Silicon Valley Is High on Innovation. And Pot
Being a computer coder takes a physical toll. The long hours sitting at a keyboard can cause back and wrist pain. You can run to a pharmacy and pick up some Advil, or if you’re in Silicon Valley, you can drop by the Palliative Health Center for some Sour Diesel. Palliative Health is a medical marijuana dispensary, one of many in San Jose, Calif. Inside, iPads are mounted on pedestals so patients can scroll through and check prices and availability of Sour Diesel, Chem Dog, and a dozen or so other strains. The shop offers marijuana-infused sodas, muffins, and chocolates, and monthly classes on cooking with cannabis.
Around 40 percent of Palliative Health’s clients are tech workers, says Ernie Arreola, 38, the assistant manager. “We’re seeing people from some semiconductors, lots of engineers, lots of programmers,” he says. That makes sense, because the shop is an easy shot from some of the area’s biggest employers—Cisco Systems, Google, Adobe Systems, Apple, EBay—and a short drive from dozens more. Also, people in Silicon Valley do like their pot.
San Jose is the medical marijuana capital of the Bay Area. The city has 106 pot clinics (four are delivery-only)—more than four times the number in San Francisco, twice as many per square mile as Los Angeles, and, according to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, “many more than are necessary to meet the medical needs of our population.”
The pot dispensary industry in San Jose really took off after 2009, when the Obama administration said it wouldn’t prosecute patients “with serious illnesses” or caregivers complying with state laws. California is one of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have medical marijuana laws. In California, a would-be marijuana buyer must show a dispensary that a doctor has recommended the drug for migraines, arthritis, “or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief,” according to the 1996 California ballot measure that started it all. Doctors charge about $40 for a recommendation. Federal law bans doctors from writing out a formal prescription.
Marijuana use is “extremely common” among tech workers, says Mark Johnson, 34, chief executive officer of Zite, based in San Francisco. The company, owned by Time Warner, produces an application that offers a personalized news stream on smartphones and tablets. “People just don’t care,” says Johnson, who adds that he smokes pot daily. “If you do, you don’t need to hide it; and if you don’t, you accept that there are people around you that do.”
MedMar Healing Center, a half-mile from Adobe headquarters, offers a marijuana-infused chocolate toffee called Veda Chews that appeals especially to the roughly 15 percent of customers who are tech workers, says Doug Chloupek, 35, its CEO and co-founder. “It does not give the high or intoxicated feeling that you would typically get from a lot of medical cannabis,” he says. “Those who are coding for 15 hours a day with cramping hands, that is the product that allows them to have mental clarity and still get pain relief.” Veda Chews sell for $13 apiece. MedMar also carries $10 joints with names such as Sour Grapes, Skunk, and Super Silver Haze, along with cannabis-infused breath sprays, brownies, and chocolates.
None of this abundance should obscure the fact that companies don’t want employees getting high at work. Cisco forbids use or possession of “illegal drugs while on Cisco-owned or leased property, during working hours, while on company business, or while using company property,” says Robyn Jenkins-Blum, a company spokeswoman. Adobe has a similar policy, according to a company statement. Neither company screens potential hires for drug use, which is probably just as well. “The Silicon Valley data support recent news reports citing some employers who say they are having a hard time finding candidates that can pass the preemployment drug test,” says Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions.
Johnson says that Silicon Valley’s predilection for marijuana shouldn’t come as a surprise. The tech industry employs a lot of intelligent people, he reasons, and a lot of smart people smoked marijuana in college and never lost the habit. “Pot is an extremely functional drug. Coders can code on it, writers can write on it,” he says. “I see good days ahead for pot.”