California Cannabis Goes Pro ... With Baseball Cards? 

Southern California dispensaries suffer a setback in court, and the growing season grows violent.

California's $14-billion-a-year cannabis economy has created all-star marijuana strains with as much cachet as marquee athletes. A combination of genetics, local variation, effects in the field, and marketing has promoted ten such California hits to such great heights that they have their own baseball cards.

Technically, they're Berkeley Patient's Care Collective "trading cards:" a shimmering, ten-piece set spanning OG Kush to Blue Dream, featuring luscious close-ups and an intercontinental tale of a flowering industry.

Cannabis breaks down into two, broad species, sativa and indica, says dispensary General Manager David Bowers, but growers seek maximum power and inimitable style through a mind-boggling array of strains. "It's survival of the fittest, really," he said.

The reigning Southern and Northern California all-star and number one trading card, OG Kush, came from a powerful Colorado varietal called "chemdawg" several years ago, says Bowers. Strains emerge through deliberate and accidental genetic variation. Hit strains are then cloned and sold from seed at international seed banks.

When plants travel, genetic expression can vary. On the East Coast, chemdawg became Diesel, while on the West Coast, starting in Los Angeles, it became OG Kush. Bowers says OG Kush can be grown inside or outside, but it's finicky, requiring precise moisture, temperature, and nutrients. Pound for pound and in its prime, though, OG Kush is some of the strongest on the market.

"Extremely psychoactive ... can be almost too strong for some patients," notes the trading card. "Very distinctive tangy lemon with a pine forest aroma that sticks to back of your nose. Extremely skunky and pungent. Long lasting after taste."

The nine-year-old Berkeley Patient's Care Collective is known for its elitism. It doesn't dispense mid-grade or low-grade product and rigorously IDs its products. The card line began this past spring as a way to educate forgetful patients on what they had just bought. "Consumers want to get rid of physical pain, restore appetite, or find mental relaxation, and different strains help," Bowers said.

Identification is a dark art at best, though. "Quite a bit" of the growers for Berkeley Patient's Care Collective incorrectly identify the strain they've grown. To date, no California dispensaries perform expensive, time-consuming genetic analysis. Dispensary buyers don't necessarily get a degree. Bowers read up on web sites and the popular literature, like the Cannabible and Sensi Seeds, and relies on experience. "A lot of the literature is conflicting," he said. "It's more an art than a science."

The industry is heading toward more empiricism, though. Harborside Health Center determines potency at the molecular level with flame ionization. Medical Marijuana Inc. Vice President David Tobias in Orange County says medical cannabis will get to the point where people can take exactly what's right for them, instead of something that leaves them either zonked out or unable to sleep. "I know a lot of dispensary owners and they'll suggest different things that are not good for me," he said.

Strains rise and fall, Bowers said. Oakland's Grand Daddy Purple recently took off until "everyone was growing the same strain at the same time," gridlocking the supply chain.

What was once the reign of Champagne and Old Blueberry has become the market of Blue Dream and Romulan. Blue Dream is a hybrid that smells "sweet and refreshing like fresh baked blueberry donuts." It's "strong and long lasting medication for day or night."

If Berkeley Patient's Care Collective can educate people just a little, the cards are worth it, Bowers says. A second line of ten is underway and Bowers intimates a breakthrough in weed technology on the horizon. "We're trying to make them scratch and sniff."

Seeds & Stems

Fourteen years after California voters wrote medical marijuana Proposition 215 into the law books, lawyers and courts are still fighting over what it means. In the latest round, a highly watched battle between a medical marijuana dispensary and the Southern California city of Anaheim just ended in a draw. A California appellate court issued a split ruling August 18 on whether or not Anaheim could ban storefront medical cannabis dispensaries. Some cities allow them, others do not. The Fourth District Court of Appeal kicked the case back down to Orange Superior Court, saying Anaheim interpreted Prop 215 incorrectly, but rejected the dispensary's claim that Anaheim violated its civil rights. It could take several more years to litigate cases that will definitively determine where dispensaries can be located, and whether or not they can engage in sales. ... Law enforcement officials have shot an alarming number of armed and unarmed cultivators during marijuana eradication missions, reports from across the state indicate. Santa Clara County deputies shot and killed East Palo Alto landscaper Jose Penaloza-Soto on July 21 during a raid on an illegal 18,000 plant farm in Livermore. Penaloza-Soto was armed with a pellet gun. Up north, police have shot and killed five suspected growers in the last seven weeks, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports. Every year, federal, state, and local forces descend on Northern California pot farms, but this year, a combination of bigger, more heavily guarded farms and larger, more heavily equipped law enforcement teams has turned hidden valleys of national forest into war zones. On August 18, sixty officers backed up by a helicopter searched a Mendocino County property, resulting in a gun battle at one garden on the property, and the fatal shooting of a farmer at another and four arrests.

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