Almanac

News - December 8, 2010

Menlo Park man scraps plans for marijuana facility

• County restrictions on size frustrated proposal's broader goals.

by Dave Boyce

Medical marijuana is reportedly a godsend to sufferers of chronic pain and other persistent maladies. It could be grown in unincorporated San Mateo County for patients in need, but only if they were members of a "collective."

Such a collective, a term the law leaves open to interpretation, would be "a group small enough that every (able-bodied) member who participates would have an active role in growing and handing out of the marijuana to the participants," Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told The Almanac.

There are no such collectives to date because none have satisfied that admittedly "conservative" interpretation of state law, Mr. Wagstaffe said, including a recently withdrawn proposal by Menlo Park resident Bradley Ehikian to educate, treat and serve the community.

A brochure outlining Mr. Ehikian's plans shows renderings of a sleek, two-story white building in an industrial section of unincorporated Redwood City along Bay Road just west of U.S. 101.

A glass facade fronts a spacious greenhouse. The floor plan includes offices, a nursing station, a farmers' market, spaces for massage, yoga and classes on topics such as posture and nutrition, and parking for 36 vehicles.

Such a facility could handle 500 people a day, "an arbitrary number based on available parking," Mr. Ehikian said in an interview. Its name would be Sans Souci, French for "without concern." Asked to explain, Mr. Ehikian said he wanted to encourage patients to have a "without-worry kind of feeling in an industry that has many worries."

The number of participants underlies a key finding in a memo from the county License Board on a decision to grant an operating license to Mr. Ehikian. The memo summarizes an appeal of that decision by Sheriff Greg Munks and District Attorney Jim Fox to the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 30.

"If a small number of members conduct the day-to-day work of the collective, and a large number of members merely purchase marijuana, the balance of the concern tips in favor of curbing potential abuse," the sheriff said.

Mr. Ehikian's model, while honorable, could set a precedent for less honorable proposals, Mr. Munks told The Almanac.

Mr. Ehikian withdrew his application before the supervisors weighed in. He said the logistics of a collective small enough to meet the county's standard would be too small and informal to meet his broader goals of educating patients on health and nutrition and bringing medical marijuana out of the shadows.

His grandmother, a resident of San Francisco, endured cancer-related pain, nausea, sleep deprivation and anxiety before she died, he said. That she did not take advantage of the city's permissive medical marijuana law reflected her concern for what her grandchildren would think, he said.

"All of (her symptoms) could have been treated with marijuana," Mr. Ehikian said. "We had her on everything possible and it did nothing for her."

"We need to be able to have a county we can work with," he said. "It's been a frustrating experience. They'll tell you, 'No, no, no, it won't work,' but they won't tell you what will work."

Mr. Wagstaffe said he looks forward to a state appellate court addressing the definition of collective, and added that he is not opposed to medical marijuana. "I've talked with enough people over the years who have seen benefit from it," he said.

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