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The Death of C3 Cannabis Collective

The inside story of a medical cannabis dispensary's last days and how the City of Walnut Creek ignored pleas of mercy and shut it down.

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Frustrated and tired of being marginalized, C3 patients and supporters crashed the December 1 City Council meeting, a mostly ceremonial affair to certify the recent election results and appoint the new mayor, Sue Rainey. Although city officials warned it "might not be the best night for public communications," the patients chose to speak anyway.

A young woman who identified herself as Christy told the council that without cannabis, she literally would be too sick to eat. "If [C3] wasn't there, I don't know how I would be able to deal with everything that's wrong," she said. "They help the community. ... They help me. I can't drive to Berkeley or Oakland. So if they move, I've got nowhere to go to get my medication."

Bruce Reckel, a 52-year-old resident of Pleasant Hill, leaned on his arm braces for support as he spoke. "I'm a homeowner, a business owner, a practicing Roman Catholic, and a Republican," he said. "I am also a member of the C3 collective, and I'm very distraught to learn that there's the possibility that they might not be allowed to go forward. The medication that I receive there helps me with my appetite, helps me to sleep, and, most importantly, allows me to combat pain."

Steven Chagrin, C3's Rotary Club sponsor, told the council that "by seeking to close the C3 collective, you're denying legal and beneficial care to patients who seek relief from chronic pain and other quality of life conditions. ... It's not right nor humane to deny patients and community members a medicine which the collective safely provides."

Scott Candel, the collective's attorney, said he had spoken to officials from the City Attorney's Office, and they had made it clear that they received their "marching orders" from the city council. "If the city wins, what is it accomplishing?" Candel asked the council. "That a cancer patient won't be able to get their medicine that helps them get through chemotherapy?"

But the city's actions spoke volumes. The next day, the C3 testimony was not included in the official recorded minutes of the meeting.

On February 25, Superior Court Judge Barry Baskin issued a temporary injunction in favor of Walnut Creek, ordering C3 to shut down within thirty days. In his decision, Baskin wrote that the collective had failed to show that grave and irreparable harm would be done to the patients if it closed. He apparently was unmoved by written statements to the court from 150 of the collective's members, pleading to keep it open. They came not only from Walnut Creek, but from numerous cities east of the Caldecott Tunnel. Many are refugees from nearby municipalities that have enacted bans or don't have dispensaries — Antioch, Concord, Danville, Lafayette, Martinez, Oakley. They're construction workers, waitresses, mortgage specialists, and corporate vice-presidents, many of them longtime members of the community.

In the end, after spending more than $30,000 of the taxpayer's money and staff time on the lawsuit, the city had won.

Back at the collective, things had taken a turn for the personal. During the interview with Hyman, mournful collective members kept interrupting to wish him luck. Most were leaving with a bag of the last of the day's two available strains — Trainwreck and a Kush hybrid. Over the next fifteen minutes, the only patients that came through the door were two fortysomething men and a woman with a degenerative back disease. "The city has made no attempts to communicate with the collective or the patients," said Hyman, waving goodbye to an older female patient. "I'd be surprised if they could even recognize the building."

As the interview ended, a staff member emerged from the back room and announced that C3 had sold out of pot for the day. Hyman nodded and explained that because of the looming injunction, the collective hadn't been able to stock enough weed to meet its members' needs."It's frustrating," he said after waving good-bye to another cannabis patient. "It's difficult to sit there and tell people that there's nothing I can do."

After the interview was over, Hyman gave the C3 staff the go-ahead to close down for the day. It took about fifteen minutes in all, but then again there wasn't any pot left in the building.

"So what now for C3?" a reporter asked Hyman. He paused for a minute before answering. There'd been talk of getting a measure on the November 2 ballot, but the immediate plan was to continue with the court case — if he could find the money to keep fighting.

No one said it, but the chance of that happening appeared slim. And one was left to imagine C3 patients, many of them elderly or infirm, going back to copping dime bags on the corner.

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