OTHERSIDE FARMS makes front cover of OC Weekly this week, May 20, 2010.
Get your copy today!
Please note that there are some twisted statements made in this article and
OTHERSIDE FARMS does not openly bash dispensaries. Our intentions are good
willed and we do not slam anyone. We only wish for a solution that works for
EVERYONE. If there are any questions which require clarification, please contact
“Here is my take on all of this. There are no dispensaries named in my
statements nor did I say ALL or EVERY dispensary and the truth of the matter is
that there are bad elements to EVERY industry and if we expect those who oppose
medical marijuana to take us serious we ought come to some realizations about
the truth. I spoke with several dispensary owners regarding the article and they
took no offense to the story stating “I didn’t feel it related to me”. Exactly!
The opposition to medical marijuana has some legitimate concerns about our
industry and if we act like everything is just fine then how can expect them to
think we are rational and logical thinkers. It’s funny to me that so many are
offended feeling I put their name or business out there when that didn’t happpen
at all. Then, those same people do the exact same thing to me and my family. Do
we really expect the cities to want to talk to us? It seems we’re either suing
them or fighting amongst each other. It’s unfortunate this has taken the
direction it has. It’s also odd that the “Chadd McKeen openly bashes
dispensaries” statement is only in the online version and again, I never stated
any names of dispensaries nor did I say ALL or EVERY dispensary. Also, I dont
see where I said “my way is the only way” or that “I am the only one doing it
right”. This article, and it’s subsequent comments, have had a horrible effect
on myself and family due to the local dispensaries feeliing we have betrayed
them and that was not our intent at all. If our intent were malicious or if we
had stated something that was incorrect we would apologize, but we haven’t
“openly bashed” anyone or mistated the truth. We thank those of you who are
supporting us and we encourage those of you who have questions about any of this
to come and talk to us in person.”
– Chadd McKeen
Growing Pains at Otherside Farms
Chadd McKeen helps medical-pot patients grow their own, while openly bashing
some weed dispensaries
Given that beet and bean fields made up a lot of what is now Costa Mesa, it’s
likely the small strip center at 2424 Newport Boulevard rose from what was once
A 10-by-10-foot room inside Suite B—the middle unit between a day spa and
pet-grooming shop—is a farm once again.
It’s where Chadd and Alysha McKeen grow their marijuana.
A half-dozen pots are filled with 5-foot vines of green lusciousness rising
toward the ceiling’s fluorescent lights. Surrounding them are machines that
purify the air, control the temperature and maintain the humidity. You can see
the ecosystem through a window right in the middle of the showroom.
Call it organic advertising.
“I like to show people how to get the best medicine possible for the lowest
price,”Chadd McKeen says in his mile-a-minute cadence.
The McKeens are both 39-year-old, card-carrying medical-marijuana patients.
After a monetary windfall came their way via a court settlement, they decided to
ditch their real-estate careers and invest in a dispensary. But when they tried
to get a business license, they found their mellow harshed by City Hall. Costa
Mesa has outlawed dispensaries since 2005.
So, the Newport Beach couple took the metal bars off the former jewelry store’s
windows; painted, tiled and carpeted the space; and opened Otherside Farms,
which helps fellow patients grow their own cannabis, as allowed under state law.
A separate “private” collective delivers the meds to verified patients who have
The business fills a unique niche in a side of the health-care industry that has
grown in Orange County, Southern California and the entire state, much to the
delight of compassionate users and legalization advocates and to the
consternation of buzzkillers who continue to stay awake nights thinking of ways
to thwart—or at least, constrict as narrowly as possible—the will of the people.
But Chadd McKeen also warns patients that dispensaries motivated more by greed
than helping sick people are selling weed that is inferior in quality or
contaminated with mold, fungus or chemicals.
“There’s a lot of bad medicine out there,” he says. “But you can be
self-sufficient. There is no need to ever go to a dispensary.”
Growing organically is the best, safest and cheapest way to get one’s meds,
claims McKeen, who concedes his point of view is not shared by all cannabis
providers and advocates.
He’s got that right.
* * *
On Nov. 5, 1996, 56 percent of California voters approved Proposition 215, the
“Compassionate Use Act,” which took effect the following day. The law removed
state-level criminal penalties on the use, possession and cultivation of
marijuana by patients who possess a “written or oral recommendation” from a
physician who states the patient “would benefit from medical marijuana.”
Prop. 215 did not set limits on the amount of marijuana patients could possess
and/or cultivate. The California Legislature took care of that in 2003, when
then-Governor Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 420—yes, 420. Under the guidelines,
which took effect on Jan. 1, 2004, qualified patients and/or their primary
caregivers may possess no more than 8 ounces of dried marijuana and/or six
mature (or 12 immature) marijuana plants. The same quantities are cited in the
“Guidelines for the Security and Non-Diversion of Marijuana Grown for Medical
Use” that Attorney General Jerry Brown issued to law enforcement in 2008.
However, there’s a huge loophole in SB 420: Patients can hold larger amounts
when a doctor recommends such quantities. Through local ordinances, counties and
municipalities can also allow patients within their boundaries to possess larger
quantities of medicinal pot than allowed under the state guidelines.
“Qualified patients, persons with valid identification cards, and the designated
primary caregivers of qualified patients . . . who associate within the state of
California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for
medical purposes, shall not solely on the basis of that fact be subject to state
criminal sanctions,” states SB 420.
Think of that language as the seed, and California’s medical-marijuana
dispensaries, collectives and associations as the bountiful harvest.
But Costa Mesa is among several cities that have effectively banned dispensaries
by withholding business permits to merchants who conflict with local, state or
federal law. Uncle Sam still classifies marijuana a Schedule 1 drug that has no
beneficial uses and a high potential for abuse, just like cocaine and heroin.
Multiple attempts to reschedule cannabis have failed, so marijuana cultivation
and possession remain federal crimes.
Possession of 99 marijuana plants or fewer can fetch a two-year sentence in a
federal prison, with 100 or more plants bringing a mandatory 10 years in the
pen—without any exceptions for medical-marijuana patients, dispensaries,
collectives or associations.
Things are loosening up a bit. Following Bush-era raids of California
medical-marijuana dispensaries in Oakland (which were upheld by the U.S. Supreme
Court), Attorney General Eric Holder said his office will no longer subject
individuals who are complying with state medical-marijuana laws to federal drug
raids and prosecutions. Meanwhile, California voters could approve legalization
and taxation of pot in November, with backers claiming the “Marijuana Control,
Regulation, and Education Act” will stand up despite the conflict with federal
Dispensaries manage to open in Orange County by negotiating with individual
landlords, securing county health permits as alternative-healing facilities and
sidestepping the whole business-permit process in cities that ban dispensaries.
Some cities have struck back. After police and code-enforcement officers receive
complaints (or say they do), dispensaries are put under surveillance and have
reverse-sting operations run on them. Those arrested are portrayed by
prosecutors as street dealers (see “Marijuana Martyr,” Nick Schou’s April 30
feature on now-jailed 215 Agenda dispensary owner Mark Moen).
Raids and cease-and-desist orders have come down in recent months on
medical-cannabis providers in Lake Forest and Costa Mesa. This led to a recent
lawsuit in federal court by four medical-marijuana patients aimed at keeping
their pot providers’ doors open. Judge Andrew Guilford ruled May 3 at the Ronald
Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana that disabled OC residents Marla
James, Wayne Washington, James Armantrout and Charles Daniel DeJong do not have
the right under the Americans with Disabilities Act to smoke marijuana.
“Marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the Controlled Substances
Act, and under that Act, it currently has no medical purpose,” Guilford argued.
Lawyers for the patients filed an appeal May 14. Yet to be decided is a lawsuit
filed April 19 in Orange County Superior Court by two Costa Mesa
dispensaries,Herban Elements Inc. and MedMar Patient Care Collective, arguing
that the city’s ordinance prohibiting cannabis clubs violates California law.
In this highly charged atmosphere, the McKeens opened Otherside Farms earlier
* * *
Anyone who walks through the front door of Otherside Farms without a
state-issued card identifying him or her as a medical-marijuana patient is
referred to a local doctor—one who makes house calls. McKeen wants those who
need it to get their medicine, but he is not taking any chances.
He keeps up on laws by hosting or attending gatherings of local
medical-marijuana providers. He acknowledges some dispensary owners hold a dim
view of Otherside Farms, seeing it as competition. That’s fine with him.
McKeen does not trust the pot distributed at some dispensaries because he does
not know where the plants came from—and he’s found that many hawking medical
cannabis do not know either. Patients can have plants tested for safety and
quality, but that is costly and the wait time for the results is long.
Meanwhile, the patients are not getting their medicine. McKeen says he has found
many clones sold by dispensaries infested with spider mites, which can kill
plants before they bloom.
The solution, he says, is growing one’s own. Like the weekend gardener, the
medical-marijuana grower can feel the therapeutic powers of working with
soil—not to mention the therapeutic powers of righteous buds. However, like the
best gardeners, home growers need to know what they are doing. They can’t go to
the neighborhood Armstrong Garden Center for help; the gardening expert will be
uncomfortable talking about growing pot, if he or she even knows how.
Some hydroponics stores are run by operators who truly want to help patients
grow their own medicine, McKeen says, but finding those among so many others
just out to gouge customers can be difficult.
The McKeens aim to enlighten through education, using their own experience as
patients—with a healthy dollop of Farmer Chadd’s growing know-how—to allow
people to self-medicate without ever having to leave home.
“If you take the right care all the way through, your original plants can
continue to bear medicine forever,” Chadd McKeen claims. “You may need to
transplant it in a bigger pot, though. Actually, we say buckets. We don’t want
to say pot. That’s one of those negative buzzwords.”
Encouraging patients to grow their own medical marijuana instead of relying on
dispensaries; claiming some dispensaries sell poor, overpriced and even unsafe
weed; lambasting what he called the “ridiculous” lawsuit filed by patients to
keep Costa Mesa dispensaries open—those are also negative buzzwords in some
local cannabis circles.
“The movement needs to be unified, and this guy is mudslinging,” says an Orange
County medical-marijuana provider who says he knows Chadd McKeen and wishes to
remain anonymous. “He doesn’t want to work with any of the area clubs. Other
medical-marijuana groups have tried to work with him. He’s very strong-willed
and isn’t willing to help choose the direction.”
On McKeen’s blasting of some of the dispensed cannabis, the provider declares,
“To be willing to slander all the growers in California, when everyone is making
a concerted effort to stay within the law, is wrong.”
He blames “the Mexican cartel” for “most of the stuff with pesticides” and calls
Costa Mesa’s dispensaries “closed-circuit clubs” that “only grow within their
“They aren’t buying it from a cartel or wholesaler, but from the person who grew
it, so we can ask questions and grill the guy,” the provider says. “The growers
know about the pesticides and herbicides.”
He noted patients can always turn to NORML (the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws), whose “Clean Green 2000” he described as an FDA-type
verification process that gives a seal of approval to growers who use only
organic fertilizers and don’t use pesticides.
“There are already people out there trying to do this who aren’t talking shit,”
the provider says.
* * *
Marla James is confined to a wheelchair. Several years ago, she contracted a
flesh-eating disease from someone who had the flu. She had body parts removed.
She still suffers severe, painful nerve damage. She is nearly legally blind.
She says she was a recreational toker in the 1980s but had grown out of it years
before she was beset with her medical problems, which were treated first with
prescribedOxyContin and hydrocodone. After she became addicted to those
medications, James fired her doctor and found another who weaned her off them.
Another doctor eventually recommended cannabis to ease her constant pain. That
was eight years ago.
Her husband, David James, who has been an activist involved in several
progressive causes since the 1960s, campaigned for Prop. 215. He is now the
secretary of Orange County’s NORML chapter.
He “dragged” his wife into activism, according to Marla, who now leads Orange
County Americans for Safe Access (ASA). She was also the titular star of Marla
James, et al. v. The City of Costa Mesa, California, et al., the aforementioned
federal lawsuit filed on behalf of her and three other medical-marijuana
James obviously has a soft spot for medical-marijuana providers, and when asked
about growing one’s own, she replies, “It doesn’t always work for everybody. I
can’t grow. I don’t have the ability to grow for myself.”
She conceded that many patients can grow their own, and she noted the free
growing classes offered by the collectives she frequents. James agrees with
McKeen that patients should investigate the origins of the buds supplied by
dispensaries—as should patients picking up prescription medication at the local
“The ones I deal with do not buy from cartels,” she says. “They know who they
are buying from. Usually, it is from growers up north.”
James, who uses a vaporizer to cut down on carcinogens and increase the THC she
breathes in, claims to have never acquired “bad” cannabis from a collective.
Even if she were physically able to cultivate, James notes, she resides in a
rented, one-bedroom apartment “with a husband, four cats and a dog.”
“It’d be wonderful if it were all grown on our own,” she says. “You would always
know what you are growing. But you have to have room for growing.” She has no
land on which to grow plants outdoors. Even if she physically could, she figures
she’d constantly worry about her crops’ security. “It is a valuable plant,” she
* * *
Before getting inside Tri-County Patient Collective, which is a couple of miles
down Newport Boulevard from Otherside Farms, you have to walk through a small
entryway with two doors. One leads to an art gallery, the other to a tiny lobby
that is as warm and welcoming as a Soviet government office.
Either someone behind a tinted reception window slides it open to determine why
you are there, or a figure appears in a doorway asking the same. You then have
to be buzzed into a hallway that eventually leads to a room with big celebrity
portraits on the walls.
But those aren’t the eye-catchers; the large jars stuffed with buds inside a
long glass counter lining one wall are.
Like any merchant proud of his store, the brains behind this highly secure
outfit would love to see his name in the OC Weekly. But given the legal war
raging over dispensaries in Costa Mesa, he fears the powers that be would
interpret anything positive he says about his establishment or negative about
the current operating climate in town as an excuse to raid Tri-County. The name
of his business is real, but he asked that his own name not be used.
“To me, there’s a difference between an association and a dispensary,” he says.
“A dispensary, in my opinion, is just trying to get people medicine, similar to
a pharmacy. That is illegal; the law says you have to operate as an association.
“We don’t operate like a dispensary,” he continues. “Our push is on patients
growing their own. We encourage you to grow your own, so that you become
Tri-County offers growing classes that are free to association members. But the
fellow characterized them as very basic, and he says he regularly—and
happily—sends McKeen anyone who really wants to bore into the subject, find the
right growing equipment or just get answers to their nagging farming questions.
“What Chadd does works hand-in-hand with what we do: It furthers the knowledge
on how to grow,” the director said. “We encourage all our patients to grow, and
when they need more help, we almost always say, ‘Go talk to Chadd.’ We don’t see
him as a threat at all.”
He also agrees with much of what McKeen said about some dispensary patients and
operators being clueless as to the origin of their medication, whether it was
organically grown and how effective it is.
“A lot of [dispensaries] that do not take the collective-growing approach are
buying off the street,” the director asserts. “You do not know if the crop was
sitting on a truck eating diesel fuel.”
He blames the disconnect on simple greed. “A lot of guys who get into this are
seeing dollar signs,” he says. “They are not in it for the right reason.”
He recalls a recent conversation with McKeen in which they discussed online
reviews from patient members. Among countless positive reviews for Otherside
Farms was a minor quibble about a recent delivery. McKeen blew up. The
Tri-County director understood his frustration.
“We work hard for good reviews and to provide quality customer service,” he
says. “There are a billion forums and different websites where people just drop
bombs about you.”
The Weekly found no bombs dropped on Otherside Farms in a recent online search.
Out of 21 patient reviews on WeedMaps.com, 21 were raves.
“I was concerned about the quality of medicine that is available,” wrote someone
described as a married mother and cancer survivor in her mid-30s, “and the
Otherside folks explained, in detail, how they have complete quality control
over all of their medicine as they only procure their meds from members of their
collective (the way it’s supposed to be).
“But even beyond that, they go to the grow rooms and check on the operations
weekly to ensure that their ‘no pesticides, no chemicals and no cartels’
guarantee is upheld, and I like that. They are compassionate, well-educated and
“I am from the Costa Mesa area,” begins a legalmarijuanadispensary.com review
from another commenter, “and I totally recommend this place for your medicine
delivery! If you’re looking for a reliable and legit delivery service in SoCal,
Otherside Farms, my friend, can’t go wrong! Very discreet, professional and
“Oh, and lastly, I just have to mention that the guys who deliver are so
knowledgeable and very, uhm, CUTE. ”
“Simply the best medicine I’ve had,” states an Otherside Farms patient
testimonial on skunkmarijuana.info. “Very fresh, great tasting, and dang does it
get you high. Their edibles actually work and taste really good. They gave me
quality and quantity. Great phone services and an awesome, friendly delivery
* * *
The McKeens got the keys from their landlord for the Otherside Farms space on a
Friday night. By the following Monday morning, a city official was “banging on
the door,” according to Chadd McKeen. He claims he had received heavy resistance
while trying to work openly with the city to establish a dispensary, followed by
two months of foot-dragging to secure a business license.
McKeen also claims he and his wife got pulled over by Costa Mesa police shortly
after leaving work another day. He said the cop’s justification was it appeared
as if their car was going to change lanes without signaling. The vehicle was
searched, the couple was fingerprinted, and patient records in the car were
thoroughly examined by officers, according to McKeen.
He has grown used to a police presence nearby. After months under surveillance,
a dispensary called Doc’s in the same business complex as Otherside Farms was
raided by police in March. Bags of marijuana were confiscated, and a man was
arrested on suspicion of selling and transporting the drug.
Besides providing grower education, equipment, and help with set-up and
maintenance, Otherside Farms operates a separate “private” collective that
delivers member-grown cannabis to member patients who have viewed the buds on
othersidefarms.com. An online mission statement claims collective operations are
done in accordance with California Health & Safety codes, Prop. 215 and SB 420.
The Weekly asked the Costa Mesa police official who heads up dispensary
enforcement about his department’s stand on Otherside Farms.
“Based on a pending lawsuit in Costa Mesa regarding marijuana dispensaries, it
would probably be prudent for the police department at this point to refrain
from any opinions or statements surrounding the issues,” said Lieutenant Mark
Manley. “That omission isn’t a stance either way on Otherside Farms.”
Costa Mesa City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow says she has been led to believe
Otherside Farms provides only patient education, adding, “If they are filling
orders, they are not a cooperative.” She agreed medical-marijuana patients can
collectively cultivate cannabis under state law, but Barlow maintained no
provisions are made for selling or transporting the medication to member
Asked how collective members too ill to grow or travel are supposed to get the
marijuana, she replied, “That’s an excellent question.” After a pause, she
added, “I suppose there are other ways you could particpate in cultivation. I’m
not sure how.”
She was unaware of any businesses operating in Costa Mesa as “true collectives,”
arguing that state law does not legalize their right to exist, it only allows
them a defense to criminal charges. “This point gets lost a lot in discussions,”
she said. “Under state law, transportation of marijuana is still illegal and
sales are still illegal. . . . All of the businesses [in Costa Mesa] that have
been ordered to cease and desist” were served “after investigations determined
they were not complying with state or federal law.”
McKeen says his lawyers have “attempted numerous times to sit down with the
city” to discuss the collective side of Otherside Farms, only to be told the
city’s attorneys “don’t have time.”
“I find that odd since the city is being sued—a lot—and to me, that’s worthy of
a conversation, at least,” McKeen says.
His deliveries range from Long Beach to South Orange County, and they can be
made within 45 minutes of orders from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily—for a $10 delivery
fee. All recipients must be verified medical-cannabis-patient members, and
McKeen says he has put several measures in place to ensure deliveries comply
with state law, such as making sure the identification of the patient matches
that of the resident of the home being delivered to, or that nothing be dropped
off to minors, even those who are patient members of the collective. This
includes a 10-year-old autistic patient who was given six months to live.
“His meds kept him from eating, and he was wasting away,” McKeen says. “His
mother refused to allow this and searched everywhere for answers. A doctor
suggested a [loaded] brownie, and from that day forward, Joey began to speak, he
doubled his weight and grew several inches. This was all over a year ago, and he
is no longer in danger of passing away.”
Otherside Farms also works with a nonprofit that procures medical marijuana for
HIV-positive patients for free. McKeen reports he will soon join the agency’s
board of directors.
“I am the man with the plan,” McKeen states. “The problem is, the cities are
perfectly content fighting the lawsuits, which is ridiculous given the current
state of our economy.”
* * *
Helping patients grow their own is personal to the McKeen family, which includes
two sons and a daughter. Alysha McKeen recently completed her second round of
chemotherapy to treat skin cancer. She previously had three large growths
removed, according to her husband.
“That’s my angel,” he says from inside the grow room and out of her earshot.
“She never shows she is suffering, but one day, I saw her sitting at her desk,
and she was crying due to the pain. It killed me, man. That’s why we do this.
When McKeen—trim, athletic and good-natured with a playful twinkle in his
eye—mentions he once battled depression and still suffers from migraines and
chronic pain from a shoulder he injured while working at Knott’s Berry Farm,
it’s difficult to fathom.
A former weed dealer from his days fronting a band, McKeen had sworn off drugs
because of what they were doing to his body and personality. But he became
interested in medical marijuana again when California voters overwhelmingly
passed Prop. 215.
Despite the “sketchy” information that was around in those days, McKeen taught
himself the intricacies of growing marijuana the safe, all-organic way. He now
visits five grow rooms per week, coming up with ways to help his clients produce
But it is patients like Joey, the autistic 10-year-old, who keep McKeen
crisscrossing the county, helping regular folks grow their own medicine. Most
are elderly, terminally ill, living with HIV/AIDS, former cops and even local
Alysha McKeen, now in earshot, chimes in when she hears her husband asked about
the typical Otherside Farms customers. “Actually, most of them look like you,”
she says to the nearing-50 interviewer. “Most are men between 35 and 60.”
“We want to put a full-length mirror in the store right there,” Chadd McKeen
says as he points to a spot next to the front entrance. “Above it, it will say,
‘This is what the typical medical-marijuana patient looks like.’”
Growing Pains at OTHERSIDE FARMS