Inside the Mac Store of marijuana shops

Alastair Good in San Francisco, California
Published: 10:00AM BST 26 Oct 2010

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With frosted glass windows and subdued pale blue lighting, the San Francisco Patient and Resource Centre (SPARC) looks like a trendy new bar or a health shop but the guard at the door suggests a rather more illicit product is being sold inside.

“Only patients with a valid doctor's recommendation are allowed inside, '
explains Aaron Burke, manager of the dispensary,
'having security on the door helps to send a message that we are a respectable, legal business.”
It does seem odd to step off the street in downtown San Francisco and find a group of people inhaling marijuana vapor from the table top machines that line the back wall.

Medical marijuana has been legal in the state of California since 1996 though repeated action by the Bush government to prosecute at a federal level meant the industry was still very clandestine.

With Barack Obama's election came a promise that as long as individuals were not in contravention of state law. Federal authorities would not pursue them.

Under California law qualified patients may possess up to eight ounces of dried marijuana and/or six mature marijuana plants.
Since most people don't possess the knowledge or equipment to grow their own marijuana, patients have formed collectives which grow and distribute the cannabis for them.

That has given rise to places such as SPARC where patients can select from a range of different types of marijuana. Though all the plants originate from either indica or sativa strains years of selective breeding have resulted in combinations such as Hindu Skunk and Raspberry Kush.

“People with different conditions benefit from different kinds of marijuana,"
explains Burke,
"those suffering from chronic pain or insomnia may benefit from an indica plant whilst patients who struggle with stimulating their appetite may be better off with a sativa based strain.”
It's an indication of how professional the marijuana industry has become in California that all the packaging and branding of products at SPARC is bespoke, that they contain Sour Diesel and Pineapple Trainwreck just makes them more, well, Californian.
On November 2, California will be voting whether to approve Proposition 19, a law which would legalise the drug for personal recreational use.