When Dr. Dina realized Nancy Botwin (played by Mary-Louise Parker on Showtime’s hit series Weeds) was inspired by her own life, she didn’t want anyone to know. If Dr. Dina were to sue the producers, she feared the feds would come after her, charging her with Botwin’s crimes. “My lawyer told me not to tell anyone,” she says, pointing to earlier, more clandestine days of California’s legalization movement.
Dr. Dina is a true pioneer of the medical cannabis movement. She was the first woman to start a medical marijuana doctor’s office and dispensary in Southern California — “The Sunset Shop” on the Sunset Strip — and today she runs Alternative Herbal Health Services in West Hollywood, the oldest continually operating dispensary in the area. As a consultant and advocate for patients’ rights, Dr. Dina has helped countless Hollywood celebrities, politicians, and entertainment executives, as well as over three dozen non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries in California, Colorado, and Oregon. Dr. Dina could even be described as a muse outside the TV world. “My Medicine,” Snoop Dogg’s 2008 track featuring Willie Nelson, references the cannabis legend when he raps, “Yeah, she kinda skinny but she gets my money, get my money, buy my medicine…”
Ultimately, her relationship with Snoop runs way deeper than the lyrical hat-tip, and the rapper was even the one who publically outed her connection to Weeds. “Five or six years ago, Snoop was at my store [Alternative Herbal Health Services] hanging out with GQ journalist Drew Magary, who ended up writing about me, Snoop, and our funny relationship. During that interview, Snoop said to Magary, ‘You know that’s the real Nancy Botwin, right?’”
Today, she’s arguably more famous than Botwin and even has new nicknames that highlight her inimitable position in the legal marijuana industry: “the Mother Teresa of Marijuana,” “the Queen of Cannabis,” and “the Princess of Pot.” And while Dr. Dina embraces the notoriety, she’s quick to point out important differences between herself and the Botwin character she inspired. MERRY JANE caught up with the icon to talk about her history with Snoop (who got her stoned for the first time), the pros and cons of inspiring television's most famous stoner soccer mom, and Freedom Grow, her new nonprofit initiative that aims to help incarcerated victims of the war on drugs.
Dr. Dina and Snoop Dogg. Photo courtesy of Dr. Dina.
MERRY JANE: When did you first meet Snoop Dogg?
Dr. Dina: Back when I was in high school, I was hanging out at my friend’s house. My friend's step-father was Snoop’s criminal attorney during the murder trial in the 90s. Snoop was hanging out at the house and he wanted to go and smoke, so I offered him a safe haven behind the tennis courts. That’s when he pulled out a blunt, which I thought was a cigar. He lit it, and I realized it wasn’t a cigar. I must have made a face to my friend like, “OMG, they’re smoking pot.” My friend thought I was going to tattle to his mother, which is ironic because his mom would’ve probably wanted to come outside and take a puff (he had a very cool mom). Snoop was like, “Let me handle this. Hit it now.” So, I tried cannabis for the very first time with Snoop.
Snoop must have been excited to find out later about your transition into the cannabis industry.
When I started the very first doctor’s office in SoCal that specialized in medical cannabis recommendations, I immediately thought of him. Later that day, after thinking Snoop would love my new line of work, this guy came in and said he’s got a music studio, and that Snoop Dogg was recording in it right then. I told him to go back to Snoop and tell him, “Chubby is working in the doctor’s office and can make you legal.” (Snoop nicknamed me “Chubby” because I was really skinny, like 90 pounds and 5’4”). Within half an hour, Snoop was on the phone. He said, “I don’t believe this. Come here.” I brought the doctor to him in the studio. Then, I got him legal for the very first time — during our first reunion in almost a decade. It was great. Just like old times. Nothing changes with him. After that, I helped open a dispensary in West Hollywood and helped write regulations for cannabis dispensaries. With that, he had a safe haven to get his cannabis supply for many years to come.
When did your nickname change from Chubby to Dr. Dina?
Snoop nicknamed me Dr. Dina, and I don’t think he was being clever. He saved my number in his phone as Dina, Dr. or Dr. Dina, to remind him about my connection with the doctor. That’s when my new nickname was born. Before I knew it, the staff started calling me Dr. Dina. And since Snoop would always refer to me as Dr. Dina, it just stuck.
In addition to your work with Alternative Herbal Health Services of West Hollywood for the past 15 years, how else are you currently involved in the cannabis industry?
I work with cannabis brands on marketing techniques and product creation. I also do consulting with TV and film, so I work a lot in Hollywood. I’m currently the cannabis consultant for a new TV show I can’t talk about yet. I help a lot of actors look realistic and natural in their movements, and make sure the writers have an accurate depiction of cannabis culture, as well as look over scripts, set, and wardrobe. There are so many different aspects to a Hollywood production, especially cannabis-related, that people just don’t know.
What are your thoughts on the Trump administration’s stance on cannabis?
I’m seeing many people freaking out, like “OMG, they're coming after us.” What’s different than the day before? They said they’re going to clamp down on it. Duh, it’s federally illegal. We know this. The people freaking out thought it was safe? The investors who thought they’d make money are the ones freaking out. For people like me and my business associate Jason Beck, we sit back and laugh because we’ve lived in this grey area for over 15 years. I laugh because everyone knows you can get fucked in the grey area. Getting fucked in the grey area is no fun at all. It’s not.
But you know what you’re doing, because it’s not for money. When I set out to do this, it was never to become rich. It was to help people who are sick, in a way I was not able to help my grandma when she had lung cancer, or help my grandma when she had Alzheimer's, or my other grandfather with Parkinson's. Every one of my loved ones who passed away had an ailment that I could have helped them with using cannabis. My picture is much bigger than “let’s jump in and make a buck.” All those people can run for the hills now that they’re scared because they don’t belong in this business. It's not about the money. It’s about compassion and medical cannabis.
How are you navigating the grey area today?
We’re still living in the grey area. Does it panic me? No. Unless Spicer says they’re changing the schedule of cannabis, don’t tell me anything because nothing matters. They’re not going to come after me. They’re going to send a letter to every legalized state and every state is going to try to fight the federal government. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe this will actually get them to overturn something. Am I scared of it? No. Am I scared of the federal government? Absolutely. Every single day of my life. Why would it make me scared? I’m already scared. If you thought you were safe, you’re crazy. I’ve been raided by the federal government more times than I have fingers. They can rob you, shake you down, take all of your weed, take anything they want because they’ll get some judge to sign some bullshit warrant that doesn’t make sense, allowing them to come into your store because you’re breaking federal law. Right now, they can’t do that because of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.
What’s the best and worst thing that’s happened to you since it was publicized that you were an inspiration for Nancy Botwin on Weeds?
The positive: It’s given me a voice that’s allowed me to inspire a lot of people to get involved in the cannabis industry, to help sick people take charge of their life, get off prescription pills, fix addictions, and discover that cannabis is a life-changing solution. The negative: I didn’t consult on the show, and they kind of stole my likeness. I was the only one in LA at the time doing this. My god brother is named Andrew. Nancy’s brother-in-law was named Andy. There were so many similarities.
How did you figure it out?
They borrowed characteristics from my life. When I watched the show and looked at all the names in the credits, I realized the producers, consultants and directors were all patients of mine at the dispensary. I knew these people. They hung out with me. It was difficult to see the show become a hit, in which I felt like they ripped off my life and I did not make any money off of it. I felt like everyone knew it was me, and they portrayed her as a total slut who sold drugs to children. Those were the two things that really horrified me about it — the betrayal of this slutty person who doesn’t care, just trying to make money. To me, cannabis wasn’t about that. I wanted to help people. I wanted to pay for people’s surgeries. I had a patient that needed $50,000 dollars so we could fly her in a medevac to Boston Children's Hospital to have a rare surgery. Her family couldn’t afford it, and we paid for it. We had another fundraiser for a kid, right after the show came out. We got raided by the feds, and they took money out of the jar that was for a child’s open heart surgery. That was a low point.
What’s Freedom Grow and how can people get involved?
Freedom Grow is my baby. That’s something I do with my Fairy Pot Mother, Stephanie Landa. Stephanie has been a close friend of mine since I opened up my first doctor’s office. She was one of the first people to come in and get a note. She’s the sweetest thing ever and grows amazing cannabis. When I first met her, she had to go to federal prison for five years for growing cannabis. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a 60-year-old woman going to jail for five years. So, I’ve stuck by her. She got out. That’s when I realized how horrible pot prisoners have it in jail. Why in the world would they put a woman like this in prison? She’s not a menace to society. Stephanie says they would only let her buy a six pack of water every week in commissary. Which means for seven days of the week, you can only have six 12-ounce bottles of water. The food was spoiled and not meant for human consumption. It will make you sick, so you want to buy food in commissary, but that costs money.
How does Freedom Grow help?
We raise money at events. People can mail us money or donate via Paypal, and we’ll give you a receipt for a tax write off. Stephanie and I don’t take a dollar from our non-profit 501c3. We take 100 percent of all the money and give it to the prisoners in our program. Every single participant (only non-violent prisoners are supported) receives between $100-300 dollars every month we make money. When they get money, it takes away stress. We have pot prisoners who have been in jail for 35 to 45 years, some in a wheelchair with no family. If we don’t send them a card or letter, no one does. We’re the only ones that make these prisoners smile. If you don’t get mail and don't get money, the guards make fun of you. When you get mail and money, you get treated better by everyone. Plus, if one of our prisoners is not being taken care of properly, it helps to have someone on the outside advocating.
Where do you see the cannabis industry 15 years from now?
I think there’s obviously a lot of big business that will have stepped in. Hopefully, you’ll still have a lot of mom and pop farmers. I think you’ll see cannabis legalized throughout the entire US. We’ll have challenged the federal government and won. You’ll probably see CBD in children’s vitamins, too.