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502 threatens MMJ patients

The Market With a Heart is patient-friendly alternative to corporate cannabis

Olympia is fortunate to have The Market with a Heart (TMWAH), an eastside medical marijuana (MMJ) farmer’s market held at Pauli G’s Deli and Pool Hall on Devoe Street every Sunday from 11-5. Patients or their direct providers who have MMJ authorization and are over 21 can access medications directly from growers and processors, most of whom are also experienced patients. More than just a venue, TMWAH is also a meeting place where caring happens and friendships are made.

Unfortunately, this small market is threatened by legislation designed to funnel patients into the 502 system, which is not yet designed to serve patients. Besides their medication being taxed, the legislature is prohibiting language describing the potential health benefits of cannabis. This will make it harder for patients to get the information they need. Kristi Weeks of the Washington State Department of Health is quoted by the Olympian as saying, “We believe marijuana is marijuana and the only difference between medical and recreational is the intent of the user.”

While on the surface that may appear to be true, it is not. Intent is not the only difference; patients often have complicated needs that go far beyond recreational users desire for a good buzz. Some patients are not even interested in cannabis’ psychoactive actions, and many use other cannabis products in multiple forms, such as topicals, for multiple purposes. Higher prices at 502 stores can be a challenge for those with low incomes, which due to their disability, is often the situation of patients with the greatest medical needs.

Paul Girard’s TMWAH is the place for those patients. Girard, a cancer survivor who credits cannabis for keeping him cancer free, opened the market “to give back to the patients and vendors who [had] been fighting so hard to make [cannabis] legal.” They include Lee Newbury, a glass artist and regular vendor, who formed the first chapter of NORML in Washington state, and worked on initiatives in 1996, 1997 and 1998, when MMJ was allowed in the state.

Vendors at TMWAH are well informed and willing to spend time with patients helping them determine the right cannabis therapy for them. A wide range of products are available besides flower: natural concentrates, capsules, Rick Simpson oil, coconut oil for cooking, tinctures, topicals and clones for the DIYer. Peggy Button, who vends weekly, carries Green Goop as well as hard to find full plant extracts and powders. Lee Newbury sells functional glassware, including dab units, at a reasonable cost and will also do special orders. Sometimes even the CannaFairy visits with cannabis themed gifts and accessories.

“I can’t thank all the lovely, caring and knowledgeable vendors enough,” says Linda Yeager, a patient who, following a car accident, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s Syndrome, osteo-arthritis and other conditions. Yeager, who lives off of disability payments, said discovering the market has helped both her budget and her ability to use fewer traditional pain medications which were “hard on [her] kidneys, liver and stomach.”

Do you know where your cannabis comes from?

Just as at a traditional farmer’s market, patients can talk to the grower and be assured their medications were grown with best practices. State regulations allow certain pesticides to be used without consumer labeling on cannabis sold in 502 stores. Many people who are ill need to avoid as many pesticides as possible and find security in having direct relationships with their suppliers.

In turn, working directly with patients allows vendors to incorporate feedback into their product selection. Currently a trend is toward lower THC cannabis in order to decrease intoxication and raise the anti-inflammatory and pain killing aspect of the plant. These strains can be harder to grow and hence riskier and sometimes less profitable in terms of yield. The Olympia Cannabis Company, a TMWAH vendor who grows organically, often carries higher CBD plants such as Harlequin, Cashy’s Honey and Remedy, both in clones and dried flower. OCC also specializes in strains reported to help pain and PTSD, as well as working with land race genetics.

TMWAH is also vendor-friendly. New vendors are always welcome, as long as they also have MMJ authorization and are over 21. In the interest of connecting patients with medication and keeping overhead low, Girard has a sliding scale for vendors: tables are either a flat rate of $80 or 20% of donations, whichever is less.

Out of the green closet

Another benefit of the market for both patients and vendors is the chance to collaborate, organize or just socialize. For many people who are seriously ill, the market is a place to find others who are sympathetic to their struggles. TMWAH is like a family, celebrating birthdays and other holidays, and welcoming newcomers with a friendly vibe.

Again, like regular Sunday markets, tasty lunches are available. Pauli G’s is also a deli and has some of the best subs in the city. Priced at a reasonable $12, including chips and a can of soda, is the infamous Glenroy—pepperoni, roast beef and turkey with pizza cheese and Italian dressing. There is no pool playing on Sunday, but since Pauli’s is a sports bar, the Seahawks game is shown on multiple screens. There is also a weekly raffle at 4:20 with a generous prize package containing vendor donations.

After years of living with drug war paranoia, it is liberating for patients and vendors to finally be able to assemble in an open and visible manner, freely sharing knowledge and cannabis. Under state regulations, the raffle would be prohibited and sampling is tightly controlled. Despite being legal, cannabis is far from free in terms of a producer being able to share their product or a customer being able to try a product before buying.

Still, gone are the days of talking in code, these are now the days of knowing a specific plant’s genetic code. Cannabis preparations and their use are growing in sophistication and a mass experiment in lay epidemiology is occurring at the grassroots level as vendors and patients learn what works best for what conditions. Because of federal regulations and the near inability to get approval and funds to do formal research, what is happening in places like Washington, Oregon and Colorado will become an institutional base of knowledge influencing the direction that cannabis research will take in the future.

There is also politics, and TMWAH has an element of libertine philosophy to it. Many in the MMJ community resent the incursion of corporate money into the subculture, especially those who took the early risks and who find their livelihoods in peril due to the legal market’s regulatory zeal. These pioneers simply do not have the capital and other resources to participate at the level the state is requiring. Places such as TMWAH gives disabled patients a chance to run a microbusiness to supplement their income, or as is often the case, to subsidize the cost of their own medication.

Corporate cannabis sees these small businesses as a competitive threat, but the real threat is not the current collective gardens, but growers and distributors who remain in the black market. They are not as easy a target, but closing collectives and markets will only encourage more entrenched black market activity by driving patients and providers back underground, which ultimately serves neither. The free exchange that came as a result of legalization may now be extinguished by it.

The future is uncertain for small growers and processors. Big changes, including a never before required rule making patients register with the state in order to avoid sales tax, are going to be implemented to the MMJ system in July 2016. These laws are being challenged, but are expected to go into effect. It is doubtful that the 502 market will have a heart as big as Paul Girard’s and all of the others found at TMWAH.

Candace Mercer is an artist/writer/activist who has lived in Olympia for 20 years. She has worked with the Thurston- Mason Crisis Clinic, Northwest Justice Project, Olympia Rafah Sister City Project and The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. She has written for Dissident Voice, electronic intifada and weedist.com.

Market With a Heart is open Sundays from 11 am to 5pm. You must be 21, have photo ID, and a current MMJ authorization.

Pauli G’s Pool Hall and Deli

527 Devoe St NE in Olympia

Market With a Heart has a Facebook page and, for more information, email pauligpoolhall@gmail.com

 

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