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

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.

0 thoughts

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

  2. 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!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. 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.]

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Norml has proven once again it will be thru the legislative process we succeed. Get out the vote, get involved, use every opportunity to contact legislators. The pen has proven mightier than the sword, the truthes surrounding the criminalization and suppression of marijuana are exactly what the vast majority of Americans need to hear.

  7. As A 45 Year Consumer Of Cannabis The Only Way I Will Ever Support The Medical Marijuana Movement Is If All Methods Of Public Distribution Are ONLY 100% Not For Profit’s Or Non Profit Entities. If The Alternative Of Control By PepsiCo Or R.J.Reynolds Should Come To Pass & Be Only For Profit Through Taxation & Regulation My Supporting Such Corrupt Business Practices Would Be Exactly Like Thanking The Lying Prohibition Advocates For Harassing, Persecuting, Arresting, Prosecuting & Incarcerating Myself & Millions Of Other Non Criminal Victims Of This Unholy War As A Method Of Protecting The Corporate Poisoners & Polluters Incomes As Derived From Poisoning & Polluting The Air, The Land, The Food & The Water Supplies Who Possibly Soon Be Deemed As Unnecessary Should Hemp & Cannabis Be Decriminalized & Become The Norm For 225+ Currently Known Industrial Uses & Potentially 50,000 Non Poisoning Or Polluting Products.

  8. Enjoyed the article…we have crossed the tipping point…cannabis reform is here….imagine positive possibilities for society.

  9. I also see a time in the near future where every city will have a “Cannabis Cafe”,and maybe I will start a “Cannabis Cab” Company to drive the patrons home after indulging.Don’t want anyone driving under the influence. You never know.

  10. Madeline Martinez is a powerhouse and I’m so very happy that NORML Oregon has her. (and all the others not mentioned who have worked along side her).
    Stephen is correct in putting out there that something outside the standard corporate outcome is desirable, and it should be a Top Priority.
    The time has come to leave out Big Box stores, Corporate greed, and outright pharmaceutical maniacs in control of the wonderful cannabis plant.
    “Buds on Wheels”, that’s beautiful. Along with getting those wrongly convicted out of prison too, oh please let that happen.

  11. Norml switched subjects after i posted this so quickly that i am going to repost it again . I could not say any of this except for the goodness of Norml’s warm heart which has enabled me to bring you these truths ………
    The very first thing you’ll see when after entering Oaksterdam U. is pictures of Families . So you say…………so what……… except the pictures are there for a purpose . These pictures show the Father’s that were once part of the family unit now seperated because of
    ” marijuana crimes “. Below the photos tell a story of why each one was incarcerated , their sentence & in detail tells how several of these men either have killed themselves or have been killed while in prison .
    Their is now no Father .The family has been broken apart .
    How can the Mother work when she takes care of her Children ?
    Furthermore the Children are now worse off than ever before . For what purpose does incarceration serve for what otherwise is a victimless crime ? Cannabis helps rather than it hurts . SYet some of you will say ,
    ” well this man committed a crime & as a result of breaking the law he must pay for his crime ” …………
    and some of you will say ” what about the man who committed murder then he too needs to be free ” . Murder is a crime and he must be prosecuted for his crime but , possessing a plant called Cannabis is not a crime .
    This man did not commit a crime .
    Rather the crime was committed against the man .

  12. It is truly remarkable how this long standing prohibition is finally beginning to turn around. But, all of this is far from Alabama, where the marijuana laws are some of the most oppressive in the country. It seems like most people out here have no idea that cannabis is accepted as medicine in other states. Every NORML victory brings me joy, but I feel that it will be quite some time before we see appropriate legislation in the deep south.

  13. The cafe replacing prohibition is great but in its current state it is not enough. there are curtains over the windows, even in sanctuary they still have to be hidden from public view as if what they are doing is any worse than drinking in public. Prohibition is far worse but this could be far better.
    Heres to west coast in 2010; may they legalize cannabis and prove once and for all that pot has a place in America outside of Jail!

  14. One of the bests parts of DC’s I-59 is the provision that the DC gov’t provide this medicine for the indigent.
    “Sec. 9 (a) The Director of the Department of Health of the District of Columbia must develop a plan, and submit it, within 90 days of the approval of this act, to the Council of the District of Columbia to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients enrolled in Medicaid or a Ryan White CARE Act funded program who are in medical need, who desire to add marijuana to their health care regimen and whose licensed physician reasonably believes that marijuana would be beneficial to their patient.”
    Another great thing about DC is it’s a ‘blank slate’. It is critical that the people who believe in a truly compassionate distribution chain band together and avoid the culture of greed that is CA. No, not saying all there are greedy, the saints at WAMM put the lie to that thought, but viewed overall the culture is undeniably embedded in the distribution chain. Let’s set up DC right. There’s a town hall meeting on Jan 14 2010 from 7-9 PM at All Souls Unitarian Church 2835 16th St NW Washington DC 20009 which as far as I know will be the first organized meeting of DC Patients. I’d hope everyone interested in establishing a compassionate medical cannabis environment will show up and do what they can to support that objective.
    Mr. St Pierre, I’d really like to see you there. You likely won’t recognize me from the old days as I’ve lost a lot of weight. But I’ll be the one wearing the OCBC card.

  15. if this comes down to corporate vs. cartels, i’ll take the cartels…we have been dealing with them for 70+ years, we know what they are. if cannabis legislation is anything but NOT-FOR-PROFIT, i’ll go black market, at least i’ll know what i’m getting. i figured there was some for profit angle for someone in this–DON’T GET GREEDY folks, or it will all come crashing down!!!!!!

  16. I’ve been wondering what NORML would do if it’s legal. Some think they don’t really want it legal because of the money. But this sound good. NORML could have a role to play post prohibition. I have been suspecious about the tax model promoted by NORML because I believe you should be able to grow your own without paying the gov. If the tax is high like tobacco it will be a bad thing. Some of us can’t even afford comercial Mexican for meds, and around here it goes for $80 to $100 an oz. Thinking about the poor first is the right thing to do.Corporate fascism has brought America and the world to the brink, not only financially but is at the root of global warming and government corruption.
    Keep up the good work guys, and now I can rest easier knowing NORML has a plan for a post-prohibition America. Peace!
    [Editor’s note: Since 1970, NORML has supported consumers’ ability to cultivate their own cannabis.]

  17. James of Alabama I feel your pain. I live in Texas and it is bad here too. Expecially in rural cantral Texas. If you get arrested here you can expect to get the maximum penelty. I think it’s because of their twisted religious views. That’s why I try to get these people to look at what the bible says, like Genesis 1;29, where God said all plants bearing seed are for food, and about Kanna Bossom, which is ancient greek for cannabis as one of the ingredients for the anointing oil that Jesus was anointed with. Of course they won’t listen but it’s like planting a seed. If they have any intelligence at all they will be curious and maybe do some research.

  18. NORML please keep the fate of Marijuana in the people’s hands! You are doing great things, and I think we will likely see reform soon. But we need to be clear in our message and not let what happened to the tobacco industry happen to the marijuana industry. First off, we must stand strong against sin taxes. I know it is a good argument to say it will help federal deficits to tax marijuana, but sin taxes always end poorly for the product. Marijuana should be taxed no different than any other product under STATE sales tax laws or standard Rx taxes per STATE. Same goes with regulation. Let’s keep HMO and ADDITIVES out of our marijuana!! Regulations should be kept to the STATE level and not federalized.
    If we stick to these principles, marijuana reform will happen and it will be a wonderful, WONDERFUL thing.

  19. this isnt inspiring to me at all. i want to know whats goin on with New York . what about New york . ?
    [Editor’s note: Nothing to report on from New York because citizens are apparently not doing enough there to change the laws…]

  20. What needs to happen at this point is that individual U.S. states and Canadian provinces that border on each other have reciprocity agreements to honor each other’s medical marijuana laws. This should ideally also encompass reciprocity agreements between provinces and states that do not border on each other. Moving along this state-province level continuum, they should form a pro-cannabis political block that presses for international reciprocity between nations to honor each other’s medicinal marijuana laws so that people from Washington or Oregon can go to British Columbia to get their prescriptions filled or pick up various seed strains and bring them back without getting bothered by any kind of border officials for it. The same thing would be for Canadians who wanted to get some California grass or seed strains as their medicine. The same should apply to people who travel to European countries or wherever to recognize each other’s medicinal cannabis laws and let people through without taking their cannabis or arresting them or treating them as criminals in any way for cannabis.
    If states and provinces get together, and/or organizations from various states and provinces get together to get loud and strongly promote this, it will put the federal governments and international agencies such as WHO and the UN to modify things to allow this to go forward. With American exceptionalism a current belief in DC and the world, once the U.S. and Canada, perhaps even the U.S. and Mexico have such agreements in place, occurring first at the state-state, state-to-province level, the international laws and agreements will have to change.
    I want to see something in the news right away about the western states (California, Oregon, and Washington, perhaps Arizona and New Mexico too) getting together to pen reciprocity agreements with British Columbia, Canada, in general, with Mexico in general, and all of the western states definitely honoring each other’s medicinal marijuana laws.
    Northern tier states that do not border on these western states, such as Michigan, also New England states with MMJ laws that border on Canada should secure reciprocity agreements with their Canadian counterparts, and the states in New England that have MMJ laws should also make reciprocity agreements with each other.
    Think about it. If you want to speed up a national repeal of cannabis prohibition, showing this kind of solidarity is what will help give the matter the national attention it needs, and in a positive way.

  21. I was just a victim of the system, brutalized as a possible brain cancer candidate. Treated as criminal instead of medical problem. Assauted in Waukesha County. Total inept & corruption from Top Down! The Sheriff Dept Tried to kill me in hospital without letting me have my god given rights. Blamied it all on the medicine that helps heal naturally.
    Lets VOTE TONIGHT – go to Sign up & take control!

  22. “…blazing the Oregon Trail with medical marijuana…” how delightfully clever and brilliant. =)

  23. A new year, a new start. Do your part as a cannabis activist by telling friends, family, and potential MMJ patients about Cannabis TV. Have them watch some videos at or at
    This is the year people. Let’s make it happen.

    Found in the San Francisco Chronicle .
    Dated ; December 31st , 2009 . It’s titled ; NOT THE RIGHT PRESCRIPTION , Page A 12 . I am only writing a few of the sentences taken from this article .
    ” It’s my medicine , Doc ” , when i asked him why he was smoking marijuana every day . I asked him where he had obtained the prescription . ” A Doc just like
    you ” . ” It’s good for a year , Doc “., longer than any of your prescriptions ” .
    The next few paragraphs tell of the Doctor ranting and raving about marijuana and him getting a prescription for a whole year when this & other Doctors write prescriptions over and over again to one patient
    justifying it by saying that you need to be monitored or this and that . This article would of made some sense until i read the following which the Doctor stated ;
    …….. ” marijuana is not the medicine for him . Scientific studies support our work . Extreme lack of motivation & subsequent school & work failure are a common consequence of marijuana use . Marijuana is also physically addictive & exerts known negative effects “.
    Signed ,
    Lynn Ponton , M.D. / U.C.S.F.

  25. We at Greene Acres Caregiver wish we had something of this nature, but we only have 5,440 patients. That IS ~4,000 more than last year!! Getting a card in Montana, is like getting an out of state fishing or hunting license! We can help!

  26. Because America is so dysfunctional and so divided as a nation, I think we are headed toward a terrible mess of state laws that will make the current
    srewed up hodge podge of alcohol laws look sensible in comparison.
    Roosevelt decided that to end alcohol prohibition he needed to repeal the 18th amendment in a way the let each state decide how to regulate it. We’ve lived with it for 70 years and it’s OK, but there’s plenty of ways it could be better. Cannabis reform is happening state by state in an excruciating manner but it is progress.
    Let’s remember that medical use pried open the door but the goal is
    no prohibition, recreational use needs to be legal too. Considering the opposition we’ll be lucky if we get something that resembles beer and wine distribution. If anybody thinks there will be legalization without corporations, I have to say they’re wrong. Corporations wield too much power in America to let that happen.
    The thing is, what will the retail price of an oz of cut, dried, and cleaned cannabis flowers of high quality after taxes be? Produced commercially it could be dollars per oz. Produced by hand like fine wines, maybe $20 or $30. The plant is FAR too productive for it to require higher prices. We are a long way from establishing a model.
    Dispensaries in CA sell at black market prices. That model can’t be the legal one. Once legal, the whole thing changes significantly.

  27. Hell yea…# 28!!
    I, like you, am from central rural TX. Town called Abilene. And man….lemme tell ya. You gotta watch out for some of those Bible-thumpers; they somehow have the twisted Idea that destroying your life by having you arrested—is for the “best”.
    ….By the way, I’m Church of Christ–(so…..)
    And Believe in the”Word”; but some folks take it too far.

  28. Then you know how it is 39. You know where Brown County is. You know how conservitive they are. Yes I know Abilene is one of the most conservitive towns in the country as well. I don’t like to pick on anyones religion but the truth is these Baptist are brainwashed. There religion is a political orginization. When I was a kid they used to bribe us to get on their bus to go to Sunday School and watch anti communist propaganda. I had nightmares for years after watching one where this “communist” cuts this kids head off because he was a christian. I was one of them when I was young but the more I read the bible and prayed the more lies I saw comming from them. When I ask God about cannabis I always got the same answer. Nothing God created is bad, overindulgence is. It’s bad to imprisson someone for something God created. Jesus’ first miricle was turning water into wine. He said don’t be a drunkerd but also said a little wine is good for the frequent ails of the stomach.
    I now see religion for what it really is. A tool of governments to control the people. And maybe with ignorant people it is needed to keep them from doing bad things. But intelligent people don’t need that. They do whats right because it makes sence.

  29. I wish I could move to a med pot state. The problem is as a disabled single parent who gets less than $8000 a year thats a bit of a problem. At least here I have family to help. I heard there was a poll that said 75% of Texans we’re in favor of med pot but that don’t mean it will happen. We recently lost our only pain management doctor and my regular doctor no longer takes medicade. In fact the closest is almost 100 miles away. The pain management doctors in Abilene don’t want anyone who just needs meds, they want to give shots and other treatments that will rake in a lot of money. What choices do I have besides either suffer or go to the black market? Any ideas?

  30. i have no choice but too be an athyiest.heven dont want me and hells afraid i will takeover.but a big fat joint is ok for me.i cant see why reefer is still illegal.

  31. Truly do love the thought of medical alternatives and a cafe that caters to the patients needs.
    I just lost my wife to cancer we went through all the poisons for 14 months and i watched it all take its toll and be far to much for her body to handle. The pain just never being under control and never having the appetite just being cheated out of the quality of life she deserved.
    So to hear everything that’s offered at the cafe is great,keep up the great work and keep hope alive.

  32. The WA bills would allow:
    –“Gifting” of cannabis for free
    — Non-commercial production, limited to 5 plants. They will independently investigate and will only prosecute if it is determined you are growing for commercial purposes and you don’t meet state standards.
    You can grow it yourself, give it to your friends, or just don’t get greedy and get caught somehow… i think that is fair enough.

  33. I truly appreciate places that provide safe access to patients. To ensure that all Oregon patients have safe access, please support Initiative 28, the regulated medical marijuana supply system. Initiative 28 will provide safe access for patients while also generating millions of dollars for the state. The initiative has a great chance to pass as polling shows that 59% of Oregon voters support it.

  34. I just wish i could smoke pot legail in ky.It sure would help me deal with all my health problems even cancer.I live in ky and they will not even let me here grow a few plants for medican and i suffer from verry bad pain from a car wreck that put me on s,s and now cancer and if i could get pot i would stop taking the pills that the dr, is giveing me for these pills is killing me and others in ky but if i had pot for my medican that is all i would need.You people are luckey that you dont live in ky,GOD BLESS YOU ALL DAVID in ky

Leave a Reply