Best of 420
Best ambassador to the Sacramento medical-cannabis community
When El Camino Wellness Center opened in September 2008, its décor consisted of two saw horses with a flat of plywood on top and a laptop. And jars of medical cannabis. That’s it. Former mortgage-industry colleagues Sonny Kumar and Nick Street had kick-started with a bare-bones operation—and a bold one at that, given the duo launched during the less-than-420-friendly Bush administration era.
Three years later, many call El Camino the Taj Mahal of Sacramento collectives. With Zen gardens, waterfalls, a chic Apple store-style interior, its feel transcends hospitable.
“I wanted to be able to have something I could show to my family,” Kumar said of the look.
But the club isn’t just for moms and dads. El Camino is the perfect initiation for any Sacramentan curious about medical cannabis. Just driving up and parking will set you at ease. And El Camino is known for the breadth of its selection, which hits all the price points and strain types, including hard-to-find kushes and chemdawgs, which Kumar himself partakes in.
“My blood pressure has been reduced from cannabis,” he shares. “I also have to take medication, but the cannabis has been a huge help.”
The 34-year-old was born in Yuba City, attended Chico State and grew up spending a lot of time around cannabis in the Humboldt area. He and Street opened a club because they thought they could simply do better; most clubs were underground or in homes at the time, and they wanted to be right out there for everyone to see.
Now, El Camino is the club everyone recommends. Kumar got the word out via Facebook and Twitter, and also networked with the cannabis community, including activists at Americans for Safe Access. Later, he hired Bay Area attorney James Anthony to engage Sacramento and work toward a dispensary ordinance.
Further pushing the industry, El Camino became one of the first dispensaries in the entire state to lab test its cannabis. And the collective is one of the few remaining that still offers patient services such as counseling, massage and cooking and grow classes.
“I’m a business man, a normal dude, passionate about cannabis,” Kumar says. “It’s just a good fit.
“I talk to friends I’ve known my whole life, and they say this is what I meant to do.”
Best dispensary manager on a mission
Ron Mullins never even considered using cannabis for the first quarter-century of his life. “I was extremely hesitant,” the manager of J Street Wellness in Midtown shared, “because I’d successfully gotten to age 26 without even trying it.”
But Mullins was also pretty desperate. Lithium, Zoloft, Wellbutrin—those were just a handful of the drugs he’d take in his everyday doctor-prescribed cocktail. This in addition to drinking hard on the weekends and smoking cigarettes.
It got so bad, he says, that he had to have regular liver tests to make sure the prescriptions weren’t killing him.
And sometimes, he admits, he even wanted to take his own life.
Things changed on a Saturday in 1996. “October 1,” he remembers. A friend told him he needed to try cannabis, a “Yellow Truck” strain, because it would help him calm down and, eventually, wean him off of pharmaceuticals.
“And I think it was within the first hit that I felt this overwhelming relief from the tension, the mania,” Mullins recalls.
From that point on, the things that troubled Mullins in his 20s ceased to be a problem. And today, some 16 years later, he’s both operator of one of the more popular and compassionate medical-cannabis dispensaries in Midtown, and also a leading regional activist.
Mullins himself, however, downplays his credentials, saying that he’s a newbie to the activist community, going on about two or three years, and crediting the likes of Joy Cole (below) and Courtney Sheats (see TK) for motivating him.
“Sacramento has a lot of groups that have formed,” he says of the region’s medical-cannabis organizations, “but they don’t have a lot of cohesion.” So, one of his goals is to get groups working together toward common goals.
Because, at the end of the day, he just wants to help people in need.
“The most gratifying thing is interacting with patients who’ve had their lives transformed by the medication—like I have.”
Best lung-cancer surviving, cannabis-smoking, grassroots activist
Joy Cole will never forget being diagnosed with lung cancer. Surgeons told her it was inoperable. Nothing they could do. The proverbial three weeks to live.
“They told me I was going to die” Cole remembers.
But one doctor saw her file in the reject pile, she explains, and noticed how unusually small her tumors were. He said he could possibly remove the one in her lung with surgery and the two in her brain with gamma knife radiation therapy.
Miraculously, it worked.
“You don’t see a lot of former stage-four lung-cancer patients with brain metastasis hanging around on the streets,” says Cole, five years later and in remission. She and her doctors attribute at least part of her good fortune to lifelong medical-cannabis use.
Now, the patient, activist and former 215Radio host Cole is one of the region’s leading grassroots organizers. She’s deeply involved with Sac Patients, a small outfit with a big heart and the ability to mobilize on a dime, as witnessed earlier this summer, when Cole and Co. showed up by the hundreds to be heard at a Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting.
“This is all grassroots,” she reminds. “We don’t have money coming from a national office, which is why I think it’s so strong.”
Cole first got involved in the movement as an 18-year-old in the Southern California burg of Ventura, where she helped gather signatures to protest the city’s effort to ban cannabis paraphernalia from retail shops. Years later, she zeroed in on the medical-cannabis community and even got her first doctor referral from famed physician Dr. Mollie Fry, who is now serving a multiyear sentence in federal prison.
But today, Cole is worried that the movement is too fragmented, with too many people opening physician offices and collectives just to make cash.
“We’ve seen a lot of people taking advantage of where the money is,” she says.
Her goal is to unite the Sacramento industry and work toward self regulation—and quickly.
“If we, the people in our industry, don’t get our shit together,” she explains, “the federal government and the state government will take it all away.”
And so, Cole mobilizes patients to attend stakeholders meetings as the county writes its first dispensary ordinance. She also sparks community dialogue about what should be pursued on the 2012 ballot. And she does it all on a volunteer basis—although she wouldn’t mind having a real, paying job. But she’s not complaining.
“The fact that I’m here,” she reminds, “is a miracle.”