‘Rogue’ dispensary angers med-pot advocates

Established medical marijuana advocates Kim Shields and Dinah Coffman confront Joel Castle at his office, where he claims to be starting a medical marijuana dispensary.

Established medical marijuana advocates Kim Shields and Dinah Coffman confront Joel Castle at his office, where he claims to be starting a medical marijuana dispensary.

Photo By Aaron Steinmetz

Butte County medical-marijuana advocates have long sought a place where they can dispense cannabis to sick people without fear of harassment by police, profiteers and criminals. So why were they upset when Joel Castle, a former Florida furniture merchant, declared last week that he was starting a marijuana dispensary downtown?

Because, says Butte Alliance for Medical Marijuana (BAMM) Director Dinah Coffman, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about such a project. Castle, she said, is a kook who is doing more harm than good.

“He’s not one of us,” Coffman said. “Personally, what I saw from this guy is that he’s a shyster. If he did open [a dispensary], I would not refer any patients to him. He puts people in danger.”

Coffman and other local medical-marijuana patients said they were infuriated upon reading a story in the June 12 Enterprise-Record that portrayed Castle as a would-be med-pot provider. Coffman said she had been contacted a few weeks ago by Castle about starting a dispensary but quickly decided that he was “a lunatic.”

“I was like, ‘Whoa. You’re crazy, man. I have to disassociate myself from you.'”

Coffman and fellow activist Kim Shields, director of Americans for Safe Access, visited Castle’s office behind the Mustang Jones store on West Fifth Street Friday to protest his “rogue” operation. When they arrived, they found Castle entertaining five teenaged kids, who Castle said were “helping me with my organization.” Castle and the teens had apparently been in the office making signs reading “abortion” and “teen rights” to help publicize Castle’s Internet-based polling service.

Coffman and Shields, believing the minors might be high, promptly called the police, who arrived a few minutes later but declined to make any arrests.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said he was aware of Castle’s activities and that Chico police were “appropriately dealing with it.”

Castle, interviewed at his office Friday morning, said he smoked marijuana for relief from symptoms of genital herpes. He came to Chico in late March, he said, to start his business in “a place where everyone around me is more intelligent than I am.”

Formerly a fruitwood furniture dealer in St. Petersburg, Fla., Castle said he had a vision that called him west—an idea for an Internet-based, members-only polling service that would allow people to vote on political issues for a fee. Castle said he had TV and radio shows in the works that would display his members’ votes. His idea for a medical-marijuana dispensary grew out of his political activism, he said. It is unknown whether he has actually distributed any marijuana.

Sitting in his wood-paneled office—a former stockroom that now doubles as Castle’s temporary home—surrounded by jars and bottles of vitamins, peanut butter, shampoo and other personal items, the pony-tailed Castle cut a modest figure in jeans shorts, a T-shirt and tan boat shoes. On his computer monitor, a screensaver displayed the word “Jesus,” which danced around while Castle talked about his plans for “bringing government into the moment.”

“If I don’t do this it’s not going to get done. There’s a link between society and the establishment that is silenced.”

Asked if he was worried about being arrested or robbed for his marijuana-related activities, Castle said he wasn’t worried about anything.

“It’s like, if Jesus was in my body, what would he do? It’s in God’s hands, and I’m not worried about anything. I’m walking in his shoes. I’m willing to be used as a tool."