Monday, April 6, 2009


L.A. Cannabis Club provides relief for many in the HIV community.

Club president Scott Imler talks to Positive Living writer Craig Curtis.

May 1998

"Out of business. Bottom line. The long-range goal is for marijuana to be scheduled and made prescriptively available in pharmacies. Cannabis clubs will no longer be in business."
-- Scott Imler
president and executive director
L.A. Cannabis Buyers' Club

Surprised? I was. But then, Scott Imler, president and director of the L.A. Cannabis Resource Center, is a rather surprising guy.

Having been a member of the L.A. Cannabis Buyers Club since June 1996, I have seen the club go through many changes. Starting out in Santa Monica, they've moved three times (all to sites in West Hollywood). I barely missed the cops during the WeHo bust of September 1996; wandered into a press conference at the Crescent Heights United Methodist Church; gleefully voted "yes" on Prop. 215 in November 1996; and I danced in the streets when it passed. Never has the Club been more important to me than now, having lost 20 pounds after starting combination therapy.

On a beautiful day between rains in early April, I was grateful to speak with Scott in his office at the club. Open since election night 1996, Suite 215 is an ever-evolving, perpetual construction site. Through drastic changes, one thing has not wavered: integrity. Never having had an opportunity to chat with Scott, I was impressed by his honesty in addressing many of the subjects particularly pertinent to these times of uncertainty in the Medical Marijuana Movement. Originally from Santa Cruz, where he was a founding member of California's first cannabis club, Scott talked openly with me about protocol, Peron and "The Big P."

Scott Imler plays by the rules. He made them.

-- Craig Curtis

Scott Imler: We invented the doctors' letter. That was an invention of the Santa Cruz Cannabis Club. Peron never required documentation of any kind. Everybody thinks that Dennis Peron's was the first club, but it really wasn't. The first buyers club was started in Santa Cruz in spring of 1993. Peron didn't open his club until November 1993. I remember when we announced what we were doing in Santa Cruz, Dennis came down for the announcement. After the rally on the courthouse steps [Peron] came up and said, "Good gimmick; it'll never work..."

Craig Curtis: I wasn't sure how far to go on the differences between you and Dennis Peron.

S.I.: I'm not sure it's all that useful other than on a background level. It's been very painful. Dennis was my friend before we were involved in [the medical marijuana movement]. His antics really strained the friendship. It ruined our professional relationship in terms of the movement. We find ourselves at opposite ends of the political spectrum in terms of medical marijuana. [Peron] has a much larger agenda that he feels the need to ply at every juncture. We wrote Prop. 215 together. I wasn't a pot dealer. I grew my own. I came to this through my own use, and my association as a gay person with all my friends dying of AIDS. I guess in some ways I just went out of my way to make things different than how it was in [San Francisco]. Part of it was tactical. Part of it was my gut reaction to what I thought was did not serve the needs of the patients in the long term.

C.C.: Let's talk about your mission statement.

S.I.: Basically, provide information services to patients and the public. To provide legal defense for anybody who's a bona-fide patient registered with the organization...

C.C.: Is that service for patients who buy outside the club?

S.I.: If you're a member in good standing, you automatically have a lawyer should you get in any problems for medical marijuana. Nine of our members got in trouble last year. Eight of them qualified for the (Legal Defense) program. One, who was involved with the Marijuana Mansion in Bel-Air -- it was such a big thing there was nothing we could do for him. [Cancer patient Todd McCormick of Bel-Air was arrested in August 1997 for cultivating more than 4,000 marijuana plants.] But eight members got their charges dismissed because they all had their letters and our lawyer went in and said "Prop. 215." They got off.

C.C.: How have you been received by the West Hollywood City Council?

S.I.: They're wonderful. They've been very supportive... They knew that moved here. They had actually even rolled out the psychic red carpet for us. In mid-December (1996), the city called and said "We want to meet and work out rules." About four days later they called back and said, "Scott, have you got any rules you operate under because we're having a tough time figuring out how all this works," and I said "Yeah, we've got protocol." Essentially the city adopted it lock, stock and barrel.

C.C.: Have local doctors continued to be supportive in spite of the sabre rattling by Dan Lungren?

S.I.: (Laughs) That goes back and forth. Mostly doctors are concerned about the feds. Most of the AIDS agencies have been pretty good... The doctors know we enforce [protocol] because we won't serve their patients without a letter. We call every doctor every time to verify that they really did sign that letter. Even the doctors we know. We call them every single time. We've been so diligent -- they probably say to themselves: Damn, those guys call me on every single letter! Even Dan Lungren's office will tell you that LACBC is the best-run club in the state.

C.C.: Have the police been cooperative?

S.I.: Oh, yeah. Well, you know, the night of the election they came out and gave one last ticket. We call it "The Last Medical Marijuana Ticket." It was issued about 5:15 on Election Day.

C.C.: What about the media?

S.I.: We're to the point where we don't even want to have the media come here anymore. We always felt that we had no secrets; we didn't have anything to hide, so we've always been forthcoming with the media. Time and time and time again, we'll spend four to eight hours with a TV news crew who will come in, film everything -- they'll show our banner, our patients, and then they'll splice in footage of tie-dye hippies straight out of Haight-Ashbury smoking pot at Dennis' (club). Frankly, we're too through... There are only three or four journalists I've come in contact with that really get it. All the rest are interested in the Big P.

C.C.: "Big P," meaning...?

S.I.: The endless ideological debate about the drug war between Dan Lungren and Dennis Peron.

C.C.: Big P: Big Politics?

S.I.: Big Pot. Big Police. (Laughs)

C.C.: How about the recent court order naming cannabis clubs as non-primary care-givers, thereby restricting your ability to consume and exist?

S.I.: Our club itself is not a care-giver. We are an association of legitimately exempt people. Under the legal premise by which we exist, we have to know that every person is legitimately exempt or our legal premise is out the window. In the Peron case, and in other of these Northern California clubs, they're run by people who aren't sick. So they had to find some legal mechanism by which they could be involved. That's why they had to craft this legal fiction of care-giver assignment. Most of those clubs up there are run by non-patients, so they had to spin some interpretation that they were legal. In the process of doing that they're coming close to ruining legitimate patient groups' abilities to take care of themselves through clubs. That's why Dennis Peron did it -- because he's got people in there who aren't sick...

C.C.: I've seen fliers for your Medical Marijuana for patients in recovery groups.

S.I.: The Medical Marijuana for Patients in Recovery Group meets at the Crescent Heights United Methodist Church (Fairfax and Fountain) at 6:15 on Friday nights. We believe that you should be able to use medicinal marijuana if your doctor says you have to, without sacrificing your sobriety or being kicked-out of your recovery program. Recovery is about life and death, too. Some members are into the 12 Steps. Some aren't.

C.C.: You're a practicing Methodist?

S.I.: Yes. And lay preacher. I fill in when the pastor's not there.

C.C.: Let's address requirements for membership. Any limitations?

S.I.: Our only limitation is you've got to have a letter from your doctor. We have other rules -- 27 grams per week limit. You can't give it away, trade it, sell it. If we ever find that out -- you're out of here. Don't smoke in public, and if you get in trouble, show the police your card. Tell the truth. Be polite. And call us right away. Being polite is really important because the police know that (courtesy) is in our rules. So they know who are members of our club and who aren't. No one is turned away for lack of financial resources. Fully 25 percent of the marijuana consumed by our members last year was consumed gratis. I think that's important for your readers to know; the service is here for people that need it.

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