Interview: Confessions of an Honest Pot Dispensary Manager


Photo: Reuters

By Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town
Northern California
This isn’t scientific but, for my buds, 2010 has been one of the more pivotal years in the advancement of the acceptance of cannabis into our society.
With much speculation and hand-wringing follow the antics of that little bill called Proposition 19, the Bay Area, along with Colorado, has been ground central for the battle of hearts and minds following the exploits of our friend, marijuana. 
And now the smoke has cleared. After a bitter battle that both plagued the movement with infighting as well as attacks from the outside by the usual suspects, I think it time to check in with my man on the front line, Raul.
Raul is the manager of a dispensary in the Bay Area. He’s one of the good guys.

Photo: Michael Montgomery/

​When I met Raul, I was just a patient and he was some guy behind a counter. That was five years ago. Since that time, a friendship and trust has been forged.
If for any reason I didn’t believe something written in the papers or online, I could consult with Raul for the truth. And sure enough, after he batted about one thousand percent as far as giving the true skinny on cannabis-related news stories in the Bay Area, as a writer, I knew I was onto the real deal. 
We sat down in his back office somewhere with a great view of the Bay and a nice fresh spliff of some organic Jack Herer. 
Toke: Here’s a question I’ve always wondered, how does a dispensary get medicine? Do they grow it themselves? 
Raul: Some do, mostly the bigger ones like in the East Bay and there are some San Francisco clubs that have in-house growers, plus there are a few owners who grow themselves. Dispensaries mostly get their medicine from patients.
Toke: Whoa, back to the dispensaries that grow. They grow here in the Bay Area and up north?
Raul: Yes. That’s one way. There’s a SF dispensary where the owners have land in Oregon. That’s all I should say about that.


Toke: How does a dispensary work? Can you go out of business for having too many patients like they did in San Jose? And what about the East Bay? How does Harborside get away with it? (Harborside Health Center in the East Bay is now being audited by the IRS. At the time of this interview, it hadn’t started.)
Raul: All dispensaries are non-profit in California, or they are supposed to be. That’s one of the reasons I think Colorado is doing a better job of regulating and having a consistent cannabis policy: they are allowed to make a profit. I think it is unrealistic to have a cash business like this and not expect problems when we are locked into the non-profit status. It’s one of the reasons we’re broke.
Toke: Really…
Raul: Yeah, really. Why is that so hard to believe?
Toke: Well, Harborside posted profits of some $23 million. I think there is a perception out there that the dispensaries are rolling in the green, if you know what I mean. I think it is every stoners dream to open a dispensary or at least work in one.
Raul: First of all, there are so many aspects of this business that you’re skipping over. 
My dispensary is barely making it because we pay our taxes, honestly. We declare on everything. It is in everyone’s interest to be transparent and make this situation work. 
I spent thousands and thousands this year in advertising expenses. That’s just to stay current and to build branding.
I’ve been in this industry since it started at the end of the Nineties. I’ve worked on all sides of the Bay and I’m here to tell that there is a difference in the way that SOME clubs are run. 
The very nature that Richard Lee can give two and a quarter million out of pocket says something. 

Photo: KCBA

Toke: So how do clubs make big money? I know I’m only allowed to buy an ounce a day from a dispensary. With that being said, I could go to every dispensary and buy an ounce, but only one ounce per day per club. So, are some clubs selling pounds or moving bigger product?
Raul: Once the scene first opened up, that happened. Now, I haven’t seen it in a couple of years. Clubs have too much medicine. There’s definitely a greater supply than there is a demand. Plus the days of a patient walking in and buying a half ounce are pretty much over. Our average purchase is an eighth or maybe a quarter ounce. Of course, different dispensaries play different roles. 
Toke: So how does a dispensary manage to make money creatively, shall we say?
Raul: There are rules. For example, you are only allowed to sell these many clones per week or day. Let say you’re only allowed to sell a hundred thousand dollars worth of clones as per directed by the state for the week. But let’s say you sell more. There’s not a lot of money to be made selling nickel and dime bags.
Toke: Is that how it happens?
Raul: That’s one way…
Toke: Back to the beginning. How does a dispensary get their supply of medicine?
Raul: Patients can grow and they sometimes have “excess medicine.” This means that they accidently grew more than they need.

Photo: Reefer Smoke

Toke: Because of the way the law is written and that’s how it works?
Raul: Yeah.
Toke: I see these guys in the clubs waiting in line to talk to someone, usually a manager. They usually have an army duffle bag that reeks and gobs of dreads glued inside a cap. I know they are there to try to unload product. Can a guy off the street sell to you guys?
Raul: If he has a card, yes. But it is really hard to break into the selling scene of the clubs. One of the more interesting by-products of the movement is…the clubs only really have medicine that runs the gamut from the A+ to the B, maybe B barely minus. They only take the good stuff. If you want the Mexican Reg or something that isn’t going to blow you away, you have to go to the black market.
Toke: The black market now being anywhere where you get your pot, excluding a dispensary. Correct?
Raul: Yes.
Toke: So you’re stay at home dealer is really the last vestige of the black market when it comes to pot? It is just so weird to hear describe as that. It makes it sound so…illegal. 
Raul: The market is saturated. 
Toke: So if a guy has a card, he can sell medicine to you. Can a person without a card, ever enter a dispensary.
Raul: No. Even my mother has to wait outside if she has to talk to me. And it has happen. There is no access without a card.

Photo: OurWeed

Toke: I know when I got my card five years ago, the biggest no-no was reselling. A guy going to a pot shop to score for his friends or to resell the medicine on the street. Is this still one of the worst things a patient can do?
Raul: Without a doubt, yes. There are still things you can do that I guess are worse, but you will be banned from my dispensary for LIFE if we catch you reselling.
Toke: Does it still happen?
Raul: All the time. Right in front of our store. We also have to educate our patients. We have caregivers and husbands,wives and lovers who purchase for each other. One of our patients remarks, “My (wife, husband or lover) really liked what I got last time,” or “We need something stronger for the pain.”
I know what they are trying to say, but we can’t have that kind of talk here. We don’t allow it. The medicine should be for you, but with that being said, most people we can educate and then help them with their selection. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of training.
I came up through the East Bay dispensaries. For the first few years like I said, it was crazy. In a way, it still is. For example, when you come to my dispensary, you pretty much see the same people. We don’t believe in turn-over.
In the East Bay, they have hot chicks that embarrassed themselves when a grower ask a question, or worse, when a new patient comes in and the Budtender knows how to put on make-up but doesn’t know the difference between a Sativa that will invoke hunger and an Indica that will relieve pain and help you sleep.
But it takes all kinds and we’ll see what the market will accept.  

Photo: San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Toke: Before I let you go, another question I have for a knowledgeable fellow like you. I wonder about all the people being signed up for a medical marijuana card. I’ve have this discussion with law enforcement officials. At times, it does seem a little bogus. All these young men who all of a sudden been diagnosed with some exotic illness who had otherwise been healthy before there was medical marijuana. Know what I mean? 
Raul: Yeah, I do. I drive two vehicles. My family vehicle I don’t smoke in because it will smell like weed forever. My truck that I use for errands and bombing around, I can go a year without smoking in it and it still smells like weed all the time.
So I’m driving in my truck and I might have a little bit on me. I got stop for a taillight flickering. I haven’t been smoking but the police officer who stops me says he can smell weed. Do I have a card?
I say, yes I do.
He says for what? Why do I need a card?
Well, I come down hard on this cop. I’m not looking to get up close and personal with a nightstick, but as patients, we have rights. Many of the ailments that cannabis covers, you can’t see. It is not any of the police business, or anyone else’s as far as that goes.
Toke: Thanks a lot, Raul.
Raul: Peace… 

Photo: Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco.

Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.