment,” Jason replied.

This self-professed Army vet is one of the many people in the valley who manage to acquire medical marijuana despite bans prohibiting its growth and sale.

Dozens of local communities, spurred on by a new state law, are jumping in line to ban medical marijuana cultivation and dispensaries.

But despite bans, growers and dispensaries have found a way to survive and in their own way thrive. Delivery services, for example, are plentiful.

But still the bans have made life more complicated for residents with legal marijuana recommendations who seek to find pot in the valley.

A prominent advocate for easier access is Fresno County resident Diane Kirby. She thinks the county made a major mistake when they instituted a ban.

“It has made my life much, much harder. And it causes me a lot of stress,” Kirby said.

Kirby shows off her false leg. She lost the leg in the accident. It was reattached but an infection decades later required amputation

Kirby has sued the county to overturn various portions of its ban such rules outlawing cultivation and fines for possession. Her case has already been heard by a state appeals court and could wind up before the state Supreme Court.

Kirby’s story stretches back four decades when she was involved in a devastating dune buggy accident.

“In that accident, I broke my back in three places. I broke my ribs in 14 places,” Kirby goes on to detail numerous other injuries.

Kirby barely survived. Due to her protracted hospital stay, she says she developed an allergy to pain killers.

The only thing Kirby says can ease her pain and helps her sleep is marijuana…

“When I ingest it, it takes care of the body. It is an overall feeling of relaxation and the pain is eased considerably,” Kirby said.

But acquiring it is a major challenge for the wheel chair bound woman who needs a service dog to help her pick things up off the ground.

Currently, she has a friend who grows for her in secret although she would much rather be allowed to legally grow for herself without the ever present concern about getting caught or turned in by neighbors.

“That bothers me. And it bothers a lot of my close friends. None of us want to break the law. And live against the law. That is not who we are,” Kirby explained.

Michael Green, who goes by the nickname ‘Bud’, with the Fresno Cannabis Association says it is people like Kirby who are most hurt by the ban.

“It is like the biggest secret in Fresno. Everything is banned there and yet there is a fairly robust service industry taking care of patients. And risking their own business enterprises in doing so,”

Green’s organization advocates against the ban saying they are not driving the industry out of the valley and needlessly complicate resident’s lives.

"Or they can stick their heads in the sand and say 'we have locked everything down' And then pretend they have solved the problem when they haven't solved a thing," Bud Green

Instead they have created an unregulated grey market where medical marijuana is banned but still accessible if one knows who to ask.

“If you think about alcohol prohibition and they used to have speakeasies. You had to go up and knock on the door three times. Well, the patient recommendation is a knock on the door,” Green said.

He says this is not ideal for patients or the cities who could otherwise more closely regulate and monitor the businesses.

“Or they can stick their heads in the sand and say ‘we have locked everything down’. And then pretend they have solved the problem when they haven’t solved a thing,” Green thinks.

There is one more budding issue that could complicate the future of medical marijuana in the valley.

There is the potential that California voters could legalize recreational marijuana altogether this year which could throw the entire process into chaos.