Growing Pains at Otherside Farms

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

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Marla James is confined to a wheelchair. Several years ago, she contracted a flesh-eating disease from someone who had the flu. She had body parts removed. She still suffers severe, painful nerve damage. She is nearly legally blind.

She says she was a recreational toker in the 1980s but had grown out of it years before she was beset with her medical problems, which were treated first with prescribed OxyContin and hydrocodone. After she became addicted to those medications, James fired her doctor and found another who weaned her off them. Another doctor eventually recommended cannabis to ease her constant pain. That was eight years ago.

Marla James, who uses a wheelchair, and husband David are advocates for marijuana legalization and patient access
Keith May
Marla James, who uses a wheelchair, and husband David are advocates for marijuana legalization and patient access
Like OtherSide Farms, Tri-County Patient Collective encourages members to grow their own
Keith May
Like OtherSide Farms, Tri-County Patient Collective encourages members to grow their own

Her husband, David James, who has been an activist involved in several progressive causes since the 1960s, campaigned for Prop. 215. He is now the secretary of Orange County’s NORML chapter.

He “dragged” his wife into activism, according to Marla, who now leads Orange County Americans for Safe Access (ASA). She was also the titular star of Marla James, et al. v. The City of Costa Mesa, California, et al., the aforementioned federal lawsuit filed on behalf of her and three other medical-marijuana patients.

James obviously has a soft spot for medical-marijuana providers, and when asked about growing one’s own, she replies, “It doesn’t always work for everybody. I can’t grow. I don’t have the ability to grow for myself.”

She conceded that many patients can grow their own, and she noted the free growing classes offered by the collectives she frequents. James agrees with McKeen that patients should investigate the origins of the buds supplied by dispensaries—as should patients picking up prescription medication at the local pharmacy.

“The ones I deal with do not buy from cartels,” she says. “They know who they are buying from. Usually, it is from growers up north.”

James, who uses a vaporizer to cut down on carcinogens and increase the THC she breathes in, claims to have never acquired “bad” cannabis from a collective. Even if she were physically able to cultivate, James notes, she resides in a rented, one-bedroom apartment “with a husband, four cats and a dog.”

“It’d be wonderful if it were all grown on our own,” she says. “You would always know what you are growing. But you have to have room for growing.” She has no land on which to grow plants outdoors. Even if she physically could, she figures she’d constantly worry about her crops’ security. “It is a valuable plant,” she says.

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Before getting inside Tri-County Patient Collective, which is a couple of miles down Newport Boulevard from Otherside Farms, you have to walk through a small entryway with two doors. One leads to an art gallery, the other to a tiny lobby that is as warm and welcoming as a Soviet government office.

Either someone behind a tinted reception window slides it open to determine why you are there, or a figure appears in a doorway asking the same. You then have to be buzzed into a hallway that eventually leads to a room with big celebrity portraits on the walls.

But those aren’t the eye-catchers; the large jars stuffed with buds inside a long glass counter lining one wall are.

Like any merchant proud of his store, the brains behind this highly secure outfit would love to see his name in the OC Weekly. But given the legal war raging over dispensaries in Costa Mesa, he fears the powers that be would interpret anything positive he says about his establishment or negative about the current operating climate in town as an excuse to raid Tri-County. The name of his business is real, but he asked that his own name not be used.

“To me, there’s a difference between an association and a dispensary,” he says. “A dispensary, in my opinion, is just trying to get people medicine, similar to a pharmacy. That is illegal; the law says you have to operate as an association.

“We don’t operate like a dispensary,” he continues. “Our push is on patients growing their own. We encourage you to grow your own, so that you become self-sufficient, independent.”

Tri-County offers growing classes that are free to association members. But the fellow characterized them as very basic, and he says he regularly—and happily—sends McKeen anyone who really wants to bore into the subject, find the right growing equipment or just get answers to their nagging farming questions.

“What Chadd does works hand-in-hand with what we do: It furthers the knowledge on how to grow,” the director said. “We encourage all our patients to grow, and when they need more help, we almost always say, ‘Go talk to Chadd.’ We don’t see him as a threat at all.”

He also agrees with much of what McKeen said about some dispensary patients and operators being clueless as to the origin of their medication, whether it was organically grown and how effective it is.

“A lot of [dispensaries] that do not take the collective-growing approach are buying off the street,” the director asserts. “You do not know if the crop was sitting on a truck eating diesel fuel.”

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