NEED FOR WEED

A bit of pot-friendly Am­s­ter­dam has come to this cor­ner of Port­land, writes WILLIAM MCCALL

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

Cannabis Cafe is the hippest joint in town

AT THE newly opened Cannabis Cafe in Port­land, Ore­gon, peo­ple sit around tak­ing tokes from a “vapouriser” – a con­trap­tion with a big plas­tic bag that cap­tures the po­tent vapours of heated mar­i­juana. Glass jars hold do­na­tions of dried, milky­green weed, and the cafe serves up meals and snacks for the hun­gry.

It’s all per­fectly le­gal and, for can­cer pa­tient Al­bert San­tis­te­van, it’s about time.

“It’s a very pos­i­tive at­mos­phere. We could use more places like that,” the 56-year-old for­mer jew­ellery shop owner said.

A few weeks ago, San­tis­te­van would have had no place to go. But with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion last month to soften the fed­eral stance on med­i­cal mar­i­juana, the Cannabis Cafe and a lounge across town popped up, bring­ing a lit­tle bit of pot-friendly Am­s­ter­dam to this work­ing class cor­ner of Port­land.

Ore­gon be­came the sec­ond state to pass a mar­i­juana law in 1998, fol­low­ing Cal­i­for­nia. There are nearly 24 000 pa­tients with med­i­cal mar­i­juana cards in Ore­gon. Only state res­i­dents can ob­tain the card af­ter reg­is­ter­ing as a pa­tient in the Ore­gon Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Pro­gramme with a qual­i­fy­ing de­bil­i­tat­ing med­i­cal con­di­tion di­ag­nosed by a doc­tor.

Even though they have a card, med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa­tients have had to con­fine their smok­ing to their homes for fear of get­ting busted.

“We have no place of our own. So this is the place,” said Made­line Martinez, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ore­gon chap­ter of the Na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Re­form of Mar­i­juana Laws (NORML), which op­er­ates and mon­i­tors the cafe.

The idea could catch on in the roughly dozen other states with med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws. Allen St Pierre, spokesman for NORML, said the or­gan­i­sa­tion had al­ready had en­quiries from Wash­ing­ton state, Michi­gan, Mon­tana and Maine.

Port­land po­lice have not re­ceived any com­plaints about the cafe and it is not un­der any spe­cial scru­tiny, of­fi­cials said.

Jan Clut­ter lives about a block from the cafe and knows the own­ers well. She said many neigh­bours would prob­a­bly pre­fer it was some­where else, but there has been no push to have it moved. For some, things could be worse than hav­ing a pot cafe.

“It’s bet­ter than hav­ing a sex club, a strip joint or a bar full of drunks open down the street,” said neigh­bour Clau­dia Nix.

Vol­un­teers gave a re­porter and a pho­tog­ra­pher a tour of the cafe. No mar­i­juana is sold. Pa­tients bring mar­i­juana grown by them­selves or by their des­ig­nated care­givers. They also do­nate mar­i­juana for other pa­trons to use. The cafe has a pool ta­ble and comfy couches.

Martinez demon­strated the “Vol­cano”, a vapouriser that col­lects mar­i­juana fumes into a clear plas­tic pouch with a valve that re­leases the fumes for pa­tients to in­hale.

Peo­ple who want to use mar­i­juana at the cafe can’t get in­side un­til Martinez or other NORML mem­bers check their IDs to make sure they are pa­tients reg­is­tered with the state. The pa­tients also have to be a mem­ber of Ore­gon NORML to use the cafe, pay a $20 (R149) a month fee, and a $5 charge at the door. The money goes to­ward op­er­at­ing costs.

In an­other part of the city is High­way 420 – a num­ber pot users have used as code for mar­i­juana – a small lounge in the back room of Steve Geiger’s pipe shop. Rules for us­ing the lounge are sim­i­lar to those at the Cannabis Cafe. Geiger opened it in late Oc­to­ber. Eight to 10 peo­ple come in on a given day. Peo­ple sit around, talk and watch TV while smok­ing mar­i­juana.

Geiger said it’s only fair for med­i­cal mar­i­juana users to have a place where they can so­cialise and use their medicine.

“The truth is that no­body that takes med­i­ca­tion ev­ery day would be told you have to take that at home,” said Geiger, who spent about 30 years work­ing with com­put­ers be­fore open­ing the shop.

One of the state’s staunch­est law-and-or­der fig­ures – Ore­gon Anti-Crime Al­liance pres­i­dent Kevin Man­nix – said he wishes there had been more pub­lic dis­cus­sion about the cafe be­fore it opened. He wor­ries Ore­gon’s law could be stretched be­yond the orig­i­nal pur­pose of per­sonal use for re­lief from dis­ease or chronic pain, and said law­mak­ers need to weigh in be­fore more cafes open.

“I’m not go­ing to cast judg­ment on whether or not there should be a cafe,” Man­nix said. “But I do think leg­isla­tive pol­i­cy­mak­ers need to take a good hard look at where we are headed.”

St Pierre ar­gued that the Cannabis Cafe and High­way 420 lounge show that med­i­cal mar­i­juana can be part of neigh­bour­hood com­mu­nity life.

“I can tell you had they done this three years ago, they’d be gone,” he said. “If they’d done it 10 years ago, there would be yel­low tape around them. If they’d done this 20 years ago, they might have gone in there with guns blaz­ing.” – Sapa-AP

TIME TO IN­HALE: Made­line Martinez with a ‘vapouriser’, a con­trap­tion that cap­tures the vapours of heated mar­i­juana.

A NEED FOR WEED: A poster at the Cannabis Cafe.

PIC­TURES: AP

SWEET MARY JANE: Made­line Martinez, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ore­gon chap­ter of NORML, smells mar­i­juana buds at the Cannabis Cafe.

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