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.