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Marijuana Missionary

Woman's Medicinal Clinic Fires Controversy in Thousand Oaks

January 26, 1998|KATE FOLMAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — In an anonymous office park in this conservative city, a self-styled revolutionary is hard at work.

The sleeves of her brocade blazer pushed up, long auburn hair piled in a messy twist, Andrea Nagy is dispensing marijuana to a patient.

While the patient, who has undergone 13 intestinal surgeries in two years, waits in a nearby chair, Nagy drops buds of the illicit weed onto a digital scale.

One-eighth of an ounce, $40.

"She's an angel," sighs Katie DiSilva, a 37-year-old mother, who says her ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease rage mercilessly without marijuana. "God's on her side."

If an angel, Nagy's a controversial one.

It has taken all of four months for this slight 28-year-old spitfire to become one of Ventura County's most infamous business owners--or primary caregivers, as Nagy prefers to be considered.

It was in September that the legal secretary turned pot crusader opened the Rainbow Country Ventura County Medical Cannabis Center with half a dozen clients. Nagy's Thousand Oaks dispensary now serves 46.

With a single-minded ferocity, Nagy has forced the issue of medical marijuana use on the police, district attorney and elected officials in law-and-order Ventura County.

So far, they have treated her gingerly.

At every City Council hearing and in every newspaper possible, Nagy testifies that her patients need marijuana for their multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS. Personally, Nagy uses marijuana to treat chronic migraines.

Come narcs or personal bankruptcy, she is hellbent on distributing the drug she grows at her center. She has taken a leave from her secretary's job to run the center, and says she has sunk thousands of dollars into the business.

"I might be a freedom fighter because my parents fled communism," said Nagy, whose family left Hungary when she was 11. "I think everyone owes it to themselves to claim their inalienable rights."

But the county in which Nagy (pronounced Nadj) is staking her claim just happens to be a bastion of DARE classes and conservative politics.

Small wonder, then: Not everyone here cottons to Nagy's cannabis crusade.

Some of Nagy's critics grudgingly admit respect for her political savvy and freely express empathy for her patients. But they worry about the message her dispensary is sending.

Even many of those who oppose her cannabis center are reluctant to criticize Nagy publicly. Privately, some critics cite a criminal conviction and a string of motor vehicle violations that, they claim, suggest a pattern of lawlessness.

In 1991, Nagy was arrested, charged and convicted of cultivating marijuana in her Newbury Park home. She was sentenced to 250 hours community service and five years probation--later reduced to four.

An avowed lead foot, Nagy estimates that she has had a dozen speeding tickets in as many years. Her court records show 11 motor vehicle citations since 1990.

Just last month, a jury convicted her of reckless driving in connection with an incident where Nagy was zipping along the Ventura Freeway at speeds of 85 mph or greater, according to court records. She was sentenced to 36 months probation and 10 days in a work-release program. Saying that she should have been charged with speeding, not reckless driving, Nagy has appealed.

"The big thing that occurred to me when I looked at the case was that she has a problem with authority figures and the law," said prosecutor Ryan Wright. "I think even her lawyer acknowledged that. She is more than assertive." Critics stress that federal law clearly outlaws growing, possessing or distributing pot, although California voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, in 1996.

"I mean, we're teaching our kids to 'just say no' to drugs," said Thousand Oaks Mayor Mike Markey, a retired police officer who wants Nagy's shop shuttered. "And she's here selling marijuana?"

But, he added, Nagy is canny in her tactics. She obtained a business license for her dispensary, has met with law enforcement and brings a crowd of patients to public hearings.

"She's working the system," he said. "In my mind, I don't know if she's smart or what, but she knows how to work the system."

"She certainly seems to be a professional person," said Thousand Oaks City Councilwoman Elois Zeanah, who refused in December to shut down Nagy's business. "And she's certainly being hounded right now. We'll see how strong she is. It takes a strong person to receive the hounding she is receiving now and not buckle."

Nagy says her interest in medical cannabis--and marijuana legalization, period--comes from personal experience.

Her searing migraines first started in puberty. A joint offered by a friend when Nagy was 13 loosened the muscles and eased the pain, almost immediately. Nagy was convinced.

At the same time that Nagy--the daughter of a baker and a physical therapist--was using marijuana to treat herself, she also became a budding activist.

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