Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chaos in the Medical Marijuana Community

news analysis by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.

Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Faced with powerful pressures from federal prosecutors and an aggressive city attorney, medical-marijuana dispensaries are also struggling with disunity in their own ranks.
There are two major community organizations involved: the Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a broad-based organizations with several “chapters” spread throughout San Diego county; and a financially stronger group representing dispensaries, the Patients Care Association’ (PCA).
Although their interests are nearly identical, they aren’t talking to each other.
And the PCA is split between local leaders who successfully scored a victory by forcing the city council to repeal its ordinance that was a de facto ban on dispensaries, and a man who is trying to personally take all the credit for that victory, Randy Welty.

Disaster Expected

Welty is pushing two ballot initiatives, one locally and one statewide.  To pay the huge cost of these initiatives, Welty is pushing the PCA to put on a huge gala with $500 tickets. No way in hell that will work, especially with no professionals producing the gala event and an impossible, one-month promotional time. This isn’t La Jolla, and even there a sizeable lead time is required to promote and advertise a major event.
Welty, however, is polished in selling, and he’s trying to do it again with the two initiatives, though copies of neither initiative are available.
The PCA meetings are nominally run by 28-year-old dispensary owner Alex Scherer. But, according to PCA members, Scherer has difficulty chairing the meetings because Welty “takes over” with long speeches that make him into a “Rambo” character of the medical marijuana community. There is a lot of resentment locally because Welty seems to be trying to take credit for the hard work of locals.
“It’s either Welty’s way or the highway,” said one PCA member critically. When a recent PCA meeting voted to give control of a major project to a local board, rather than a statewide group run by Welty, Welty got upset and walked out of the meeting.  The tension in the PCA meeting was so thick you could cut it.
After he returned from his “smoke break,” the conflict continued.
“I’m not going to work with the local group,” Welty said bluntly. “You have to put me in charge to get my support.
“We need $5,000 by tomorrow, but only have $2,000,” he added.
Everything he discussed during his speeches was in general terms with no specifics.
Even the so-called “budget” for the gala he was promoting didn’t have detailed figures, though the event was just weeks away. A six-page promotional document he distributed listed “expenses” at $85,000, but didn’t give specifics of those expenses.
The major income from the “gala” event was the tickets at $500 each, and he anticipated selling 600 . . . to whom?
With talk of two initiatives, one local and another statewide, Welty didn’t answer a question as to which would control local dispensaries.
There was considerable talk about lawsuits that have been filed against local and federal prosecutors, but nobody at the PCA event had details of any of them.

Photo caption: Alex Scherer, 28, of Ocean Beach runs meetings of the Patients’ Care Association, when Randy Welty isn’t giving a speech and taking over.  Photo by Leo E. Laurence.