Pot power

Michael Riggs

Photo By Larry Dalton

In the wake of marijuana being legalized for medical use in California by Proposition 215 in 1996, Michael Riggs founded FloraCare, a group dedicated to helping bona fide patients get their medicine.

Riggs says he has long taken marijuana for chronic pain and other ailments related to a heart defect that required open-heart surgery as a child and from a 1988 accident that broke several vertebrae in his neck. Along with fellow patients, Riggs began operating a “cannabis club” out of his Citrus Heights home and growing marijuana for club members in a Carmichael warehouse.

Yet on June 28, 2000, the home and warehouse were raided by Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputies. Police and prosecutors accuse Riggs and his partner, Michael Reitmeier, of running a commercial growing operation, and they have charged the pair with felony cultivation, transportation and distribution of marijuana. Their trial begins Feb. 8 in Sacramento County Superior Court.

Undeterred by the legal heat, Riggs continues to operate his cannabis club, growing marijuana in his backyard for himself and other members, who regularly come by the house to medicate themselves and learn about the power of pot.

How did the club start?

We got tired of going to [the] Oakland [Cannabis Buyer’s Club]. We got tired of driving 100 miles and paying street prices, and wondering where we were going to get our medication next. We were really scared of who we had to deal with. These patients are disabled, and they’re having to go to lowlifes on the corner.

So we decided to start growing it, and I asked everybody if each patient was willing to accept the consequences. Everybody was, so we got all the paperwork together, and we started it.

Did you know that you’d get busted?

We knew they were going to show up. The crucial point was when, where, how and who was going to go to jail. That’s the reality of 215 right now, that there is this big risk.

Why did you accept that kind of risk?

Because I’m a patient. I’ve been a patient my whole life. My life depends on this plant. I’m not going to go back and take Vicodin and all these other medications when I can do it all right here and make my own medication available to me at any time. That was the spirit behind 215. It makes me able to function as a normal human again.

We need to get people off the couch and aware of the abuse of power and misappropriation of tax money to jail medical patients.

How many members do you have?

About 200, mostly [from the Sacramento area]. But we have members as far away as Redding and Chico. There’s no place where they can go. We’re the closest one, unless they want to go to the Bay Area. That’s a long way to have to go just to get this.

It’s supposed to be provided for you. That’s the point I want to get across. These are medical patients, often severely disabled medical patients, and we need to help them.

Is it a social environment when your members gather here?

It’s really not a social environment. I would say 80 percent of the people who come here are severely disabled. There are no parties here. People are more than welcome to stay here all day, but this is a learning environment. People come here to be educated on the reality, and the bullshit, of Prop. 215.

So it’s a fairly serious-minded environment?

It’s a very serious-minded environment. This is only for people who want to sit and relax and medicate themselves, or to come learn.

The mood here is like if you go to a church or classroom environment, because people who have information to share come in and tell stories about their experiences.

What does membership give you?

If you have your own medication or you want to learn about growing, I want people to come here to learn, and not just about the plant itself and about the law, but this is like a religion. FloraCare is a mission of the Northern Lights Church.

What’s that?

We are Unitarians who believe that this (touching a marijuana plant) is from God. We believe that cannabis is a physical and spiritual healing sacrament. It provides spiritual guidance and aid for the sick.

We don’t base our religion on cannabis, but we do believe in the power of cannabis, and we take that directly from the Bible. It’s in Psalms 104:14 and Genesis 129, which said that God created all the plants for our use. God didn’t create any garbage. Only man creates garbage.

If you weren’t being hassled by the police, what do you see this club becoming in, say, a year from now?

I would have people come in here and learn from the best people I could find, so they could go home and be able to grow it themselves. I would like to have the resources to where I could have a facility where I could get the best medication—and not only the bud, but oils and tinctures—to the people who can’t grow.

Some people just can’t grow their own medication. There’s people in wheelchairs or people who can barely stand up on their own, and you’re going to say to them, “OK, you can grow your own medication, but you can’t get it from anybody else.”

The way they have it written, if you are a patient and I simply hand you this plant, we have committed a felony.

Why are we still fighting a war that was supposed to end four years ago? We the people passed a law that said we have a right to grow and use medical marijuana if the doctors deem us eligible. So why are we being persecuted?