'Back in the day, I was a flower child," Tsouprake says. "Now I want to be the poster girl for good, clean, lab-tested, organic cannabis products."
For two decades, Debra Tsouprake worked as an emergency medical technician. As a single mom, she raised three boys, now grown men and working in the cannabis industry. She has been to Burning Man four times, plus she has a degree in fine arts from Santa Rosa Junior College.
Tsouprake is the CEO of Green Heart Alternative Health Care, which specializes in products—tinctures, creams, edibles and confections—made by women for the health and wellbeing of women, though men aren't turned away. Not surprisingly, given her medical background as an EMT, Tsouprake makes house calls and consults with patients who are too sick or infirm to go to a dispensary.
"What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another," she says. "My patients range in age from 40 to 90. I don't leave packages on doorsteps. I sit at the kitchen table and I educate everyone involved. The last thing I want is to get grandmothers high. My aim is to help them manage pain and wean them from harmful pharmaceuticals. I help them figure out the right dosage and I check back regularly. I make sure no one has an allergic reaction."
Tsouprake is searching for a retail space where she can operate her business. In fact, Santa Rosa officials insist that if she wants to continue in the cannabis industry, she cannot remain an online-only business. It's brick-and-mortar or nothing. Finding retail space has not been easy.
"Landlords offer huge warehouses, which I can't use," she says. "Others are wary when they find out the nature of my operation."
Tsouprake is relatively new to the industry, though she began to smoke marijuana as a teenager in the late 1960s. Thanks to experts like Patrick King—"the Soil King"—she has learned how to grow organically. This year she harvested early when ash from the fires began to fall on her property. "The buds were small," she says. "They still had a ways to go to reach maturity."
Even sadder for her was the fact that growers she knows lost their homes and their crops in Glen Ellen and Santa Rosa. Still, Tsouprake is an optimist. She thinks that Sonoma County will help small growers.
"What we have is a beginning," she says. "Nothing is set in stone. Politicians are getting a crash course in cannabis. We have to change the world one plant at a time."
Jonah Raskin is the author of 'Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.'