Growing Pains at Otherside Farms

Chadd McKeen helps medical-pot patients grow their own, while openly bashing some weed dispensaries

Dispensaries manage to open in Orange County by negotiating with individual landlords, securing county health permits as alternative-healing facilities and sidestepping the whole business-permit process in cities that ban dispensaries.

Some cities have struck back. After police and code-enforcement officers receive complaints (or say they do), dispensaries are put under surveillance and have reverse-sting operations run on them. Those arrested are portrayed by prosecutors as street dealers (see “Marijuana Martyr,” Nick Schou’s April 30 feature on now-jailed 215 Agenda dispensary owner Mark Moen).

Raids and cease-and-desist orders have come down in recent months on medical-cannabis providers in Lake Forest and Costa Mesa. This led to a recent lawsuit in federal court by four medical-marijuana patients aimed at keeping their pot providers’ doors open. Judge Andrew Guilford ruled May 3 at the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana that disabled OC residents Marla James, Wayne Washington, James Armantrout and Charles Daniel DeJong do not have the right under the Americans with Disabilities Act to smoke marijuana. “Marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, and under that Act, it currently has no medical purpose,” Guilford argued. Lawyers for the patients filed an appeal May 14. Yet to be decided is a lawsuit filed April 19 in Orange County Superior Court by two Costa Mesa dispensaries, Herban Elements Inc. and MedMar Patient Care Collective, arguing that the city’s ordinance prohibiting cannabis clubs violates California law.

Keith May
Keith May

In this highly charged atmosphere, the McKeens opened Otherside Farms earlier this year.

*     *     *

Anyone who walks through the front door of Otherside Farms without a state-issued card identifying him or her as a medical-marijuana patient is referred to a local doctor—one who makes house calls. McKeen wants those who need it to get their medicine, but he is not taking any chances.

He keeps up on laws by hosting or attending gatherings of local medical-marijuana providers. He acknowledges some dispensary owners hold a dim view of Otherside Farms, seeing it as competition. That’s fine with him.

McKeen does not trust the pot distributed at some dispensaries because he does not know where the plants came from—and he’s found that many hawking medical cannabis do not know either. Patients can have plants tested for safety and quality, but that is costly and the wait time for the results is long. Meanwhile, the patients are not getting their medicine. McKeen says he has found many clones sold by dispensaries infested with spider mites, which can kill plants before they bloom.

The solution, he says, is growing one’s own. Like the weekend gardener, the medical-marijuana grower can feel the therapeutic powers of working with soil—not to mention the therapeutic powers of righteous buds. However, like the best gardeners, home growers need to know what they are doing. They can’t go to the neighborhood Armstrong Garden Center for help; the gardening expert will be uncomfortable talking about growing pot, if he or she even knows how.

Some hydroponics stores are run by operators who truly want to help patients grow their own medicine, McKeen says, but finding those among so many others just out to gouge customers can be difficult.

The McKeens aim to enlighten through education, using their own experience as patients—with a healthy dollop of Farmer Chadd’s growing know-how—to allow people to self-medicate without ever having to leave home.

“If you take the right care all the way through, your original plants can continue to bear medicine forever,” Chadd McKeen claims. “You may need to transplant it in a bigger pot, though. Actually, we say buckets. We don’t want to say pot. That’s one of those negative buzzwords.”

Encouraging patients to grow their own medical marijuana instead of relying on dispensaries; claiming some dispensaries sell poor, overpriced and even unsafe weed; lambasting what he called the “ridiculous” lawsuit filed by patients to keep Costa Mesa dispensaries open—those are also negative buzzwords in some local cannabis circles.

“The movement needs to be unified, and this guy is mudslinging,” says an Orange County medical-marijuana provider who says he knows Chadd McKeen and wishes to remain anonymous. “He doesn’t want to work with any of the area clubs. Other medical-marijuana groups have tried to work with him. He’s very strong-willed and isn’t willing to help choose the direction.”

On McKeen’s blasting of some of the dispensed cannabis, the provider declares, “To be willing to slander all the growers in California, when everyone is making a concerted effort to stay within the law, is wrong.”

He blames “the Mexican cartel” for “most of the stuff with pesticides” and calls Costa Mesa’s dispensaries “closed-circuit clubs” that “only grow within their groups.”

“They aren’t buying it from a cartel or wholesaler, but from the person who grew it, so we can ask questions and grill the guy,” the provider says. “The growers know about the pesticides and herbicides.”

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