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Weed tangle

Lifestyle | Growing marijuana use in California creates concerns about second-hand smoke and 'the right to clean air'

Issue: "2012 Cities Issue," March 10, 2012

In Fairfax, Calif., a small, quirky town nestled in hilly Marin County, the Purple Haze Smoke Shop fits in with local stores like Crystal Chalice Gratitude Power (featuring an ancient crystal skull with healing powers) and Culture Shock, a gypsy-inspired clothing store that entices customers with bubbles drifting from its entry.

Marin County is the type of place where use of marijuana, legally or illegally, is rampant. California voters legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 1996, with about three-fourths of Marin voters approving. Yet this affluent county just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is still navigating how to regulate it. "If we write laws in favor of marijuana, we run the risk of violating federal law, but then the state is missing in action as far as how to legislate it," county supervisor Susan Adams complains.

Inside Purple Haze, owner Mark Curran sells Stoner Trivia, hemp iced tea, and "95 percent American-made" glass-blown pipes, as Bob Marley tunes play in the background. Curran gave up smoking tobacco years ago because he "wanted to have healthier lungs," but he uses marijuana legally for back pain and says it helps him "enormously."

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Folks like Curran get their marijuana at dispensaries. Mindy Berrett manages the Green Tiger Collective, a marijuana dispensary located in Novato, a city on the county's northern border. She says a recent federal crackdown that forced two local marijuana collectives to close has put Green Tiger "under the microscope."

With nearly 1,200 patients, Berrett says she's "trying to be legit." Located between a lumber store and a roofing shop on a dusty, industrial road outside town, the dispensary has covered windows and no signage. Green Tiger and another dispensary, Green Door Wellness Center, share an entry. A sign pointing to Green Door displays medicines on sale: "Blue Cheese," "Afgoo," and "Sour Og."

Inside Green Tiger's small waiting room, a partition hardly masks the strong aroma coming from behind it. Asked about their indistinguishable location, a clerk through the check-in window says, "We're very hush-hush." Another woman peeks through and adds, "We're not here."

As medicinal marijuana use grows, so do complaints about second-hand marijuana smoke. Bronson Frick, associate director of the Berkeley-based Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, says communities should include marijuana in their smoke-free proposals. For businesses in multi-use buildings, "it can be a big problem if you are trying to run an office." Marijuana smoke might drift in from an upstairs condo, making it "hard to stay focused." Others worry about the effect of second-hand smoke on pregnant women and children, or on people who bought condos "with a right to clean air."

Concerns of that sort may be what led the Marin County Board of Supervisors to support in December a proposed smoking ban that broadly defined smoking as puffing "tobacco, weed, spices, herbal or other plant life." In January the Board of Supervisors backtracked, sending the ordinance back for rewriting to clarify that it applies only to tobacco.

Mark Curran is happy about the change: "What will they do next, tell us what we can eat in our own homes?"

-Mary Jackson is a California journalist

Taking dominion over bushes

Joey Holleman/The State/KRT/Newscom

Twenty-six years ago Pearl Fryar planted a few discarded bushes in his yard in Bishopville, S.C. He let them grow, began shaping them, and transformed his three-acre plot into a Dr. Seuss-like topiary garden.

The locals refer to the 72-year-old Fryar as "that man who cuts up bushes." His skill with a gas-powered hedge trimmer has made the garden surrounding his modest brick home into a tourist attraction. Travelers passing through on Interstate 20 stop to marvel at the whimsical shrubbery. Children pour from school buses, and Fryar, retired from management at a soda can factory, greets them dressed in boots and hat.

He tells them how he cut up things as a child-and got into trouble for it. He conveys how the scraggly junipers and hollies he found on the recycling pile at a local nursery grew in his yard and became the canvas for his creativity. He watched his God-given talent blossom.

Fryar uses the garden to teach children about life: "You can take anything and make something special out of it. If you work hard enough at something that you love, eventually someone will take notice. Success is about hard work and passion."

Surrounded by towering, twisting greenery, Fryar says he is living proof of his favorite saying: "He or she that does no more than the average will never rise above the average." He tells children he was an average student, and his father had only a third-grade education. Yet, his garden has garnered so much attention that a foundation has been established to preserve it. He speaks at schools and colleges in South Carolina and nationally, and has set up a scholarship fund to help average students who show potential.

Fryar wants children to know they have a contribution to make no matter their circumstances or academic acuity: "This hobby brought out the best in me and I want to share it." -Deena C. Bouknight

Mary Jackson
Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson is a writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and three young children.

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