San Diego County’s 1st permitted dispensary, Mother Earth’s Alternative Healing Cooperative; Debunking the Myths

By Billy East and Pat Hegarty

Mother Earth’s Alternative Healing Cooperative Inc. is the first permitted medical cannabis dispensing center in San Diego County operating in full and unambiguous compliance with all state and local ordinances. The facility officially opened its doors on July 4th, 2011 after completing a yearlong permitting process and overcoming all the bureaucratic hurdles put in place by the new county ordinance. It now serves medical cannabis patients in San Diego six days a week.

The opening of the first permitted cooperative is a historic step forward for the medical cannabis community in San Diego and a testament to the hard work and dedication of patients and advocates in all municipalities within San Diego County. The Mother Earth team is dedicated and works tirelessly to provide safe, regulated and reliable access to cannabis therapeutics for all legal patients in San Diego.

Situated in a commercial building in an industrial zone next to Gillespie Field, the cooperative features over 2,000 sq. feet of newly remodeled space dedicated to the dispensary. Once all construction is completed, the facility will bolster over 15,000 sq. feet in total, including a small on-site cultivation area and a state-of-the-art testing facility where all medicine, prior to being dispensed to patients, will go through on-site gas chromatography and mold/pesticide testing. The facility will also include classrooms and office space for use by the staff, members, and public advocacy groups like NORML, ASA, and others.

Although construction of the on-site testing facility is not yet completed, all medicine dispensed by the cooperative is already undergoing testing for mold, pesticides, and cannabinoid content, including THC, CBD, and CBN, by a third party testing service.

Educating county officials to the realities of medical cannabis
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment this dispensary will provide with its legal permit is changing the entrenched practices of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department. For 15 years, since the Compassionate Use Act became law, the county government has waged the biggest anti-medical cannabis campaign in the state, infamously challenging the implementation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. This hostility led the county sheriff’s department to consistently say the law is illegal and arrest every grower they came across. Hopefully this will now change, thanks to the fact that the sheriff’s office and the Mother Earth Cooperative are working together to comply with the San Diego County ordinance to grow their own medicine.

The sheriffs are the ones now tasked with implementing compliance to the rules set up by the same Supreme Court challenging county supervisors. Member cultivator contracts, or source agreement documents, have been created to facilitate the goal of providing enough medical cannabis for all the collective members in a safe environment. While some of the medicine will eventually come from on-site cultivation, the majority as required by local law is cultivated by patients at their homes with the excess provided to the cooperative. Member cultivators who choose to contribute their excess medicine to the cooperative all possess a legal sourcing agreement provided to them by the cooperative.

Cooperative member cultivation sites are inspected and approved by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s licensing division. Trained deputies conduct the inspections, which are meant to ensure that patient cultivators are growing in a safe manner and with proper safeguards (officers will give at least a 24-hour notice).  If a problem is found during the inspection, a notice to correct the violations is issued and a re-inspection is scheduled within 30 days. This is not a new division in the department, but the same people who deal with other “conditional use” licenses, like pawn shops.

Member cultivators may have no more than six mature and twelve immature plants per patient. If two patients are living together (i.e. married couple) and both have their recommendations and county cards, then they may possess twelve mature and twenty-four immature plants, collectively. For those member cultivators whose conditions, or the way they consume their medication, require cultivating more than six mature or twelve immature plants, their physician recommendations will need to specify the amount of plants reasonable for their condition in order to be accepted by the sheriff.

Source agreements issued by the cooperative are kept on-site with the plants, as well as at the cooperative. The agreement contains a phone number for a contact at the sheriff’s department in case any law enforcement comes into contact with a legal county appoved cultivation site. Prior to cutting down any plants or confiscating any medicine, they are required to immediately call the sheriff’s station to verify the validity of the source agreement. If everything checks out, the officials are required to leave the site unharmed.

“We have seen nothing but support and help from sheriff’s licensing. While going through the permitting process, everyone has been focused on finally bringing safe, regulated access to San Diego County,” said Coe Riedel, President of Mother Earth Alternative Healing Cooperative. “We are committed to staying in full compliance with the law as well as to protecting our patients’ privacy and confidentiality.”

Much like other medical facilities in the state, all records at the newly permitted medical cannabis cooperative fall under strict constitutional protections. In fact, in addition to taking all the steps necessary to be in full compliance with local regulations, the cooperative has gone to great lengths to ensure that patients’ privacy and medical records are protected. All records, including membership agreements and recommendation letters from physicians, are protected under patient privacy laws. Patient records are never released to authorities except through an order by a judge.

The facility maintains security systems, metal detectors, and on-site security guards to protect the members and the cooperative from theft, burglaries, and vandalism. A state-of-the-art blood pressure monitor that looks like something from ‘Star Trek’ is available at the facility for patients to use for free. Despite wild wrongful rumors, there is no direct feed of the surveillance system to the sheriff, nor is there any eye scanner or facial recognition of any sort at the facility.  Coe says, “We want to be transparent to the medical cannabis community and welcome people to come visit us to get to know how we operate and our intentions to serve the greater good in San Diego.”

In fact, once a patient becomes a member of the cooperative, they are then able to receive free consultations on a consistent basis from on-site licensed pharmaceutical technicians about their medicine and its effect on the ailments they are treating. Another cool thing the cooperative offers is a $10 voucher for gas at a local station if you live more than 10 miles away, thus making the remote location more accessible.

Because of their legal permit from the county, one could argue that the cooperative is currently the safest and most protected place in San Diego County for patients to obtain their medicine. In line with their goals to advance the therapeutic research of cannabis, the cooperative has already begun forging relationships with local oncology and other disease specialists, and are actively supporting medical cannabis research as well as patients’ rights advocacy.

Meet the Team:

Coe Riedel, President
A longtime San Diegan, United States Marine Corps Persian Gulf War veteran, and medical cannabis patient, Coe serves as the cooperative’s President and brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of cannabis therapeutics as well as management. Having suffered herself from PTSD, and battled side-effects of pharmaceutical medication that nearly destroyed her health, Coe is a true believer in the medical efficacy of cannabis. Coe oversees the operations of the cooperative and strives to maintain the highest standard of excellence in all of the cooperative’s practices and efforts.

Paul Nager, Board Member
A 35-year San Diego native, conservative, blue collar, United States Marine Corps veteran, Paul first learned about medical cannabis when his wife suffered serious debilitating conditions for which she only found relief with cannabis. After retiring in 2004, Paul became a medical cannabis patient when he found that the plant significantly helped him deal with his chronic anxiety and other debilitating conditions. Having excellent financial and managerial experience as well as a good business sense, Paul helps the cooperative stay in full financial compliance and is an integral part of the cooperative’s mission to faithfully and rigorously follow the laws of the County of San Diego and the State of California.

Nelson Carrick, Board Member, Head of In-house Security
Nelson, the cooperative’s Head of In-house Security, comes from the world of private executive protection, corporate aviation asset management, and high-level security. His expertise helps ensure a safe and protected environment for the cooperative’s members. Aside from being a security expert, he is also a medical cannabis patient who relies on topical application of the plant to treat severe chronic knee pain related to injuries suffered in the past. He remembers his father’s lifelong advocacy for medical cannabis and is proud to continue the tradition. In his spare time, Nelson is working on a novel and several children’s books.

Cory Hizel, Cooperative Manager and Director of Cultivation
Cory is a medical cannabis cultivation expert with years of experience in varying cultivation techniques and practices. He specializes in quality assurance and oversees the cultivation, testing, production, and dispensing of all the medication. After suffering a severe car accident, which left Cory with chronic back pain, Cory tried varying pharmaceutical medicines, all of which left him with side effects not allowing him to maintain a normal productive life. After discovering cannabis use as a healthy alternative to the pharmaceuticals, Cory devoted himself to the research and advancement of cannabis botany and has helped develop some of the most effective cannabis medicine on the market to date.

The team at Mother Earth’s Alternative Healing Cooperative welcomes new members and looks forward to helping foster a community that is compassionate, that advances the understanding of all that they do, and inspires each other to better themselves and their community. The cooperative says, “Come join us and be a part of cannabis therapeutics’ history in San Diego!”

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