The team at Alternative Herbal Health Services (AHHS) in West Hollywood is about to celebrate 20 years serving California.
We sat down with owners Jason Beck and Dina Browner to get their take on AHHS coming from San Francisco to West Hollywood in 2004, eventually going from rivals to business partners, and being great friends in their continued wild adventure in cannabis.
Opening in San Francisco
AHHS would initially open its doors in San Francisco in March of 2001, just a few years removed from the passing of Proposition 215. At the time only a few communities like San Francisco, West Hollywood and Berkeley were “friendly” to the idea of medical cannabis.
But it was a different beast in WeHo than up north, with the feds eventually using asset forfeiture laws against the city to take control of the building West Hollywood had purchased to use as a medical cannabis access point for its AIDS community and other patients.
“There was nothing down here. The only place that was game was a L.A. Patient Resource Center, which the City of West Hollywood had invested $775,000 in the purchase of the building. Then under the Bush administration, they came in and raided the place and seized the building as an asset forfeiture,” Beck told L.A. Weekly of his predecessors who were closed by the feds a few years before he made the move to West Hollywood.
Beck said officials believed there would be a gap in access to medical marijuana in WeHo when the feds came down again and wanted to find a legit operator. They reached out to San Francisco activists for a recommendation. Beck’s name came up and the ball was rolling. This would also lead to Beck meeting Browner.
Beck secured the location on Santa Monica Ave. He beat out Browner in the process. She was also eyeballing the location for her own competing shop in WeHo. It opened a few months after Beck got the doors open at AHHS.
“I was about to sign the lease, after going and looking at it and meeting with the landlord,” Browner told L.A. Weekly. “I didn’t think anyone else was looking at the space. And I called him back and said I’m ready to take it, and he goes, ‘Someone beat you to it.’”
Browner also laughed, noting when she had initially approached the city about opening her shop they quickly informed her they would not be purchasing another building. She clarified to them that wouldn’t be an issue.
Browner figured out who Beck was through some acquaintances and traveled north to San Francisco to scold him for stealing her new spot in her town. But the two ended up becoming pals, eventually living together while operating competing storefronts, then sealing the deal in 2010 when Browner joined AHHS officially as an owner after years helping behind the scenes.
Browner was scared of the feds. “I mean, that was like the biggest thing, and we got raided in 2007,” She said of those years before her and Beck made it official. “I had another store in West Hollywood, so I got raided the same day he got raided.”
AHHS would be raided once under the Bush administration and twice under the Obama administration. “It was a small, small percentage of people that were getting raided because we had a small number of people actually operating,” Beck said.
Early local competitors to AHHS would eventually face the wrath of the federal government and close shop.
The Strains of Yesterday
We asked Beck what was on the shelves when they opened the doors in West Hollywood?
“My most famous strain ever: The Uncle Bob,” Beck quickly replied. “Which was one of my big claims to fame. That was one of my big strains that I actually sold on the streets prior. You know, one of my things is I turned a pager into a storefront.”
Beck explained he used to sell Uncle Bob for $60 an eighth on the streets. Another hitter from the opening was Sweet Nightmare. “And one of the other big strains at that time was the original Farmacy Blue Dot,” he noted.
Browner spoke to the pair’s early adventures in OG Kush. I mentioned to Browner that Beck had noted back in the day he had a line on $5,000 pounds of OG Kush in an age when everyone was paying $6,000 for the real deal. She laughed, “Before I had partnered with Jason – this was like in 2004 – Jason gave me so much shit for it, but he bought one too. But I think we both spent like eight grand on a pound.” Beck separately noted $8,000 was the highest he’s ever seen anyone pay.
Beck said he would travel to the Bay Area to get his hands on the heat. It would be worth a couple extra thousand by the time it got down south. We asked Beck about being connected from the hill through the bay and down to L.A. in the early 2000s, when so few were, helped the cause over the years. He argued it’s one of the main reasons he remains well-known in the industry to this day.
Still Doing it
Beck, also a cannabis patient, said the wildest thing about the last 17 years in West Hollywood is just still being here.
“I mean, you’re talking to someone that’s fought the IRS and a tax evasion case, someone that’s fought the Office of the Attorney General in an asset forfeiture case, someone that has been raided by the DEA three times, fought the State Board of Equalization in California, fought the Department of Employment Development in California,” Beck said. “And at the same time, too, I was born with cerebral palsy. And I wasn’t even supposed to live at birth. I had to be airlifted from John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek to San Francisco Children’s Hospital because they didn’t even have the equipment to keep me alive.”
These days, Beck finds the best OG Kush possible to be his medicine of choice.
Browner has always been associated with the heat whether as the inspiration for Nancy Botwin on Weeds or for expertise she provided to Netflix’s Disjointed. We asked her what it’s like seeing the way good cannabis is defined in the age of social media compared to the past. Has the hype taken over from the heat she was so famous for?
“It hasn’t really, you know, obviously it’s more branding than anything behind it,” she argued. “You get those kids that want that branding and logo and go find that product. But yeah, people still want to have the connoisseur pick. They want that small-batch connoisseur pick.”
We asked the pair when the change in cannabis seemed like it was happening the fastest over the years. Beck responded in the time between Prop. 64 passing and implementation. Browner agreed. She compared it to Dwight’s fire safety test scene on The Office. “That was literally us on January 1, when legalization passed and we had started adult-use sales,” she said.