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After years of hiding in the shadows, medical marijuana is suddenly stepping out into plain view in the mid-valley – and prescription pot advocates say there's no turning back now.

"Here we are," proclaimed Sheri Levit, executive director of the Linn-Benton Oregon Medical Marijuana Program Patient Resource Center, which opened its doors this week on the outskirts of Albany. "We're not going anywhere."

Modeled after Portland's Cannabis Cafe, the Patient Resource Center is a kind of social club for Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cardholders, who can buy snacks and soft drinks, relax in the game room or belly up to the "vapor bar" for a lungful of vaporized marijuana fumes.

Housed in a nondescript industrial building at 30943 Ehlen Road, near the intersection of Oakville Road and Highway 34, the nonprofit enterprise introduced itself to the community with an open house and barbecue that began at 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday. The time and the date – 4/20 – are both winking allusions to stoner slang for smoking dope.

Despite the lighthearted atmosphere, Levit and her partner, Kathy Srp, insist that marijuana is serious medicine. Levit, a registered patient, uses cannabis to ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, migraines and degenerative disk disease in her back. Srp, a licensed caregiver, grows the weed for her husband, who also has degenerative disk disease.

Card-holding patients will be able to bring their own marijuana to the Patient Resource Center to "self-medicate," or they can partake of donated pot. Cash contributions are encouraged, but no actual buying or selling is allowed.

"We are not a dispensary," Levit said. "That's not legal in Oregon – yet."

The lack of dispensaries creates problems for Oregon's 39,000 medical marijuana patients, who must either grow their own or find a caregiver to grow it for them. Caregivers can be reimbursed for their costs, but state law bars profiting from pot, which is still classified as an illegal substance by the federal government.

One of the main functions of the Patient Resource Center will be to help patients find a steady source of supply by matching them with willing growers. But another purpose, organizers say, is simply to provide Oregon Medical Marijuana Program participants with a sense of community.

"People can come in and medicate and hang out," Levit said. "It's just a place for like-minded people to get together and have a safe place to come."

Levit and Srp hope to bring in a physician once or twice a month to consult with people who may qualify for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. Only certain conditions can be legally treated with cannabis, and a doctor's signature is required to get a medical marijuana card.

The partners plan to hold classes for state-registered cannabis patients and caregivers on growing techniques, legal issues and alternatives to smoking the medicinal herb, which can also be ingested in capsule form, added to food or infused in a topical salve.

There will be monthly meetings for cardholders and quarterly informational sessions for the curious public.

"We want to educate people," Levit said. "There's a lot of misconceptions out there."

Out in the open

The mid-valley is already home to several head shops that sell vaporizers, pipes and other smoking supplies, as well as gardening centers that carry growing equipment. M-Research, a marijuana testing service, opened in Corvallis last year.

But the Patient Resource Center is raising the drug's visibility to new heights, and similar ventures are in the works elsewhere in the region. At least two businesses catering to medicinal marijuana users are poised to open in Corvallis in the next few weeks, and there could be even more to come.

Ed Glick, a former Samaritan Health Services nurse and longtime medical marijuana advocate, is negotiating a lease to open a downtown clinic.

Scheduled to open by the end of May, the Medicine Flower Center will provide physician consultations for potential marijuana patients, as well as assistance with filling out the registration paperwork.

Glick also hopes to offer massage therapy, acupuncture and other alternative treatments and lead classes on various aspects of medicinal cannabis.

"I'm envisioning a very professional office," said Glick, who previously managed similar clinics in Portland and Eugene. "I'm not envisioning any kind of freak place."

Glick said there are plenty of other like-minded entrepreneurs in the area working on business plans of their own. Among the ventures being seriously discussed are a farmers market, a cannabis co-op and a delivery service.

"We're working in kind of a multipronged way to set up a system here in town because there are really no medical marijuana services in Benton County, Linn County or Lincoln County – it's kind of a dark hole."

He also expects to see a series of public events celebrating the benefits of marijuana, such as an outdoor hemp festival with live music and a party atmosphere.

"Those things happen all over the place," Glick pointed out. "You have to remember that one of the side effects of cannabis is euphoria. It makes people feel good."

Meanwhile, a Portland-based chain of dispensary-style exchange services called Club Pit Bull is in discussions with two different ownership groups about opening a Corvallis franchise in the near future.

The company is an offshoot of Stoney Girl Gardens, a seed supply business that also operates a "higher education" arm called Portlandsterdam University.

Mike Mullins, a partner in Stoney Girl Gardens, said Club Pit Bull acts as a nonprofit go-between for growers and patients. Cultivators make their produce available at the club, and cardholders can reimburse them for their costs.

"(Patients) need a safe place to get medicine," Mullins said. "They should not be forced to go to a drug dealer."

The club will be open to Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cardholders only, and a staff member will monitor all exchanges for compliance with the law. Educational services will also be available, but no smoking is allowed on the premises.

"This is not the bong-hitters in Dad's garage," he said. "This is a professional industry."

It's also an ambitious business venture. Since the first Club Pit Bull opened last October in Salem, other locations have followed in Ontario, Aloha, Milwaukie and Rainier.

And Stoney Girl has no intention of slowing down.

"We expect to have 17 by the end of the month," Mullins said. "We're hoping to sponsor 40 clubs this year and ultimately 100 clubs in Oregon."

Business is booming

What's driving this sudden surge of green enterprise? Several factors may be coming into play.

During the Bush administration, federal officials launched a crackdown on states like Oregon that have relaxed pot laws. But after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his attorney general signaled that the Justice Department would no longer pursue medical marijuana cases.

Another reason, ironically enough, may have been last year's defeat of Measure 74, an initiative that would have created a state dispensary system. In November, Oregon voters shot that proposal down 56 percent to 44 percent.

"Measure 74's failure was a shock to some people," said Keith Mansur, editor and publisher of Oregon Cannabis Connection, a bimonthly tabloid with a healthy ad line and a circulation of 27,000 copies. "I think they were prepared to open dispensaries when it passed."

When the initiative tanked, Mansur believes, some of those entrepreneurs decided to proceed anyway, tweaking their business plans to provide dispensary-like services without actually selling weed.

"If they're dispensing medicine for donation, that's the way they get around saying that they're charging for it."

Mixed reactions

The unexpected influx of medical marijuana merchants has caught mid-valley officials by surprise.

In Corvallis, city planners are scrambling to determine what sort of zoning category a business like Club Pit Bull would fall under.

"Is it a medical facility? Is it a club? What is it exactly?" wondered Kevin Young, manager of the Corvallis Planning Division. "This is not the first in Oregon, but it's a first for Corvallis."

In the end, Young said, he thinks the city will probably find a zoning category that fits.

Corvallis Police Chief Gary Boldizsar said he can imagine a variety of problems arising from such a venture, ranging from parking issues and impaired driving to robbers targeting drug supplies. But as long as the business itself is within legal guidelines, he would make no effort to shut it down.

"If they aren't violating any law, the Police Department position is OK, here it comes," Boldizsar said.

Benton County Sheriff Diana Simpson said she, too, would respect the rights of anyone operating a legal enterprise. But she made no secret of the fact that she thinks any business that promotes marijuana use – medical or otherwise – is a bad idea.

"Marijuana is a gateway drug," Simpson said. "It leads to more extensive drug use."

And in Linn County, where the Linn-Benton Oregon Medical Marijuana Program Patient Resource Center operates, Sheriff Tim Mueller said he'll be keeping a close eye on things.

"We'll be watching it, making sure people are obeying the law," Mueller said. "If that's what they're going to do, they'd best be following the laws of this state or they will be held accountable."

Not backing down

For their part, medical marijuana proponents say they've been making an effort to keep government regulators and law enforcement officials informed of their intentions in hopes of creating a cooperative relationship.

"We're making sure we are following the law to a T," said Levit, the Patient Resource Center director. "We don't want any problems."

But they're also making it clear that they intend to stand up for their rights under the law.

"We try to address their concerns right up front," Club Pit Bull's Mullins said of his approach to local law enforcement. "We don't ask for their permission, but we do ask for their understanding."

The bottom line, according to the Medicine Flower Center's Glick, is that medicinal marijuana is here to stay.

"Medical cannabis is growing by leaps and bounds," he said. "I think we are at a tipping point. We're not going to go back."

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: democratherald.com
Author: Bennett Hall
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: democratherald.com
Website: Green enterprise
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