Cancel your flight to Amsterdam – the U.S. just got its first marijuana cafe on Friday. Located in Portland, Ore., the Cannabis Cafe shows how attitudes have changed since the Obama administration moved into the White House. A month ago, President Barack Obama told federal attorneys to ease off medical marijuana prosecutions.
The widening use of medicinal marijuana has forced governments into a tenuous legal balancing act, according to a Reuters report. Some states passed legislation to allow it, starting with California in 1996. Nonetheless, a federal ban remains in place. The operation of businesses like the Cannabis Cafe, as well as marijuana establishments in California, has been possible as long as federal authorities have chosen not to pursue them. Unlike the shops in California, though, the Portland establishment is the first in the U.S. where certified medical marijuana users can both acquire and consume their marijuana, as long as they stay out of public view.
Madeline Martinez, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Oregon, says that the Cannabis Club "represents personal freedom, finally, for our members." NORML supports legislation to legalize marijuana.
"Our plans go beyond serving food and marijuana," Martinez continues. "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 Food is For Sale, but the Pot is Free
The Cannabis Cafe's new home is a two-story building with an interesting past. Once upon a time, it was occupied by a speakeasy, and later, an adult entertainment club called Rumpspankers. The Cannabis Cafe is a private club, but any Oregon resident who is a member of NORML and has an official medical marijuana card can gain entry.
Members pay $25 a month for use of the cafe, which has a capacity of 100. The product offered is not sold. Rather, it's provided free over the counter from the "budtenders" employed by the establishment. Food, of course, is available for purchase, but the club doesn't have a liquor license. (Why bother?)
The potential market for the Cannabis Cafe is small, but likely committed. Approximately 21,000 patients are registered to use medical marijuana in Oregon, with doctors prescribing the drug for a wide range of illnesses, among them Alzheimer's, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Tourette's syndrome.
Eric Solomon, the proprietor, says he still just runs a coffee shop and events venue, as he did before he converted it to the current format, but he says, "now it will be cannabis-themed." Film festivals and dances are expected for the second floor ballroom, not to mentioned marijuana-themed weddings.
Neighboring businesses have mixed feelings about the new cafe, but they are hopeful that it will benefit them, too. David Bell, who works at a nearby boutique, is "withholding judgment." He notes, "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."