NORML Board Member: I’ve Seen A Better Alternative To Marijuana Prohibition

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director January 2, 2010


    NORML’s Cannabis Café

    By George Rohrbacher, NORML board of directors, medical marijuana patient

    The first time I met Madeline Martinez, the executive director of Oregon NORML, she told me about her dream…a meeting place for medical marijuana patients, some space to hold classes, a very different vision of healthcare. I took a drive to Portland last week to see this dream come true; to Oregon NORML’s World Famous-Cannabis Café, a trip to a Future of our own making.

    Set in an older blue-collar neighborhood in North East Portland, NORML’s Cannabis Café, occupies a building that was reputed to be a ‘speakeasy’ during Prohibition, alcohol Prohibition, that is. It includes a meeting/concert space upstairs for about 200+ people, in addition to the Café downstairs. Oregon NORML signed a lease this fall with the onsite restaurant operator and took over the business in November. NORML volunteers have been working there non-stop ever since, turning the building into the Cannabis Café. Its opening last month became a world-wide press event…apparently a lot more people than Madeline thought the NORML’s Cannabis Café was an idea whose time had come.

    America is currently a crazy-quilt of regulation with the 13 states and counting that have legal medical marijuana. Think what it will look like when all 50 states finally have it! In July, a front page article in the Wall Street Journal announced to the world that the Feds were standing down from enforcement in states with medical marijuana laws, and that MEDICAL MARIJUANA IS NOW OPEN FOR BUSINESS. As I read this, I could imagine entrepreneurs from coast to coast starting to draft their own plans for the medical marijuana businesses, the Next New Thing.

    Stephen DeAngelo, the founder of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, the Bay Area’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, gave one of the most thought provoking speeches at NORML’s 2009 Annual Conference on this very important topic: When marijuana is finally legalized (and new polls indicate America has finally reached the tipping point on this political issue) and the dust has settled, what will the business end of marijuana eventually come to look like? Remember, we are talking about taking an underground multi-billion dollar business and bringing it above ground. This is BIG. There will be huge long-term societal consequences of legalization far beyond the river of tax revenues it will create, many of which will be determined by what physical form legalization takes. So, what will the legal marijuana business in America come to look like? Something big and corporate? Something along the lines of Pepsi, RJ Reynolds, Starbucks, Pfizer, or Budweiser companies that market similar kinds of products??? Big profits, huge advertising budgets and lots of political cash….OR…should legal marijuana be something very different?

    Stephen challenged his listeners to see that right now we have the opportunity to shape that marijuana business future, to get something different than the standard corporate outcome …right now, we have the opportunity to create a different cannabis delivery system that isn’t just about the performance on the quarterly bottom line, like it is in the ‘Pepsi’ paradigm, we can create a system that serves the public while at the same time it provides community service…something more along the business lines of Newman’s Own Salad Dressings from whose revenues have come donations of  almost $300 million to charities… Just think of that! The outcome for legal cannabis America could be vastly different, if we choose it…

    Pain management is one of the places where the rubber truly meets the road in healthcare, a multi-billion dollar business. Non-toxic cannabinoid therapy has a very real place there. And non-toxic is good, as the very first rule of medicine should always be ‘to do no harm’. So, shouldn’t cannabis, from the get-go, do it differently than the Vicodin/Oxycodone ‘take these pills by yourself’ delivery model? After all, cannabis and all its users, medicinal or not, have been long defined by society as ‘counterculture’, so shouldn’t we be expected to do it differently, when we got our turn to create legal marijuana??? How about creating a non-profit medical cannabis delivery system whose central focus was on the patients, not profits for starters? Patients will have better results in chronic pain relief in the social setting of a Cannabis Café, where having people to talk to makes one’s problems feel lighter and one’s pain (medicated or not) easier to bear. Classes will be starting soon at the Cannabis Café on everything from aerobics, yoga, and weight management to plant propagation. Figuring out ways to provide free medicine to the indigent has been part of the design of the Oregon NORML’s Cannabis Café since its very inception. (Imagine that, the poor thought of first in the NORML model, not dead-last like in the standard corporate model.)  Perhaps a “Buds on Wheels” program for shut-in medical marijuana patients, too…A hemp products emporium, you get it, a place for everything cannabis, and you, too.

    At NORML’s Cannabis Café, feel better…get better And then…What if… patients could meet at NORML Cannabis Cafés all over the country and the revenues generated driving a host of programs, in the area of healthcare and post drug war reparations, like freeing the thousands in jail today on pot charges? Think about it. Is that the kind of future you want? We can have it.

    About two years ago, to better understand medical marijuana from the patient’s viewpoint, I interviewed the first 45 people waiting to get into one of the bi-monthly Oregon NORML Medical Marijuana meetings. Virtually everyone I asked that morning willingly volunteered his or her medical history. I heard a long litany of construction, car, and motorcycle accidents, of broken bones, dislocated joints, failed surgeries, and cancer… people who made me wonder, “How in the world does this guy/gal sleep at night?” Then it would occur to me, “Oh yes, of course, the cannabis.” For them NORML’s Cannabis Café puts dealing with serious medical issues in social setting…and shows it can be fun, as well. No wonder it’s a raging success.

    NORML’s Cannabis Café is getting better by the day, as this new evolving healthcare paradigm kicks in. America can definitely learn something from the good folks who are blazing the Oregon Trail with medical marijuana; the future IS ours for the molding.

    I’ve seen it.

    50 responses to “NORML Board Member: I’ve Seen A Better Alternative To Marijuana Prohibition”

    1. randy nc says:

      Awsome! Thanks Allen. I love these inspiring stories.

    2. Will Bentley says:

      Perhaps the most encouraging article I have ever read in my lifetime! I wish I lived there…perhaps soon!

    3. Pain-fully Stressed says:

      what about New York? Please help.

    4. Wease says:

      I can only dream of a place like this in MN,good Riddance to u gov Palenty in 2010,,and in with somebody with compassion,called the people of Mn who will vote and take matters into their own,without the help of those who think they know better and go with the line of ,not til law enforcement approves,hey loser palenety ever hear of LEAP,President of the USA God WHAT R U SMOKING!!!!!!!!!!!!

    5. gypsyb says:

      Yes it would be wonderful to be able to call the shots on how the business goes. As is it appears to be a catch 22 in WA. HB 2401 would make it avail. through liquor stores, with them calling the shots and proceeds going to rehab (you know, have to watch out for rehab best interests in this they’re looking at loosing lots of money from courts not sending people for marijuana charges).
      I’d like to see small farmers be able to grow too. But how would that happen with what’s proposed? I’d like to see it insured that there would be the least amount of chemicals used, yet I get the feeling it won’t be that way if they call the shots on this one. We really need to ask more questions on this one. I sent an email to Mary Lou Dickerson and am waiting a reply on: I have a concern about the HB 2401 as far as personal growing. I am a medical Marijuana consumer, and I can’t seem to find anything in the bill protecting us while we grow our own medicine. I do see this:

      “16 (ff) Seizing, confiscating, and destroying all marijuana plants

      17 grown, sold, or offered for sale within this state which do not conform

      18 in all respects to the standards prescribed by this title or the

      19 regulations of the board.”

      To me it means that anyone growing their own will still be under seizure and confiscation laws, which is a step backwards.

      Could you please clarify where MMJ is protected?

      As is going to a liquor store to get my medicine would be something to get use to.”

      [Editor’s note: In 13 of the 14 states a patient can grow their own cannabis…The states with active medical cannabis programs are: HI, AK, WA, OR, CA, NV, CO, NM, MT, MI, DC, RI, VT and ME.]

    6. claygooding says:

      It is so hard to predict our path to legalization and the peoples responses to it. And who knows what each state will adapt their laws too? Especially when the states are in contradiction of federal law.
      All the legislators will have as guidelines are the pioneering states that enact laws first,to judge how their state laws will be set up.
      We know that if the policy adapted doesn’t lower the price of marijuana,drastically,that the black market will continue and therefore the violence in Mexico and along the border will just continue,and the growing of large illegal crops on public lands will go on,which will not free up law enforcement to address
      other crimes that need their attention.
      And if the present marketing of farm raised crops bears out,it won’t be the farmers that make the big end profits on marijuana but the industrialized distribution and marketing sites that will.
      Then you add the greed of your government(state and federal)and the need for revenue to feed their never ending quest for more funds to spend and waste.
      It will be a learning process with many turns and wrong path’s that will require quick decisions instead of years of wait and see if they want to remove the violence and crime that the prohibition has created.

    7. LLLou says:

      I wish we had a Canacafe here in Port Townsend WA.

    8. danny danko says:

      I’ve seen it too! Thanks to Madeline, Senior, Junior and the many volunteers who made it happen!

    9. Scott says:

      Wow, such a great article.Very inspiring! Keep up all your great work norml!!

    10. samson says:

      it better not get turned into the same BS corporate model we have for most other commodity/service exchange based business’.

      I’m advising ya’ll…..wikipedia this—

      Fascism, which it states is run on a Corporatist economic system. Mussolini even referred to “his” Italy as the Corporate state.

      I really hope that this is NOT what is slowly happening to the U.S. by means of Corporate Partners teaming up to write “legal” contracts that force smaller Mom&Pop stores out of business….and then forces those same people to become low level(usually with little room for advancement)corporate surfs.