Big ban on the ‘sesh’ scene
Medical cannabis collectives would gather at word-of-mouth events, where patients would meet suppliers at farmers market-like settings
“Prop. 64 killed medical marijuana!” Jose Lara shouted at a pop-up medical cannabis collective marketplace in December. The sales representative for NorCal Nectar, a cannabis oil extraction company, was lamenting the January 9 repeal of California’s Medical Marijuana Program Act, which now bans medical cannabis collectives from gathering and selling products in a farmers market-like setting. This also means that patients who once joined these collectives to afford their medicine must now buy directly from higher-priced medicinal and recreational dispensaries.
Cannabis collectives, also called cooperatives, are private nonprofits whose member patients and suppliers gather at “sesh” events such as December’s pop-up known as an Orbit Show, where patients speak directly with product representatives and receive significant discounts over dispensary prices. Collectives were conceived as part of Proposition 215 in 1996, and their legal protection was reaffirmed in 2003 with passage of Senate Bill 420.
After voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016 to legalize recreational cannabis, state regulators overruled the medical provisions. In January 2018, the deadline was set for collectives to relicense or reduce their size to “caregiver gardens serving no more than five people,” according to the state Bureau of Cannabis Control.
But because reaching full compliance would be too costly for such small groups, most collectives have disbanded.
The 1130 Club collective averaged more than 700 patients at its last few Terpy Thursday events, according to operator Will Hennessee. At the December event, hip-hop music spilled out into the cold air, while the smell of Philly cheesesteaks from a food trailer wafted back inside. As patients shopped for cannabis, some said goodbye to their favorite vendors and wondered about the future.
“It’s been an emotional three days,” said Karrie Stackpoole, a sales representative for SpOILed Gold Country extracts. She said she heard talk of organizing secret meet-ups, but was apprehensive about the risk. “I don’t want to go underground,” she said.
An early indicator of her future was a patch inside a display case reading, “In Memory of Prop 215, 1996-2017.”
“Wasn’t California supposed to protect the small growers, and patients like us?” asked Debra Cowen, a massage therapist and medical cannabis patient since 2013. While buying vape cartridges for her joint pain, Cowen repeated a common view in the medical cannabis community that “politicians threw medical marijuana under the bus for the taxes.”
Some dispensary owners agree.
“As a patient and dispensary owner I understand what many of these patients feel, and how hard it was before to afford your medicine,” said Haley Andrew, owner of Dixon Wellness Collective. “Hopefully our regulators are understanding why patients are using sesh parties … and can help on the regulatory side to lower the taxes on cannabis.”
The view is also echoed among dispensary owners who applied for recreational business licensing, in addition to operating as a longtime medicinal haven.
“When we advocated for state regulations, we expected that all businesses in operation would be able to transition into the regulated market,” said Kimberly Cargile, executive director of A Therapeutic Alternative in Midtown. “It is very sad because most of the people stuck in the unregulated market are there for the right reasons, they just want to help patients safely access affordable cannabis.”
Alex Traverso, communications chief at the state bureau, said it plans to work with collective operators to help transition them over to the legal market. He also said that the bureau has already issued temporary licenses to businesses operating as collectives.
“I would love to comply,” said Hennessee of the 1130 Club. “But we don’t have the money to compete with the big companies.”
Hennessee scheduled a meeting with member suppliers to consider their future in the new regulated climate.
“I do not know of any collectives that were able to transition without taking on partners that either brought money or business experience to the table,” Cargile said.
Critics argue that on-site cannabis consumption at sesh events violates local ordinances. Organizers of these pop-up marketplaces would regularly change the event locations to stay under the radar of local authorities. The state Bureau of Cannabis Control has pledged to increase enforcement in 2019.
When asked about the likelihood of local prosecutions, Sacramento Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi told SN&R in an email that the office doesn’t offer “charging opinions on hypothetical arrest scenarios.”
Still, Orbit Show organizer Jose Agacio was philosophical about the future.
“It’s been well worth the endeavors and obstacles,” he said. “With the community staying strong, the support and dedication of every one, we shall see a brighter day.”