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May 08,00
By Jim Johnson
Compassion Flower Inn blooms in the national
spotlight, cultivating a safe haven for medical
marijuana. You've probably heard at least one of the giggly jokes or catchy phrases already. There are so many. The cops show up and you hear 30 toilets flushing. A doobie under every pillow.
"His" and "hers" bongs in every room.
The Foster's Freeze across the street is going to start delivering. Hemp Hotel. Marijuana Motel. Indica Inn. Pot Palace. Reefer mattress. High-class joint.
Members of the local, national and international press, along with local and international visitors, are having a heyday taking their
best pot-shots (sorry, but you see how easy it is) at the newly opened . The Laurel Street bed and breakfast, which advertises itself as "America's first bed, bud and breakfast serving medical
marijuana patients," held its grand opening on April 20 at 4:20p.m. in honor of the pot-smoking counterculture celebration known as "420." The opening dispelled any doubts about the inn's association with the pungent herb, as medical marijuana patients (at least mostly, it appeared) puffed on joints and pipes in a specially marked "toker's area," then mixed with invited
guests and stoppersby at the munchies table, all celebrating the inn's christening.
Everyone from CNN and the New York Times to the BBC and the German and Japanese press has featured a story about the establishment. The Los Angeles Times had the story on its front page. Radio stations from across the U.S. rang the inn's phone off the hook, many with oft-repeated one-liners and the seemingly obligatory rude comments.
Even owners Andrea Tischler and Maria Mallek-Tischler admit the inn is an easy target. They admit they are at least partially
responsible for some of it, opening the inn as local and state marijuana legalization issues are at the forefront of international attention. And, they welcome most of the attention.
"We knew there would be some of this but we had no idea it would be this big," Tischler says. "But we're glad the word is getting out about what we're trying to do here. People should be
talking about cannabis and hemp issues."
Tischler says the recently passed Santa Cruz City ordinance endorsing the distribution of medical marijuana to qualified patients through recognized provider organizations has helped bring a large part of the publicity. The ordinance follows on the heels of Santa Cruz's Measure A, the 1992 medical marijuana referendum, and State Prop. 215, the medical marijuana initiative Californians passed in 1996. It has spawned such businesses as Santa Cruz Cannabis Pharmaceuticals, a medical
marijuana provider, Medi-Grow, which sells medical marijuana growing kits, and independent operations such as Valerie and Mike Corral's home growing pot farm for medical marijuana patients, many of whom don't pay.
And, the issue has expanded onto the national and international stage, though the use of marijuana for any reason is still a federal offense. The Hawaii state legislature recently passed a medical
marijuana bill that is believed to be the first non-initiative legislation of its kind. And, the British Parliament is currently debating the medical marijuana issue.
However, Tischler says there are some broad misconceptions about what the Compassion Flower Inn is and is not. Tischler says there are no huge ganja smoke-outs. In fact, only certified
medical marijuana patients are allowed to smoke on the premises,though through last weekend the inn had not yet had a medical marijuana patient as a guest, Tischler says. And, the inn does not
even supply medical marijuana to its qualified customers.
"What we're doing here is completely legal," Tischler says. "We get a lot of phone calls from people asking if they can get marijuana here. Nothing could be further from the truth. We're
not even supplying the medical marijuana patients here. It links us a little too closely to the providers. (Patients) can smoke here only if they have permission from a doctor. We've got a big
investment here. We don't want to jeopardize that." Tischler says the real focus of the inn is on promoting health and healing, giving medical marijuana patients a place to self-medicate in peace and informing others about the benefits of
the cannabis plant. "People seem to think we're focused on medical marijuana but we're really focused on health and healing, and marijuana is just one option," Tischler says.
"We want people to come here and be able to just relax for a while." "We like to cater to medical marijuana patients but not just to them," Mallek-Tischler says. "We want to give (patients) a place so they don't have to be in the closet about it. But we also want to embrace anyone who's open-minded enough to accept the benefits of cannabis."
Tischler, a former history teacher who began restoring old Victorians for a living in the 1970s, and Mallek-Tischler, a non-commercial artist, bought the badly dilapidated Laurel Street
Victorian in 1997 and immediately set upon restoring it to its former glory. Both say the three-year labor was a voyage of discovery and revelation, as they happened upon an eery kinship
and connection with the house's original inhabitants 130 years earlier.
Built in 1865, the Victorian had been owned by Judge Edgar Spalsbury in the 1870s. Spalsbury, who fought for a Union regiment from his home state of New York in the Civil War's Battle of the Bull Run, moved to California to recover from
consumption (tuberculosis). Spalsbury was known to be a highly experimental self-medicator who was constantly seeking a cure for his disease. Though he would have been considered an opium addict by today's standards, Spalsbury lived for many years and became an accomplished jurist. Spalsbury's wife and sister came with him and were known as schoolteachers and artists. The family spent much of its time reading and talking to one another,
and enjoying long walks in the beauty of 19th century Santa Cruz.
Tischler, a former history teacher who is now spearheading the effort to get the Pacific Coast charter school going on the north coast, was a refugee from Chicago who ended up in San Francisco
where she and Mallek-Tischler lived for years. They moved to Santa Cruz with their two young children in the mid-1980s to escape their increasingly violent Hunter's Point neighborhood.
Like the Spalsburys, the proprietors say they want to promote healing through self-medication and to encourage patrons to park their cars and enjoy long walks in Santa Cruz.
At the grand opening, Spalsbury's descendant Viola Washburn told Tischler, "This house has a lot of history and you've added to the history."
Mallek-Tischler, who designed the house's interior and festooned it with her original artwork, says she got a special feeling from the house as she learned more about its original inhabitants.
"I felt a sense of its history come back to me," Mallek-Tischler says. "This house was like an open canvas for me." Tischler and Mallek-Tischler, both certified medical marijuana patients themselves, say the inspiration for the inn was the number of seriously ill people they knew who had found relief and solace in marijuana. Tischler says marijuana can help offset the effects and alleviate the symptoms of such diseases as AIDS,
cancer and anorexia. In fact, Tischler says her mother found relief, albeit unknowingly, from her Alzheimer's symptoms when Tischler added "mother's milk," a milk-marijuana concoction strained through a cheese cloth, to her mother's coffee.
"We saw many close friends die from AIDS, and other wasting and debilitating diseases, and we saw how marijuana helped them," Tischler says. "We wanted to give people a place where they can take their medicine in a safe, supportive environment.
We have such a reliance on prescription medication. We're constantly being told to take something for whatever ails us. Sometimes if you're not feeling well, a little toke off a joint can really help."
Medical marijuana patient Pam Cutler, who is in the advanced stages of breast cancer and is undergoing the most radical chemotherapy treatments available, says the inn is a sanctuary
from those who don't or won't understand. "I have a lot of nausea and the pot really helped," Cutler says. "It helps the hot flashes, too, because of the early menopause brought on by the cancer. I'm totally a proponent of it. I have something that can be cured but I'd hate to think they'd keep
this from terminally ill patients if it can help their pain" Cutler says she is a member of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the Corrals' medical marijuana cooperative.
"Everyone in our group is seriously or terminally ill and we pay what we can afford," Cutler says. "I get my pot free. The big thing is the city council doesn't want people making money off
(legalization of medical marijuana)." Cutler, 36, says she has a 14-year-old son who she doesn't want to do drugs, including marijuana, cigarettes or alcohol, but she says she has a hard time judging adults who choose to use marijuana.
Tischler and Mallek-Tischler have been involved with cannabis issues for years, supporting the medical marijuana effort and the legalization of industrial hemp, fighting against the local
Campaign Against Marijuana Planting helicopter overflights and increased funding for anti-marijuana law enforcement. And, Tischler says she is also an advocate for the legalization of
marijuana. "Personally, I would like to see it legal," Tischler says. "There's so much more suffering from marijuana laws than there would be
if it were legal. There's so much more harm from prohibition than from legalization. I'm from Chicago so I know well about alcohol
prohibition and how that didn't work. I'd also like to see industrial hemp legalized. The laws are preposterous in this country."
Marijuana legalization proponent Theodora Kerry of the Holy Hemp Sisters says the inn and the legislation that helped make it possible are the first steps toward freeing cannabis from decades
of prohibition. "That's the foundation this place was built on," Kerry says. "This is the fruition of what we've been talking about, the uses for the
plant, the medicinal uses. This, obviously, is one more step toward disappearing the fear around this plant, one step closer to legalizing the plant. We can create a sanctuary for the people of the world." But there still is a lot of fear surrounding the issue, as evidenced by the reaction to the inn and the medical marijuana movement of Santa Cruz Hemp Expo (May 13 to May 14) event coordinator Al Haindl. "Even though technically we (hemp advocates) like to keep
separate because of the political situation surrounding (the medical marijuana issue), there really is a logical connection," Haindl says. "We want to be careful we don't get overwhelmed
and lose the message. The whole thing is about political economic freedom."
Tischler says she believes most people in this country would approve the use of marijuana for medical reasons and the use of industrial hemp, and that the federal government's continuing
campaign against the plant is the only thing keeping it illegal. "It's the federal government that has its panties in a bunch over this," Tischler says. Tischler says she doesn't think the government will be interested in cracking down on the inn, even though federal authorities have
vowed to enforce federal law despite local ordinances and propositions. "We're not selling product here," Tischler says. "We're only
providing a safe and secure place for people to utilize their medicine." Tischler says the anticipation is that the place will be a novelty
for a while, then will begin catering to those interested in cannabis issues from around the world and the U.S. "Obviously, there are more people interested in staying in a beautiful bed and breakfast than in smoking pot in a bed and
breakfast," Tischler says. "They can do that in their rooms at a Motel 6. We anticipate mostly people who are world travelers, who are interested in hemp and cannabis issues. In Santa Cruz,
when you talk about hemp and medical marijuana you're preaching to the choir. Even the sheriff says he understands about the need for medical marijuana. The idea is to bring people in from around the world and educate them about cannabis."
The cannabis theme permeates the inn, from the growing library on the subject to the marijuana leaf tile mosaic set into the cement on the front walk. All five rooms, some aptly named as
the Hemp Room and the Cannabis Room, along with the main living room, dining room and the kitchen, all boast hemp-based products and marijuana-based decoration. Hempola soap, hempseed oil soap with hempseed meal, peppermint hemp soap, orange lavender hemp soap, hemp bath towels, and hemp
shampoo and conditioner abound. Marijuana leaf designs inhabit pots and dishes.
But the exquisitely renovated Victorian is a wonder in and of itself, with gleaming hardwood floors that prompt a "no shoes in the house, please" request upon entry, fine antique furniture, a sunken tub, a clawfoot tub, and wood-burning heaters. And, partly through the absence of TVs and radios in the rooms, guests are encouraged to take walks downtown and to the beach, and to interact with other guests, instead of billeting themselves in their rooms.
Room rates range from $125 to $175 a night, with medical marijuana patients and bona fide Santa Cruz residents receiving a 20 percent discount during weekdays, subject to availability.
Patients may also be charged on a sliding scale according to their economic means at some point,
Tischler says. So far, Tischler says weekends have been busy but there has been plenty of availability on weekdays. Tischler says the inn also offers such amenities as a clothing
optional hot tub for guests, all-organic breakfasts prepared by Mallek-Tischler, public events such as a performance by the Hands of Fatima North African belly dancing troupe and
drumming circles, and the Church of the Obvious with masseuse Jay Barush. Tischler says the public is welcome to call and make an appointment to stop by or attend the events open to the public but no one should just stop by. "This is private not public," Tischler says. "This is our home.
We're a bed and breakfast. People can't just come by any time they want. And, that goes for the police, too. If they come to the door, we'll ask where's the search warrant. We may let them in
anyway but we want to make that clear."
Finally, the inn offers overnight guests a taste of its namesake, Passion Flower tea, a warm, soothing concoction that Tischler says has a relaxing effect and helps guests drift off into a
satisfying sleep without any of the side effects associated with over-the-counter sleeping medication.

©2000 Central Valley Publishing, Inc.