Pot classes in session

Chadd and Alysha McKeen don’t care that passersby can see the six 3-foot-tall marijuana plants growing inside their new Costa Mesa storefront.

“I want to tell people to stop being afraid of it,” said Chadd McKeen, co-founder of Otherside Farms. “We want to bring it out into the open.”

The McKeens also put in new tile and ripped the bars off the windows at the center, which sits between a dog-grooming business and a therapeutic spa. It’s all part of an effort to make the place appear open and inviting.

The shop at 2424 Newport Blvd. bills itself as a “medical marijuana information center.” It offers classes on everything from how to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes to how to make pot brownies. The six plants growing underneath special lights in one foil-padded room of the shop are strictly for teaching purposes, the couple said.

“It’s all self-taught,” Alysha McKeen said of the couple’s cultivation skills. “That learning curve is expensive, so we want to share what we know with people.”

The new information center is offering two-day weekend workshops on the basics of growing marijuana, including lighting, air flow and growing equipment.

People can walk in to find out where to get a doctor’s referral for medical marijuana, or how to find an attorney who specializes in medical-marijuana issues.

The couple also plan to organize legal workshops on medical-marijuana issues.

There have been bumps along the way to opening Otherside Farms.

It took the couple nearly a month to get a business license from Costa Mesa, Chadd McKeen said, because the city was concerned that the McKeens were trying to open up a marijuana dispensary, he said.

City officials have served cease-and-desist orders on half a dozen medical-marijuana dispensaries in Costa Mesa in recent weeks. Police raided two more this week, arresting workers on suspicion of felony drug violations.

While Otherside Farms runs a medical-marijuana delivery service, which serves cities across Los Angeles and Orange counties, the Costa Mesa shop is just a place where people can learn more about how to smoke, grow and bake with pot, the McKeens said.

“We took possession of the place on a Friday night, and the city was here at 8 a.m. Monday morning banging on the door,” Chadd McKeen said. “The city flipped out. Nobody knew what to do with us.”

Costa Mesa City Atty. Kimberly Hall Barlow said that as long as Otherside Farms is not distributing or selling marijuana, it should not encounter any problems while operating in the city, though she said she will have to learn more about the business.

“They have a 1st Amendment right to speak, but they don’t have a 1st Amendment right to distribute,” Barlow said.

Mayor Allan Mansoor said he’s concerned with who will be taught how to grow cannabis and “where it’ll end up.”

“Is it going to end up in kids’ hands or people that get high all the time?” he said. “I have a problem with that. I’ve seen the effects of it. If it’s truly someone that has a medical need, it needs to be within the law, so it depends on where it ends up.”

Costa Mesa city officials have clashed with medical marijuana dispensaries in recent months over a 2005 citywide ban on such establishments.

Police were staking out Doc’s, a dispensary a few doors down, for months, Chadd McKeen said.

Police raided Doc’s earlier this week, hauling out bags of marijuana and arresting one man on suspicion of possessing marijuana for sale and transporting the drug.

One night, police followed the McKeens as they left Otherside Farms, and pulled them over and searched their car, Chadd McKeen said.

McKeen and his wife, both 39, used to work in the real estate industry. The couple live in Newport Beach and have three kids.

“I’m not some guy who bailed out of real estate and decided to open a dispensary,” Chadd McKeen said. “We see the front lines — I need this medicine.”

Alysha McKeen said she is undergoing treatment for skin cancer and medical marijuana helps her with side effects of treatment.

Chadd McKeen said he uses medical marijuana to ease pain from an old shoulder injury he suffered as a teenager working at Knott’s Berry Farm.

The couple hope the shop will make medical marijuana more acceptable through education, they said.

“It’s here, and it’s not going to go away,” Alysha McKeen said.

What Do You Think?

How do you feel about the McKeens’ business opening in Costa Mesa? Send us an e-mail at dailypilot@latimes.com or leave a comment on our website.


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