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Lynnette Shaw

The “Queen of Green” runs Marin’s oldest and most successful medical marijuana dispensary

Photo by Tim Porter

Across from West Marin’s Little League ball field in Fairfax, you’ll find Marin Alliance. It’s in the School Street Plaza along with a tax preparation service, a chiropractor and a yoga studio. The organization’s full name is Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana; it’s the oldest and most successful medical marijuana dispensary in the North Bay area.

Lynnette Shaw, a lively 56-year-old single, runs the not-for-profit dispensary—and a more colorful Marin resident you’ll not likely find. Make that Reverend Lynnette Shaw. “I was ordained in the Religion of Jesus Church in Hawaii, a campus-friendly ministry that believes marijuana is the ‘plant of God,’ and that God placed it on earth to help all mankind—which I sincerely believe.”

You think that sounds eccentric? Think again. In the 2006 statewide election, Reverend Shaw garnered over 143,000 votes as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for California’s lieutenant governor. “I got nearly 25,000 votes in Los Angeles County alone,” Shaw says with a can-you-believe-this smile. Her voter appeal was enhanced considerably by an endorsement from legendary country singer Willie Nelson. “We spent several hours together; he’s a nice, nice man—aware of everything,” Shaw says.

Moreover, Shaw worked with former Marin County Supervisor Gary Giacomini, former Fairfax Chief of Police Jim Anderson and current County District Attorney Ed Berberian on legislation that lessened the penalties for medical marijuana users in Marin. “That was back in the early 1990s.” She adds, “It came to be known as ‘the Law of Shaw.’”

This followed a less conventional time in Shaw’s life. “In the early 1980s,” she unhesitantly recalls in a recent interview, “I was Hollywood’s ‘weed girl’; I supplied pot for the biggest names in show business.” All of which culminated when Shaw was falsely accused of involvement in the overdose death of comedian John Belushi. “I went through hell before the real contributor admitted her role,” says Shaw. “I was constantly being followed and had to go underground for six months.” She admits to twice attempting suicide in the months and years that followed; spending several weeks in jail on a possession charge and once being homeless. “I was ‘Ritter House–type homeless,’” she emphasizes.

Shaw’s friendship with Belushi inspired her to start a blues band and she continues to plays gigs throughout West Marin. “I was trained as a classical musician,” she matter-of-factly states. “I still read music or play piano by ear whenever I want to.” As for her IQ, Shaw believes it’s “way out there, possibly in the Mensa range” and that she is probably “a musical savant.” When performing locally, Shaw goes by the name Bluesetta.

After arriving in Marin and working to minimalize persecution of medical marijuana users, Shaw played a key role in the 1996 passage of California’s Prop. 215, the Compassionate Use Act. Then, in 1997, her Prop. 215 campaign headquarters became the location of Marin Alliance. “But only after I met 73 different conditions required by Fairfax’s town council,” she adds, “and ever since, we’ve operated under a very strict Town of Fairfax use permit and we hold a business license that’s renewed annually.” In addition, Shaw and Marin Alliance are members in good standing of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce.

Due to an early-in-life trauma she never discusses, Shaw has suffered for years from post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “I smoke pot every day,” she acknowledges. “However, I am a highly functioning businessperson and, thanks to the clean air and healthy food we have in Marin, I’m now smoking less and less.” Still, Shaw appears to relish her title as Marin’s unofficial “Queen of Green.”

What does smoking marijuana, or medical cannabis, really do for sufferers of AIDS, cancer or glaucoma? The history goes back centuries. It’s been proven to reduce nausea and vomiting that accompanies those illnesses; for glaucoma, it reduces pressure on the eyeball; during chemo, it calms the nausea and increases a patient’s appetite; the same for AIDS victims. Also, smoking cannabis has been proven to reduce pain. It’s an analgesic.

Is the system being gamed? Are some of your customers perfectly healthy and buying pot for recreational purposes? Probably some are. However, the county’s Office of Vital Statistics issues a medical marijuana card only after an application, signed by a licensed California physician, is submitted and evaluated. A card costs $113. Once someone comes to us with a valid card, it’s not our place to question its appropriateness any more than a pharmacist questions the prescription your doctor issued.

What is the mission of Marin Alliance? It is to provide licensed, closely regulated and safe access to medical marijuana. Also, it is to protect our patients from abuse by law enforcement and a jail system that continues to incarcerate the sick for using medical marijuana—despite passage of California’s Proposition 215.

From a practical standpoint, how is that mission carried out? Marin Alliance is open six days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to me, we have two full-time and five part-time employees. Our product comes primarily from 30 to 35 growers in Marin and Sonoma counties, with a few in Mendocino and Humboldt counties. These are legal and sanctioned growers restricted to possessing no more than 99 producing cannabis plants at any given time.

And on the consumer’s side? We average between 30 and 50 customers a day, with sales ranging between $10 and $50 each. We accept all major credit cards, offer a money-back guarantee and recently received city approval to be the first dispensary in the nation to have a free home delivery service. Customers can purchase no more than an ounce of marijuana a week, unless they have their doctor’s permission. Depending on its density, an ounce of marijuana, or 28.5 grams, would fill an average-size beer mug. The cost depends on its quality. For example, “Grape Ape” is $200 an ounce and “Blue Dreams” is $385. A third of our customers purchase products that cannot be eaten or smoked—this includes tinctures, salves and creams. Right now we’re featuring a $99 special where, if a person feels that marijuana will ease the pain of glaucoma, cancer or a back problem, and restore their appetite, they can come in for a physician’s evaluation and workup. Normally, this costs $150.

In November, Prop. 19—which would have legalized marijuana for people over 21—was defeated statewide, but was supported significantly in Marin County. Yet, cities in Marin seem to always oppose the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries. Why is that? I think it depends on the behavior of the people who run the dispensary. I started as a Prop. 215 campaign office in Fairfax and somehow it evolved into a club. Meanwhile, I was delivering marijuana to sick people. In some ways, medical marijuana has been co-opted by people who may not be as sincere as I was. Then for years, I’ve stuck by the rules even though it was hard to do and bad for my business. I sailed through some very choppy waters. Now some people seem to open up first, then ask for permission. That is not the way to do it.

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