A Visit to the Cannabis Café in Portland

Article & Photo By: Ryan Whitaker

NORML is the oldest and longest running grassroots, nonprofit organization devoted to the legalization of marijuana. Its name “NORML” stands for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; and their main goal is to decriminalize marijuana so that the responsible possession, use and cultivation of cannabis by adults are no longer subject to legal penalty. They agree with medical marijuana, but find no reason as to why it is illegal, especially hemp. They are pursuing complete decriminalization and seeking to create a legal market for marijuana. Formed by Keith Stroup in 1970, they started out as a small and humble organization, and ever since, they have been involved in a lot of if not every decriminalization movement for marijuana. Madeline Martinez, the Executive Director of NORML in Portland, knew there was a need for a place of gathering and a place to use medicine out of the public eye, so she created a place from humble beginnings called the Cannabis Café.

The Cannabis Café is open to all Oregon medical marijuana patients. It’s a place of fellowship and community where you can have a smoke and discuss life, medicine, or just talk. When I first entered the place, I felt awkward because the surroundings were unfamiliar and a bit surreal, but as soon as I was greeted, I knew I was in the right place. I was welcomed with open arms and smiles, and told by a few patients that I should stick around for the next few days because of their upcoming karaoke and comedy nights. If I wasn’t here for work, I don’t think I would have ever left; it was a great environment and atmosphere full on knowledge and love. They had a big screen TV for patients who like to sit back and relax, and a second room farther in the back decked out with pool tables, air hockey, foosball and more. There is also an area they called the commons, which was a place for discussion and sharing medicine.  But in my opinion, the main attraction had to be the bud bar. It was almost set up like a regular bar, but instead of the different types of mugs or glasses, the options were limited to vaporizers, joints, or packing your own personal bowls. While I was still observing the environment, I was greeted by Madeline Martinez; we sat down and got to talking about the establishment and what they’re doing for Portland patients.

So I was told that the Portland Cannabis Café started with only 200 joints?
Exactly, it all started with 200 joints. I used to travel around the state delivering samples of medicine along with cuttings from my own personal garden. It was pretty overwhelming because my husband and I only had one car.  Things just got way out of hand and eventually burned me out. One day, as an alternative, I tried to concentrate on one meeting with our Oregon medical marijuana cardholders. It took me two weeks to prepare for the meeting because I rolled 200 joints from my excess medicine together with “sugar shake” and kief.  When we got together and had the meeting, we made sure every person was an OMMP cardholder. I also supplied them with excess plants from my own personal garden and medicine. We started with 35 people, and the following month those 35 returned with more OMMP cardholders. It grew slowly too 100 and above, and just blew up. That is basically how it started.

Now how did you get the city to agree, or what city ordinance protected you and allowed you to create the Cannabis Café?
We didn’t ask them. We went ahead and made the decision because it had been a dream of mine after years of meeting people on my own as an advocate; I would meet with so many people. I had Veterans crying to me on the phone, telling me they couldn’t get the relief they needed without this medicine. I was constantly working with people that had very extreme and active cancers, and life threatening illnesses. Along with needing to medicate, they wanted to sit down, talk, and discuss things, but we didn’t have a place to do it except at public places like Denny’s or Starbucks. I would sit down with them and show them a little bit of compassion and care. Isolation because of your condition or choice of medication is a horrible depression; no one should ever have to experience this.

How long have you been with NORML and were you with them at that time?
Yes; I have been with NORML for over 11 years.

Did you come up with the idea for the Cannabis Café?
I did, and it was because of these meetings I had been having. After Obama cut the funding that the DEA was spending on raids in Oregon, they said as long as we followed the state’s guidelines for medical marijuana, which we in fact did, there wouldn’t be any issues. As you know, you must show your OMMP card when coming in the store to participate. We’ve had law enforcement officers come to meetings and tell us that people are upset about the smell, and my response was, “Well, frankly, I think the smell of curry and compost is upsetting, and even though the neighbors may be upset, it truly doesn’t matter does it? It’s my right as an Oregonian to medicate out of public view.” One of those officers tried saying, “It is only legal to medicate at your residence,” but I said, “Sir, you need to familiarize yourself with the law. It says it is legal for an OMM patient to medicate out of public view.” Since then, people have called me the cop whisperer; I thought it was kind of funny. It’s quite surprising because the City of Portland and its police have truly evolved with us. Recently, we had a few officers come in to check out our new location, and my son and I sat down with the officers and said, “What can we do for you,” and they said, “Well, we just came to look for a person, but it appears everything is in order here…I actually recently voted for the legalization measure in November.” It was awesome to hear a police officer who was in support of our cause.

What was this measure?
It was measure 74. Well, unfortunately, it was for dispensaries and it didn’t make it, and this is the second time they have tried. It is working sort of like California. People in Portland are operating within the guidelines, and donations are accepted for growers in exchange for medicine. As long as you are donating to a grower and it doesn’t come from an outside source, it is completely legal. Jim Klahr, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana and the OMMP program, says it’s a practice that has been going on for quite a while. We feel that we are well within our rights to allow patients to donate to a grower who supplies them with the medicine they need. We receive calls daily from 70-year-old patients who have no idea where to go to acquire help or medicine. They ask things like, “Do I go to the waterfront and just ask around?” and I usually say, “You’re 70-years-old, you don’t want to go do something like that.” I let them know that it’s their right to acquire medicine, and all they have to do is get approved for their OMMP card and come down to the café. They can have as much medicine as they would like for the standard donation rate of $10 dollars a day or $5 for members of the café.

How do you give back and benefit the greater Portland area?
We are not only taxpayers, but we supply sick people with a place to medicate privately with other like-minded people. We have also participated in the Adopt a Highway Program, and as the executive director of NORML, I made an effort to go out and clean up the highway less than a week ago. What was kind of funny was that someone stole our sign, but I took it as more of a compliment because what kid wouldn’t want a big Oregon NORML sign on their wall.

What is your goal or the café’s goal? Is there room for expansion in the future?
My goal is to end adult marijuana prohibition and capture the revenue that is currently being lost in the black market, putting it to good use for the state of Oregon. I believe that cannabis was put on this planet for the people. I feel that it is the most beneficial plant known to man along with being the safest medicine for patients; no one has died from using marijuana. Just stop and think about all of the pharmaceutical commercials you see these days and the list of side effects you hear, which include blood clots, high blood pressure, nausea, insomnia, and even death. Whenever I see these, I always think of making my own commercial about marijuana and explaining the side effects as euphoria, increased appetite, dry mouth, and is not recommended for use with some heat medicines, or for patients suffering from schizophrenia. My true end goal is to help create as much change as I can on this plateau. I am not a religious person, but I believe in the powers of the universe and treating your fellow man with the same respect that you would expect…sort of like a karma type belief system.

What types of medicine options does the Cannabis Café offer?
Well, what’s free is the medicine that has been donated by other patients as excess amounts of medicine, which is the cannabis at the bar you have seen. We are a self-sustaining community and we don’t have to support the black market or prohibition. When we first opened our doors to OMM patients, we started with about half a pound, and by the end of our opening weekend, we had about a pound and a half donated to the café.

Do you have any closing statements?
The sad thing is that we can’t make congress or the legislation listen to the cries of 859,000 people who are arrested every year. I feel as if it’s a “High Time” for our representatives to step up to the plate, but it’s truly going to take all of us to end adult marijuana prohibition. Change will not happen from congress down. We’re going to have to organize and form more grassroots organizations because that is the only way to change anything. We need to make it known that our “representatives” are misrepresenting us. So get involved and organize; put the joint down, step away from the bong, and do something about our god given rights that are being violated.

My visit to the Cannabis Café was not only an informative one, but a pleasure.

I would urge any patient to visit this place because it’s a great resource to the cannabis community. It also offers you the chance to talk to serious grassroots organizers and patients with firsthand experience in the battle against marijuana prohibition.

The Cannabis Café
322 SE 82nd Ave.
Portland, OR 97216

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.