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Portland’s Cannabis Cafe Is the First Marijuana Coffee Shop of Its Kind in the Country

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The Cannabis Cafe, which opened this month in Portland, Oregon, is the first marijuana cafe of its kind in the country. Although it doesn’t sell marijuana on the premises, the Cannabis Cafe allows any of Portland’s estimated 21,000 licensed medical marijuana users a space to consume marijuana in a social setting. We speak with Madeline Martinez, executive director of the Oregon chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which runs the Cannabis Cafe. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re on the road in Portland, Oregon, as we continue our Breaking the Sound Barrier media tour — yes, Portland, Oregon, which this month became home to the state’s first marijuana cafe. The Cannabis Cafe is the first of its kind outside the state of California. Although it doesn’t sell marijuana on the premises, it allows any of Portland’s estimated 21,000 licensed medical marijuana users a space to consume marijuana in a social setting.

The Cannabis Cafe’s debut comes a month after the Obama administration said it would stop pursuing cases against medical marijuana patients. Reversing the Bush administration stance, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illness or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana.” Fourteen states have adopted laws allowing the medical use of marijuana.

I’m joined here in Portland by Madeline Martinez. She’s executive director of the Oregon chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which also runs the Cannabis Cafe.

Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Explain exactly what this Cannabis Cafe is.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: This Cannabis Cafe is a place where we can gather together and be social — we’re all social creatures, and one of the problems — one of the problems is that it always is that we have to medicate out of public view. So we needed a place that was just that, out of public view, where only cardholders could enter. So we established that. For years I heard from people who were up at the big hospitals, OHSU, as well as the VA hospital, and they didn’t have a place. After procedures, for hours, they were left in the cold and the rain in Oregon, looking for a place to be social, for someone to understand their plight. Either they found out they had cancer or some other horrible medical issue to deal with. And they had to travel home for hours, alone and desperate and needing some medicine after being away from the medicine for so long. And so, this — after hearing this for years and years, it prompted me to establish a place of our own. We had been having monthly — bi-monthly meetings, actually, with — in the same sort of setting, but we took it to a regular basis, because so many people come from all over the state, 200 at a time, to line up to get one cutting and some excess medicine. Per our law, we cannot exchange for consideration, so this is all given away, donated to me and then donated to patients.

AMY GOODMAN: So, when they come into the Cannabis Cafe, they are not buying the marijuana.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: No. Oh, no, that would be illegal in the state of Oregon, where in California they —-

AMY GOODMAN: That would be illegal.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: In the state of Oregon, yes. And you must be out of public view. And as you saw last night, it is out of public view. You have to come up the back stairs. You were lucky you came in the front door, which we reserve for handicapped people in chairs and walkers. But they come up the back stairs. They must show a piece of state ID, or a password is also acceptable. But you also have to have your Oregon Medical Marijuana Program registry identification card with you, or stamped paperwork, date-stamped by the Department of Human Services, that actually registers our program.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you organize, lobby for the Cannabis Cafe?

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Well, I’ve done ten years of work with the program, and I’ve been there since the very beginning and helped implement it. And what I found was that if you lay the groundwork and you establish your credibility to be above question, we’ve never had anyone leave our building, our meetings, and complain that -— error in consideration. If anyone comes in and tells me one of our members exchanged for consideration or asked for consideration, I speak to them privately, and they are asked to leave, and their membership is revoked, and they can’t return to our meeting. We insist that patients cannot be taken advantage of. Many of these patients are desperate, and people go out and say, “Give me $300. I will grow for you.” And they never see the money or the person again. And it’s really sad because they’re left to their own devices. When you get your card from the state of Oregon, you’re not given a clue. That’s not their charge; it’s out of their purview. So they don’t tell you where to get a plant, where to get medicine. So you’re left to your own, you know, resources, which generally includes the black market.

My view is, let’s capture the revenue from the black market, and let’s pay for healthcare in our state. You know, we know that people aren’t growing hops in the forest, because alcohol is no longer illegal, but they’re growing marijuana. And I think we should take back that power that we’ve given to the criminal market and establish it. Let’s tax and regulate. Three hundred and fifty-seven thousand Oregonians consume cannabis, by government statistics, ONDCP. And it’s really a tragedy that that money is being just squandered. We have two state troopers on the I-5 corridor here in the state of Oregon. I’d like to pay for more. I’d like to have a safe state. And it’s really sad that our legislators don’t look beyond what they’re doing. They keep continuing the same process and expecting a different outcome. And that’s the definition of insanity.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the response in Portland to the opening of the Cannabis Cafe?

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Well, you know, it’s been really positive. We have — many of our patrons are actually neighbors in the northeast Portland area. And they’ve come, and they’ve said, “We’re really happy that you’re here instead of a bar,” because so often, unfortunately, people consume too much alcohol, and they go, they urinate on someone’s lawn, or, you know, they’re misbehaving, or they just get rowdy. And it’s a big improvement. We’re done by 10:00. We close the doors. We’re quiet. We keep to ourselves. We don’t bother anybody. We’re actually planning a volunteer trip down Dekum to clean up the street.

AMY GOODMAN: Dekum is the street —-

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Yes, the street. Yes, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: —- that the Cannabis Cafe is on. We visited last night. Madeline, talk about your own experience.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Well, I’m a retired peace officer. I worked for the Department of Corrections. I’m a PTA mom, a grandma. And I’ve consumed cannabis my whole life. It works for me especially well for my anxiety and depression. I never understood –- with the first time I consumed, I titrated cannabis, I could it immediately. There was a click. Well, come to find out years later, we have cannabanoid receptors in our brains, and that’s what was happening to me that I didn’t realize. People with fibromyalgia, they feel like a light switch go off in their nerve endings. And it’s just amazing what it does. I have degenerative disc and joint disease.

AMY GOODMAN: What is it?

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Degenerative disc and joint disease. And it’s not going to get better, obviously. And so, living with chronic pain, my other option is to have Vicodin. Vicodin is really a hard painkiller for me. It leaves me in a drug-induced stupor. And I prefer a better quality of life. I have five grandchildren and four Pomeranians. And, you know, I like enjoying my family and my home, but I can’t on the harsh pharmaceuticals. It’s a death sentence for us, Amy. If you to take them for the rest of your life, they destroy your vital organs. And that’s what’s happening. Our government is insisting that we use the pharmaceuticals that enrich them. And that’s a real tragedy, because marijuana is the safest medicine known to man. There’s never been a lethal dose of marijuana.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the other people. Last night, when I went into the Cannabis Cafe, people were sitting around together. And among the ways they were consuming the cannabis, describe the process.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Well, you know, one of the things we’re trying to introduce people to is vaporization. It’s so much safer for us than burning a plant, plant matter. The carcinogens, you don’t want to take those in. And so, what we’re doing is we’re teaching them to use this machine that heats the medicine to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, but it doesn’t allow it to burn. You were there. You saw. It captures the vapor of the THC.

AMY GOODMAN: A big plastic bag.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Exactly. Yes, it is. It’s a big plastic bag, and it heats up and the vapors go in there. And then you titrate it, push it against your lips, and you consume it. And we think it’s safer. We’re showing them different methods. One of them, the volcano that I demonstrated, is $600, not affordable for someone on fixed income. So we have other vaporization systems that are cheaper, that’s more affordable, I’d say. And that’s what we’re — because the best vaporizer is the one you can afford, because then you’ll use it.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people come to the Cannabis Cafe now?

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Well, you know, we have our regulars. And we’ve gotten as many as 194 people a day. They come in after work. After you left, it even got busier.

AMY GOODMAN: And how late is it open ’til? How often is it open?

MADELINE MARTINEZ: It’s only until 10:00. We stop letting people in about 9:00, close the doors, and just say that’s it for the evening.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Madeline Martinez, I want to thank you for being with us. We will show you a tour of the Cannabis Cafe on our website at

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