Where Did All That Passion for the Medical Garden Go?

by on October 9, 2023 · 3 comments

in Health, San Diego

Roll Up For Cannabis Equity

By Terrie Best

For this Roll Up column I thought I would go farther back in San Diego cannabis time to the late 2000’s when people powered the cannabis movement.

To help, I used a multi-year collection of NUG Mag, a cannabis focused magazine co-founded by San Diegan Dion Margraaff (RIP). Dion was a long-time cannabis and hemp activist not just in San Diego but across the globe. He was a proponent of hempcrete in construction, a man who carried the torch for legalization as a way to save the planet, relentlessly engaged politicians for compassion and was an all around good steward of the earth. We lost him in 2021.

Dion Margraaff

Dion and his friends launched NUG Mag in 2009 and it ran for several years, covering activism, court cases, cannabis patient stories and contained A LOT of advertising pages from collectives. It had a nice local feel and we all saw our names in it at some point.

This magazine began the year after I started paying attention to cannabis as medicine. Of course there were decades of advocacy in San Diego that happened before my time, a head bow to Steve McWilliams, who I had only heard about at events.

NUG dedicated their very first issue to McWilliams as pictured here from the July/August 2009 copy.

McWilliams died by suicide on his 51st birthday in federal prison. He left a note behind detailing the pain he was suffering without his cannabis medicine. The only pain treatment available to him in custody was methadone which he used to end his life.

Since his death in 2005, the San Diego patient community only grew because of organizers like Dion and the region filled with fierce people like McWilliams and those who want to ease their pain.

When I started supporting patients in 2009 this community was well on their way learning to grow cannabis as medicine and cultivating specific to their own pain and ailments. People helped their moms, dads, sisters and brothers live and also die with dignity. They had seed vaults and were collaborating on best practices. Absent the participation of scientists in lab coats cannabis users, growers and pain sufferers shared knowledge and did the best they could in those early years between the time we began to accept that cannabis is medicine and before adult use cannabis was approved by voters in 2016. 1996-2016 was the era of medicinal gardening.

While flipping through NUG MAG’S glossy pages of retail advertising, I realized how many of these helpful, enthusiastic people I still know. They had all been displaced and left out when the state cannabis licensing began. Those without money, like San Diego mom and pop heroes who put their freedom on the line had stopped selling their glorious, curated, flowers. They had been pushed out by corporate cannabis.

So, here’s a nod to Larry who grew a strain his wife could use topically on painful nerve damage in her lip. Because of the onerous compliance hurdles post 2016 he lost the ability to see if his cannabis ointments would help others. Regulations and legalization pushed great San Diego growers out of the market and it was a painful loss for many patients and really sad for our skilled medical growers.

In the era of the medicinal garden, cultivators used to be able to sell directly to retail outlets, or even sell to patient consumers. While that all ended with legalization, the passion to grow good cannabis and see if other people benefited from it didn’t end.

I’m thinking of Laura who, with a little help from a friend, grew a strain which eased her loved one through end-of-life cancer pain. She could have started a shop post prop 64 to see if her strain helped other cancer patients in pain but when the state legalized weed she realized she was left out because she did not have a million dollars to get started.

There are hundreds of growers in San Diego who loved producing top quality medicinal cannabis but were left out of the market. Now most weed sold in San Diego is grown elsewhere.

Another great grower friend who understands the soulfulness of growing stuff quotes Joni Mitchell about it: “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

People are still here, still have a passion for the flower and in words from Steve McWilliams suicide note, which he knew would be read to the public “…No Retreat No Surrender.” I think San Diego’s truly great growers are dormant and if allowed to bloom could be a tremendous benefit.

This example of plant dormancy from Michigan State University is also perfect when applied to the dormant legacy growers in the inhospitable industry:

“Since most plants do not grow during the winter, we say they are dormant. There are actually two types of dormancy during the winter. One is called endo-dormancy. In endo-dormancy, the plant will not grow even under good, warm, growing conditions. Endo is a Greek word meaning inside. In endo-dormancy, something inside the plants is inhibiting growth.

The other is called eco-dormancy and occurs when the plant is ready to grow but the environmental conditions are not right, usually too cold. Endo-dormancy occurs first. Short days and freezing temperatures in the fall induce endo-dormancy in the plant.”

Is the sun shining on growers lately? Why, yes it is, thankfully, we have the opportunity as the city and county are already looking to open up licenses to create equity in cannabis. Please tell your city council member you support cannabis social equity and please take the survey.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Terrie Best October 9, 2023 at 5:47 pm

Please take the Roll up for Equity survey


retired botanist October 10, 2023 at 4:37 pm

Terrie, this was an interesting article, thx! I regret, being an endorser of NORML for decades, I wasn’t really aware of these local activists! I had a medical Rx in SD for years, and was thankful for it. I was familiar with strains and products, and my own knowledge of what worked for me, and appreciated the various products available. I gather a lot of that has changed now…
The validation of medical efficacy of THC has taken Western medicine such a long time, and it is a shame to consider that these local, cottage industry efforts if you will, have been back-burnered as a result of (long overdue) national recognition, legalization, and the ever-waiting-to pounce corporate and (just wait) pharma encroachment to, somehow, switch it all up to something wholly unlike its original intent and product.
As a counterpoint, Dennis McKenna was/is a close friend when we were fellow graduate students at U Hawaii. I learned a LOT from him and his research, and it just amazes me, decades later how the research and advancements in psychoactive medicinal applications of psilocybin and other products have finally reached recognition, but have then subsequently been…well, perhaps over-applied vis a vis the micro-dosing trend, etc. Aah. Well I hope these growers can flourish again. Because its just like everything else…once the big guns take over, its just no longer what it was supposed to be. :-)


Terrie Best October 11, 2023 at 6:14 am

What a delightful and insightful comment. Thank you for reading the article and posting your thoughts here. I will look up Dennis McKenna, thanks for the recommendation. I think it was Dr. Donald Abrams who said if the cannabis plant were to be discovered today it would be considered the most important botanical discovery to ever occur. We have painted ourselves into a corner by criminalizing botanicals and it has cost us dearly, in every possible way. Criminalizing a plant is surprisingly difficult to undo yet we allow the DEA to do it with very little science behind the decision. Kratom is a great example. There are plenty more.


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