A pot-growing seminar attracts crowd in A.C.

New York attorney Adam Scavone leads a seminar on federal and state laws to those attending a 4-day seminar on how to grow pot at Bally's Casino in Atlantic City.
New York attorney Adam Scavone leads a seminar on federal and state laws to those attending a 4-day seminar on how to grow pot at Bally's Casino in Atlantic City. (Ron Tarver/Staff)
Posted: August 25, 2014

In an Atlantic City conference room filled with people who had just paid $1,000 to learn how to grow marijuana, the speaker asked if anyone in law enforcement was among the crowd.

No one's hand shot up.

"That does not mean they're not here," Adam Scavone, a New York City lawyer, cautioned the nearly 80 people who attended Oaksterdam University's course at Bally's Wild Wild West Casino on Saturday.

There, just off the boardwalk, the West met the East as the California-based school held its first marijuana-growing seminar on this side of the country. Unlike California and some other states, New Jersey does not permit marijuana to be grown except by licensed dispensary operators who may sell only to registered patients.

"We're making an effort to get out of our little corner of the world," said Dale Sky Jones, the chancellor of a seven-year old school that has graduated 18,000 students.

An increasing number of states in the East - including New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island, and Maine - have legalized medical marijuana, and it's just a matter of time before marijuana becomes legal throughout the country, Jones said.

To avoid problems in Atlantic City, Jones said basil would be substituted for marijuana during the classes.

When the 14-week course is held at the school's Oakland campus, students plant marijuana seeds, nurture them, and watch them grow.

In Atlantic City, the students watch the videos and demonstrations.

Different ages and ethnicities were represented in the group, and nearly one-third of the attendees were women. Most dressed conservatively and casually and brought notebooks.

When Jones asked how many came from New Jersey, more than half raised their hands. About a dozen others came from Pennsylvania, where marijuana is not legal, and 10 others indicated they were from New York. The rest were from Maine, Maryland, Delaware, Washington, and elsewhere.

Will some students plan to grow pot illegally? "I'm just curious" was the quick reply of several when asked what had brought them to the seminar. Others refused any comment.

But some were glad to discuss their reasons for coming - and their hopes for what they say may soon become a new industry.

Mark Nagle, 46, of Worcester County, Md., who wore multi-colored Bermuda shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops, was among them. He said that he and his partners have applied for a dispensary license in his state.

"I'll be the cultivator, and I need training," said Nagle, a retired Air Force registered nurse.

Lisa Wozniak, 41, of Trevose, said she wanted to work as a volunteer to "get cannabis legalized and to educate people about the plant." If and when marijuana becomes legal in her state, she said, she would like to work in that field, in horticulture or another capacity.

Kim Betesh, 45, of Margate, just outside Atlantic City, said she came to the seminar for a refresher, after taking the course in Oakland four months ago. She owns the Hollywood Smokin head shop in Northfield, near a licensed dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, and sells "Magical Butter" machines that turn cannabis buds into butters and oils. Many of her customers have children who were issued medical marijuana cards to treat epilepsy and cannot smoke marijuana, she said.

"I sell these machines because it helps people," Betesh said, adding that she also sells vaporizers.

Scavone, the lawyer, began the session by offering tips on how cannabis growers can avoid prosecution by knowing their rights.

"Never consent to a search, explicitly" if stopped on a highway, he said. "You want to say as little to the police as possible . . . Play it cool." He also provided background on changing marijuana laws across the country.

Jones summed up the course's goal this way: "This is not just about growing pot. It's about a movement, and changing hearts and minds."

Oaksterdam likely will return to the East Coast next year, she said, when the seminar could be held in Boston or Philadelphia.


jhefler@phillynews.com

856-779-3224 @JanHefler

www.inquirer.com/burlcobuzz

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