Marijuana patients respond to concerns about dispensaries

Marijuana patients respond to concerns about dispensaries
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — After nearby businesses voiced worries about newly opened medical marijuana dispensaries, patients came forward to speak in their defense.

Three collectives recently opened on 18th and 17th streets, but none of the operations responded after the office workers said they worry about more cars, foot traffic and even a syringe found in the area.

"Why these people won't talk, I don't understand, because that's what's needed," Everett Hobbs said. He's a medical marijuana patient, and said the dispensaries really need to educate the public.

A businesswoman who didn't want to be identified had called Eyewitness News with her concerns, and the director of the Kern Adult Literacy Council also approached a reporter on Tuesday voicing her worries. She also pointed out the syringe spotted Monday night under their office front window.

"I'll get struck by lightning before that needle had anything to do with these shops," Hobbs said. "If (the dispensaries) had seen it, they would have called someone, and had it cleaned up. Seriously, they're that good."

Hobbs said the dispensaries are badly misunderstood. He said the operations are run by nice people, trying to help patients with medical needs.

Earl Vaughn also wanted to speak up, and he stresses the syringe should not be linked to the dispensaries in any way. "I find drug needles over here in my alley all the time," Vaughn said. "And we have no co-op anywhere around here."

Vaughn said back in high school, he was with a group on a community clean-up day, and they found plenty of needles. And that was before marijuana collectives were around.

But, he's also concerned the dispensaries in downtown Bakersfield didn't respond to the neighbors' questions when Eyewitness News approached them on Tuesday.

"I urge the dispensaries to come out there," Vaughn said. "Tell the news, tell the people what we're here for." He added the dispensary owners could be cautious because, under Federal law, they could face very serious penalties. But, he still wishes they would step forward.

California voters approved medicinal use of marijuana with the Compassionate Care Act in 1996. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Vaughn said the dispensaries are necessary to get the medication to patients. "The majority of us aren't there to hang around and cause problems," Vaughn said. "We just want to get in there and get our meds, and get out."

Vaughn said he's had two failed back surgeries, and needs the marijuana to deal with pain and to sleep. It's been prescribed to him by doctors, after referrals from surgeons. He says the marijuana works better than other drugs.

But, he wishes he could pick up the marijuana like the pills he needs for his health condition.

"I really don't understand why I can't just go into a regular pharmacy and get it, but now we're left to go into these cooperatives, or dispensaries, or whatever." Vaughn said. He also thinks some dispensaries end up in "bad" neighborhoods, and that worries him.

"I’m scared for myself, going into some of these places, because I know people are hanging around, looking for us, trying to get our medication," Vaughn said.

Again, he draws a comparison to regular pharmacies. He said that happens when he gets pills and other medicine he needs.

"I've been approached at my regular pharmacy, asking if I'd sell, if I had pain medication, if I would sell them," Vaughn said. He said patients leaving a dispensary may be misjudged, but what about people using regular medicine?

"I don't sit in front of a pharmacy and say, 'Look at the pill-poppers coming out of there.'"

Hobbs also worries about stereotyping. He hears questions from the public about people leaving dispensaries who don't look sick.

"Half the people coming in there don't even use," Hobbs said. "They're caregivers." He said that's allowed under state law, and it lets a caregiver get the medicine for the person who's ill, and can't get the marijuana themselves.

Another viewer emailed Eyewitness News saying patients need dispensaries because they can't grow the medicine themselves. Hobbs agreed with that.

"It's not that easy," Hobbs said. "You'd think is, being a weed, but it's not." He said some patients don't have the money to grow their own marijuana, or the space.

But the business owners on 18th Street had contacted Eyewitness News, worried about more foot traffic in their area. They both mentioned concerns about "the element" the dispensary might bring in.

"They always do that, and yet in all these years, I've never seen that element," Hobbs said. "All I've ever seen are wonderful, nice people."

A dispensary on 27th Street told Eyewitness News they've been in their location since 2009, and they've never had any trouble or complaints. A spokeswoman said their operation stays low key.

They also don't allow anyone under the age of 21. She said that reduces chances of problems, adding it's important how a dispensary is run.

On Wednesday, one of the dispensaries on 18th Street left a message for Eyewitness News with their attorney's phone number, saying he could comment. A reporter left a message for that lawyer.

Vaughn still wishes he could get the medicinal medical marijuana from a pharmacy, but says that could never happen as long as it's illegal under federal law. He has a message for the public.

"What I would ask, is for you to go out there, go to your lawmakers and make them make it where we have to go to a pharmacy to get this," he said.

Hobbs believes the dispensaries work, but he wishes they were better understood. As a Vietnam vet, he suffers with painful sores all down his back from the effects of Agent Orange, he says.

"I've never seen a group of people like the ones that run these outlets," Hobbs said of the dispensaries. "They try so hard to make their neighbors happy." He also hopes the neighbors and general public understand the dispensaries better.

"Learn more," Hobbs said. "And you'll realize it's not a bad thing."