First U.S. marijuana cafe opens in Portland - U.S. to end war on medical marijuana in legal states


First U.S. marijuana cafe opens in Portland
Sat Nov 14, 2009 7:36am EST

By Dan Cook

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - The United States' first marijuana cafe opened on Friday, posing an early test of the Obama administration's move to relax policing of medical use of the drug.

The Cannabis Cafe in Portland, Oregon, is the first to give certified medical marijuana users a place to get hold of the drug and smoke it -- as long as they are out of public view -- despite a federal ban.

"This club represents personal freedom, finally, for our members," said Madeline Martinez, Oregon's executive director of NORML, a group pushing for marijuana legalization.

"Our plans go beyond serving food and marijuana," said Martinez. "We hope to have classes, seminars, even a Cannabis Community College, based here to help people learn about growing and other uses for cannabis."

The cafe -- in a two-story building which formerly housed a speak-easy and adult erotic club Rumpspankers -- is technically a private club, but is open to any Oregon residents who are NORML members and hold an official medical marijuana card.

Members pay $25 per month to use the 100-person capacity cafe. They don't buy marijuana, but get it free over the counter from "budtenders". Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., it serves food but has no liquor license.

There are about 21,000 patients registered to use marijuana for medical purposes in Oregon. Doctors have prescribed marijuana for a host of illnesses, including Alzheimer's, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Tourette's syndrome.

On opening day, reporters invited to the cafe could smell, but were not allowed to see, people smoking marijuana.

"I still run a coffee shop and events venue, just like I did before we converted it to the Cannabis Cafe, but now it will be cannabis-themed," said Eric Solomon, the owner of the cafe, who is looking forward to holding marijuana-themed weddings, film festivals and dances in the second-floor ballroom.


The creation of the cafe comes almost a month after the Obama administration told federal attorneys not to prosecute patients who use marijuana for medical reasons or dispensaries in states which have legalized them.

About a dozen states, including Oregon, followed California's 1996 move to adopt medical marijuana laws, allowing the drug to be cultivated and sold for medical use. A similar number have pending legislation or ballot measures planned.

Pot cafes, known as "coffee shops", are popular in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, where possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal. Portland's Cannabis Cafe is the first of its kind to open in the United States, according to NORML.

Growing, possessing, distributing and smoking marijuana are still illegal under U.S. federal law, which makes no distinction between medical and recreational use.

Federal and local law enforcement agencies did not return phone calls from Reuters on Friday seeking comment on the Portland cafe's operations.

To have a place that is this open about its activities, where people can come together and smoke -- I say that's pretty amazing." said Tim Pate, a longtime NORML member, at the cafe.

Some locals are hoping it might even be good for business.

"I know some neighbors are pretty negative about this place opening up," said David Bell, who works at a boutique that shares space with the cafe. "But I'm withholding judgment. There's no precedent for it. We don't know what to expect. But it would great if it brought some customers into our store."

(Writing by Bill Rigby; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

U.S. to end war on medical marijuana in legal states
Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:58pm EDT

By James Vicini and Dan Whitcomb

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a sharp policy shift, the Obama administration told federal attorneys not to prosecute patients who use marijuana for medical reasons or dispensaries in states where it has been legalized.

A Justice Department official said the formal guidelines were issued Monday to reflect President Barack Obama's views. The Bush administration had said it could enforce the federal law against marijuana and that it trumped state laws.

The decision was praised by activists in California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. But concern remains among some medical and law enforcement authorities about hundreds of clinics said to be selling pot under the protection of state law and without regard to health.

A spokesman for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a brief statement in which Schwarzenegger appeared to support the policy change:

"The governor believes it is appropriate for the federal government to focus their resources on criminal activity and securing the border," the statement said.

As a candidate during his presidential bid last year, Obama said he intended to halt raids of medical marijuana facilities operating legally under state laws.

After he took office in January, a Drug Enforcement Administration raid on a dispensary in Lake Tahoe, California, raised questions about whether he would follow that pledge.

A White House spokesman repeated Obama's view that "federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws."

Stephen Gutwillig, California head of the Drug Policy Alliance, called the move a good first step.

"There is a fundamental need of patients to access marijuana as medicine right now," he said. "While it's great to see the Obama administration radically de-escalate the Bush and Clinton administrations' war on medical marijuana patients, more needs to be done to protect sick people and their caregivers."


About a dozen states have followed California in adopting medical marijuana laws and a similar number have pending legislation or ballot measures planned on the issue.

Gutwillig called on the Obama administration to support a proposed by Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank that would give states the right to adopt their own medical marijuana laws.

But the head of a California drug rehabilitation clinic criticized Monday's move as irresponsible.

"The Justice Department is required to enforce all federal laws that are on the books," said Jerrod Menz, president of A Better Tomorrow Treatment Center, said in a written statement.

"Imagine if the administration took a similar stance on immigration policy. Can you imagine the outrage?"

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would continue to prosecute people who claim to comply with state or local law but were concealing illegal operations.

"It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana," he said. "But we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal."

In California, critics argue that lax regulation of the law has led to the mushrooming of dispensaries operating for profit, rather than for the public good.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley this month announced a crackdown on dispensaries that sell for profit and to people who do not qualify under law.

Cooley said in a statement that he welcomed the new policy as "clarifying the federal government's role in handling illegal medical marijuana dispensaries" and said it was consistent with the position taken by his office.

"The attorney general's announcement recognizes that those dispensaries operating in violation of state law are subject to prosecution by the state and federal governments," he said.

"A collaboration of numerous agencies, including federal, state and local police, county and city prosecutors, will combat the proliferation of illegal medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles."

A Justice Department official said federal prosecutors will not hesitate to prosecute medical marijuana cases that involve unlawful use of firearms, violence, illegal sales to minors, money laundering or other violations of U.S. law.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)


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