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This August, Modiano found the warehouse where Patient Med-Aid now operates. By that point, however, the federal government's crackdown on medical marijuana had caught up with Anaheim. The city first banned marijuana dispensaries back in 2007, but the law was challenged by a lawsuit filed by patients, and as the case worked its way through the system, dozens of dispensaries moved in. In January 2012, without taking public comment, the City Council ruled to extend a moratorium on new pot clubs for another year.
Then, Anaheim's elected officials did exactly what many of their counterparts in other cities throughout California—Lake Forest and Costa Mesa being two prominent Orange County examples—had already done in recent months: it simply called in the DEA and invited the feds to threaten landlords and raid clubs. The feds accepted that invitation on Aug. 21; the U.S. attorney's office filed lawsuits against six dispensaries in Anaheim and sent warning letters to more than 60 clubs throughout the city and neighboring La Habra. The cease-and-desist notices warned that properties would be seized and raids would be conducted on anyone who didn't shut down within 30 days.
One of those letters went to the landlord of the warehouse where Modiano had been operating Patient Med-Aid. Modiano insists that at no point did he use the warehouse for storing or distributing marijuana. Instead, he stores furniture, wheelchairs and other donated items for members there, and he uses the space to host events such as the picnic I attended. However, he did allow patients to smoke their own personal stashes of marijuana on the premises, which he assumes might have led to complaints that put him on the city and DEA's shit list.
In any case, Patient Med-Aid found itself quickly evicted. "Anaheim is a tourist place," Modiano reasons. "Anaheim is very protective of its investments and very protective of Disneyland. They had 120 dispensaries in close proximity to Disneyland, exposing the tourists in the hotels to all this marijuana, and of course, Anaheim wants to shut them down. So they called in the DEA, and the DEA sent letters to every dispensary they could identify, and they accidentally identified this as a dispensary, which it never has been."
On Sept. 28, just two days before Modiano was supposed to be gone from the premises, the landlord relented and told Modiano that if he really wasn't selling pot and could convince the city to give him a business permit, he could stay. "I went over to City Hall at 2 p.m. and got a license to warehouse and distribute donated items, which is what I do," Modiano says.
The next day, Modiano and several other disabled Patient Med-Aid members sued Anaheim, arguing that the city's ban on pot clubs violates the California Persons with Disabilities Act. Matthew Pappas, the lawyer who filed the suit, has a daughter, Victoria, who is a member of Patient Med-Aid. She smokes marijuana to manage pain from a severe assault last year for which she had to undergo brain surgery. Victoria says the pot relieves the tremendous headaches she still suffers. "It's crazy that I don't have worse complications. Medicinal marijuana makes the headache go away and helps me to sleep, so I can feel good again."
* * *
After the picnickers finish their meals, I interview several members of Patient Med-Aid in a small office down a hall from the main warehouse room. The first, an African-American woman, is reluctant to talk, and prefers her name not be used for the story. She tells me I can identify her as a "58-year-old sick woman—very sick" who lives in Anaheim. She was diagnosed with HIV seven years ago.
"I suffer from neuropathy, depression, arthritis, a lot of pain, and marijuana is the only thing that helps that pain," she relates. "The side effects from the medication . . . I can't do it. I almost died." She says she used to get marijuana from a few different dispensaries in Anaheim, but she found it too expensive. "If you have money, sure, no problem," she says. "But you can't always afford it, and you always have pain."
She's relieved Modiano wasn't evicted, but with the DEA continuing to crack down, she says, she worries about how long Patient Med-Aid will be able to continue. "This collective is different than most programs," the woman says. "I hope this program can stay and grow and develop into something, into what he wants it to be."
The next person I speak to also wishes to remain anonymous. He's the 64-year-old Dana Point resident who, a dozen years ago, rescued Modiano and nursed him back to health when his friend was first diagnosed with AIDS. A tall, wide-shouldered man with thinning white hair and a cheerful smile, he tells me he gets the honor of belonging to Patient Med-Aid for the unfortunate reason that he suffers from prostate cancer.
"I got it seven years ago. That's when I got my surgery. I have this big incision right here," he says, pointing below his belt. "They opened me up; I was out for eight hours. They didn't get all of it, so I had radiation treatment. It was 30 visits. I had to take the train down to San Diego every day, Monday through Friday, for six weeks. That wasn't a fun thing to go through. Radiation about kicked my ass."