Budding business

Medicinal marijuana matures, but November ballot initiative could change everything

Skip Jones has beenan underground cannabis cultivator for 26 years; for obvious reasons, he writes under a pseudonym.

I must have passed the Fruitridge Health and Wellness Collective 100 times before I found it. There’s no psychedelic marquee to draw attention to the fact that a cannabis dispensary is in operation at 2831 Fruitridge Avenue. That’s just fine by this 14-year legal medical-marijuana recipient. Even though the winds are blowing more freely these days, a lot of patients still prefer to keep things low key, and FHWC fits the bill.

On the 101st pass, I finally discerned the number “2831” in black on the outside of a nondescript two-story office complex and pulled into the ample parking lot. I was greeted at the door, where my doctor’s recommendation was verified. Patients were already being served at the cannabis counter, so I hung out in the quaint waiting room, under the watchful eyes of a security guard. Ten minutes later, I was ushered into the cannabis counter.

The “bud tenders” greeted me cordially, handing me a menu of sorts that listed a variety of indicas, sativas and hybrids. In some cases, strains have been tested for THC levels by Steephill Medical Collective, an Alameda County-based company operated by patients. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I think this practice should be mandatory at all medical-cannabis dispensaries, to better ensure patients know what they’re buying.

For patients interested in growing their own plants, FHWC carries the legendary clones from Coffeeshop Blue Sky in Oaksterdam, the district in downtown Oakland that flourishes with clubs, dispensaries and cafes. Richard Lee, executive director of Oaksterdam University, is a primary instigator of the legalize-and-tax marijuana initiative that has qualified for November’s ballot.

After purchasing what turned out to be some excellent medication, I chatted with Caleb Counts, FHWC’s director of operations, about how he came to the business and marijuana’s shifting legal status in California.

What motivated you to open a nonprofit collective?

My grandmother was a cancer victim and was in a terrible amount of pain before she passed, not responding to any of the pain medication.

Was she a cannabis user?

No, too old school for that. I wanted to make sure that people her age and from her generation could see the healing power of cannabis and have safe access to obtain it, and maybe change some opinions in the process.

Are you a Sacramento native?

No, I grew up in the San Luis Obispo area.

Did you consider opening in that county?

I did, but that county is not a medical-marijuana-friendly area.

Why is FHWC set up as nonprofit, as opposed to incorporation?

The law states that we are not to profit by the sale of medical marijuana; setting up any other way in this business didn’t seem to make any sense. I also wanted to provide a stable employment for those who work for me. Putting my employees before a profit margin seemed more the right thing to do.

How do you feel about the legalize-and-tax initiative that’s qualified for the ballot?

I think we are further out on this issue than most people realize. This will initially cost the state money, and we have none. The ballot measure calls for the taxing of every ounce sold; who is going to supervise this? What will be a fair amount, considering marijuana varies in potency, appearance and price? I think that their flat-tax idea is flawed.

Have you considered mainstream distribution as well as medical?

Hasn’t everyone in this business? Fruitridge Health and Wellness will always be a medical facility. As long as my oldest patient still wants the strongest and the best medical-grade cannabis, we will be here for them.

What does the future hold for FHWC?

I would love to open a patient lounge, where patients can mingle and visit with others while allowed to medicate. This movement is patient-based and has created an actual community behind the scenes; we need a place to gather that isn’t a dispensary.

I noticed the quality of your cannabis right away; it’s really top-shelf.

We strive to provide the highest quality experience in all aspects of our services to the community. Every patient gets a one-on-one with a bud tender until their needs have been met.

OK, what’s the best strain, in your professional opinion?

As far as indicas, I would have to say that Church is amazing when it comes to appetite and sleep. For the sativas, I would recommend Star Dawg, Headband 707 and Green Cross. Very psychologically stimulating.