Bay Area sports hearo paints city streets green
worth noticing on a first time visit to the Alternative Herbal
Health Services office operated by Jason Beck is that there is little
to notice. The simple storefront at Haight and Fillmore sits on a block
with everything a San Francisco neighborhood seems to have - Walgreens
In the bright light of day it's obvious you're not in the world-famous
Haight-Ashbury; you're in today's Haight. It's lower, but only geographically.
Faded Matt Gonzalez signs linger in windows like Christmas trees waiting
into spring for a lamented Santa. Other windows announce the pride inside
with peace signs. A gay flag flies from a third-floor fire escape.
A handful of African American guys are minding their own business, tossing
dice on the hot sidewalk. The traffic noise builds along with the sound
of a boom box that passes by on the shoulder of a teenage boy on roller-skates.
The music is Madonna electronica. "I live the American dream," she twitters
before dissolving into the din of the city.
Inhaling a fresh breeze - hit or miss around here - I remember something
a young reporter, who lived with three friends in an apartment on the
corner, said to me over a decade ago. "If something seems different
about the place," she purred in an earnestly provincial manner, "Two
Jack's Seafood changed their grease."
My reporter friend was a bisexual who had a communist flag for curtains.
Later, she outed a prominent local official in a gay newspaper.
Around the corner on Webster is where I met my very first out lesbian
shortly after arriving in San Francisco too long ago to mention. Ellen,
her real name, was the roommate of a friend.
Ellen showed me her diaphragm, "from when I was straight," she said,
and told me what it was for. "What a town," I said, "Do you think they
have those in Boston?" Walgreens and memories.
"This is the neighborhood," says Jason Beck, 25, greeting me from behind
the counter at his herbal health dispensary, one of a dozen pot clubs
in San Francisco.
Between 80 - 150 medical marijuana patients visit Beck each day. He
doesn't ask questions about any patient's condition, though he knows
from personal relationships that medical marijuana patients commonly
suffer from the effects of chemotherapy, HIV, leukemia, bipolar disorder,
attention deficit disorder, and a number of other conditions. "Marijuana
is helping people get off Oxycontin," he tells me.
Patients provide documentation as per Proposition 215. A Field poll
released just a few weeks ago showed an 18% increase in support for
medical pot since 1996, when California voters approved by 56% the initiative
allowing doctors to recommend pot for medicinal use.
In fact, the movement for medical marijuana is swimming in an alphabet
soup of political momentum, from Prop S, which authorizes the Board
of Supervisors to potentially cultivate marijuana, to the efforts of
solid allies Assemblyman Mark Leno, District Attorney Kamala Harris,
former D.A. Terrence Hallinan, members of the Board of Supervisors,
and the mayor.
Since August of 1992, the Board of Supervisors has passed two ordinances
and seventeen resolutions in support of medical marijuana. Adam Van
de Water, the city's legislative analyst, toured Beck's place and others
before issuing a report to the board early this month.
There isn't much to see at 442 Haight. It's a small space with plain,
white walls, a sofa and some wicker chairs, two small tables, and a
counter filled with several types and forms of marijuana. Except for
the smoke, the trippy music, and the jars of weed with names like Blue
Heaven, Jingle, and XXX, the place could pass for a travel agency.
At my request, Beck tries to count the number of different kinds of
marijuana available here in grass form as well as in cakes, candies,
tinctures, lollipops, even Rice Krispie treats. The number of varieties
is more than Baskin-Robbins, less than Heinz.
"We have nothing to hide," says Beck, who began dispensing marijuana
here last year. He says that the potential for a bust such as previous
federal raids on pot clubs throughout the state, and recent arrests
of growers and activists, is "not something I think about."
After he was assaulted and robbed during a power outage in December,
Beck says he took steps to increase security. "We belong here," he says,
"Mayor Newsom said in his inaugural address that he wanted to paint
the streets green. We want to help him."
It's a high-five moment, but before you ask, "Dude, where's my car?"
there's more to Beck than meets the eye.
In 1996, Beck was celebrated as the Pittburg teenager who overcame the
physical challenges of cerebral palsy to help take his varsity football
team to victory as a defensive lineman for Pitt High's Pirates.
While public and political support is encouraging, Beck doesn't need
a survey or a medical report to affirm his commitment to the medicinal
benefits of pot. "I used to smoke every day," he says, referring to
the time of his athletic career, "then onetime I caught a cold and couldn't
smoke. I woke up on life support after a seizure from the cerebral palsy."
Beck and others such as Wayne Justmann, chairman of San Francisco's
medical cannabis task force, envision a city that fully embraces marijuana
not only as a treatment option, but also as a cultural and economic
attraction. "This is San Fransterdam," says Beck.
Says Justmann, "Marijuana cultivation is a $15 billion economy. That's
the bond measure! When I saw marijuana on the cover of Forbes magazine
in November of 2003 I thought, 'now we'll really get somewhere.'"
As patients of different ages and ethnicities come in and out and some
stop to smoke and some to chat as well, it is difficult not to see a
typical cross section of San Francisco - part Benneton ad, part bingo
parlor on the green streets of the city.
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