Letters for the week of August 21-28, 2002

Ken Estes as concerned professional; Ken Estes as corrupter of youth; Ken Estes as revolutionary hero; Ken Estes as plain ol' crime victim.

Peace requires trust
Well done (“Chief Was Last Word on Riders,” July 31). Oakland will eventually have to learn what Richmond did fifteen years ago: that to have a peaceful community, the police must be seen as the help and support of the local community, and not an invading army from downtown. Good to see you out there sluggin’ …

K.C. Rourke, Berkeley

Self-regulation works, even with pot clubs
The Express‘ portrayal of Berkeley medical marijuana dispensaries as reckless and unregulated is outrageous and simply misinformed (“When Pot Clubs Go Bad,” July 24).

Ken Estes sought to provide patients with safe access to their medicine. Those he served were the sick and dying who had recommendations from their doctors to use marijuana to treat their illnesses. Most neighbors and nearby businesses supported Estes’ dispensary. Medical Herbs provided a welcomed and necessary service to the community.

It is true that Ken made some errors in judgment regarding the operation of his dispensary. It is also true, however, that Mr. Estes was a victim of unfavorable circumstances that would strain any small business. Three armed robberies occurred at Medical Herbs in the past year, making it one of many Berkeley businesses besieged by robbery. Ken and his staff increased security measures, yet continued crime made it difficult for the dispensary to meet its mission, and instead put patients at risk and threatened the safety of neighbors. Ultimately, the decision to close Medical Herbs was made in deference to both patients and neighbors.

Berkeley Medical Herbs closed shortly after this decision was made. Ken and his staff worked rapidly to finish final commitments and to assure redirection of their clients to a new source of safe and affordable medicine. At this point, Medical Herbs is permanently closed.

After the most recent robbery at Medical Herbs, some concerned citizens urged more regulation of all dispensaries. That the Alliance of Berkeley Patients, a coalition of local dispensaries of which Medical Herbs was a member, was able to quickly assess and respond to this crisis, however, proves its self-policing policy is a success. No city intervention was necessary to resolve the situation. The Alliance was able to balance both the needs of medical marijuana patients and the community at large. In this instance, that compromise involved the closing of Medical Herbs.
Scarlett Swerdlow, campaign manager, Alliance of Berkeley Patients

Actions speak louder than words, even with nice guys
I thought that generally your article was well-written and appeared to be well-researched. I have a criticism and an observation for you, however.

You repeatedly mentioned what a nice guy Ken Estes is. I think that observation is journalistically sloppy. You might have said that he is “genial” or that he is “outwardly friendly.” But the evidence is that his actions fly in the face of his mannerisms. Look, the guy is dealing drugs to minors and just about anyone else who comes along. I can hardly see this as the actions of a “kind, generous man” (your words). Any number of reprehensible people have been known as nice guys if you were on their good side. A person’s public face and inner motivations can be vastly different.

In the past few years I’ve spent some time in both the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club as well as the Berkeley Patients Group, so I’ve had the opportunity to see some inside stuff. Without getting into a long discourse, I think that you can learn most of what you need to know about the organizations by watching who is going in and out.

At the Oakland club, the patrons are generally older and many have obvious problems such as skin lesions. The atmosphere is mainly professional. At the Berkeley club, by contrast, the overwhelming majority of “patients” are apparently healthy people in their teens and twenties. The scene that I saw was basically an ongoing party. (In the interest of fairness, it’s been a year or so since I’ve been in either place, so reforms may have taken effect since.)

I’m a big supporter of pot when the use is genuinely medical in nature. But my observation is that a large percentage of what some clubs deal in is all about recreation, not treatment. Jerks like Estes may help a few needy people in the short term, but their careless approach to distribution may end up getting the feds to crack down on everybody. Then the needy will be stuck dealing with criminals again.
Berkeley Choate, Oakland

Forget the war on drugs: write about the warriors on drugs
Your hit piece, “When Pot Clubs Go Bad,” is another bad example of tabloid-style reporting. While the content of the article is truly nothing new, and certainly not newsworthy that there are people connected to medical marijuana who are of questionable status, the theme is tired, hackneyed, and has been repeated by all sorts of news organizations from KTVU to MTV. From my point of view, this type of reporting has more entertainment than educational value. There are many connected to medical marijuana whose credibility is sound, and yet you spoke with no such people prior to your interview.

If you really think you’re so brave, and you want to do something newsworthy, report something of more than peripheral value to the War on Drugs. For instance, why don’t you be the first newspaper in the United States to report that US military pilots have been regularly required to use Dexedrine to combat “fatigue” during combat missions, and that this is quite possibly the reason for the four Canadians killed by “friendly fire” and the bombing of an entire wedding party in Afghanistan?

In the same way that I lose respect for police who are more concerned with arresting pot smokers than protecting citizens, I lose respect for journalistic organizations who would rather publish a hit piece against medical marijuana, then remain as tacit as all the other newspapers in the nation when it comes to reporting facts that could enlighten the public.
Ray Carlson, Redwood City

Tranquillity is the second casualty of war
Ken Estes is a hero. Rebellions against draconian laws are not tidy. In addition to those thousands who are prevented the use of this valuable marijuana aid, often for otherwise hopeless illnesses, we all continue to pay millions of our tax dollars for the crimes, and the policing, for yet another seemingly endless obscene “war.”
Gerta Farber, Oakland

Why no sting?
Just finished the Ken Estes story, and one thing puzzles me. Police say that confronted by this out-of-control medical marijuana operation, state law left them helpless, with no idea what to do.

I can think of at least one thing. If any other business kept getting knocked over by armed robbers, the cops would set up a sting. They knew this place was a target for armed robberies. So why didn’t they stake it out and wait for these guys to come back? Why didn’t they take advantage of this peerless opportunity to get gangs of robbers armed with Uzis off the street? I feel a lot more threatened by armed robbers than by Ken Estes, no matter how much recreational marijuana he was selling.
Dana Beal, New York City

The tragedy of stereotypes
Chris Thompson’s articles about Ken Estes and his marijuana club, “When Pot Clubs Go Bad” and “Devil in a Wheelchair?” (Aug. 7), reveal a very old-fashioned and disturbing perspective on what it’s like to have a disability. The fact that Estes uses a wheelchair has next to nothing to do with the actual story, but Thompson makes sure that we all know what he thinks it would be like.

“It’s only when you notice the wheelchair supporting his shriveled legs, or the limp handshake born of two decades of nerve damage, that you catch a glimpse of the tragedy that has been his companion since 1976.” Did Thompson ask Estes if he has regarded his life as a tragedy since 1976? Not so far as I can tell. The reality is that in numerous studies, people with disabilities have repeatedly told researchers that they regard their own quality of life as good as or better than nondisabled people.

Why is reporting like this something to complain about? How would you like to go out looking for a job or asking someone for a date when reporters are reinforcing age-old beliefs that our lives are tragic and pitiful? Enough! Estes may be an unsavory character, but please stay away from the cheap Captain Hook images in order to keep your readers from turning the page.
Deborah Kaplan, executive director, World Institute on Disability, Oakland

Savage editing
What’s the deal with the savage cutting of “Savage Love” in the Express? This is at least the second time in recent issues that sex-crazed East Bayers have had to make do with just one little letter. Since “Savage Love” in its twisted completeness runs in the SF Weekly, I happen to know that my brothers and sisters and whatevers who are not so lucky missed missives on bestiality flicks and servicing large black women, and an amusing commentary on Billy Bob and Angelina. This isn’t a cynical attempt to get your more perverted readers to pick up both papers, is it? Have to admit it worked on me.
Archibald Wolf, Albany

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