420: A Shelter From the Storm; Cannabis Warriors

    For many people who turn to medicinal marijuana, their conditions have to be severe enough to warrant a doctor to recommend the use of the drug. As of now, a doctor cannot actually prescribe marijuana to a patient; he can only recommend its use.

    Colin Young-Wolff

    With the passage of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 — now Calfornia Health and Safety Code 11362.5 — “”seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medicinal purposes,”” listing the treatment of “”cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.””

    The code also states that both patients and their primary caregivers will be exempt from “”criminal prosecution or sanction”” for the possession or cultivation of marijuana for “”the personal medical purposes”” of the patient.

    What follows is that people living with terminal diseases, along with those suffering from debilitating pain, are given the option of utilizing the plant that many claim is a healthy and natural alternative to harsh, chemically derived prescription drugs. The problem is that the typical approach to medicinal marijuana would leave patients in their homes, still isolated from the community and other people like themselves.

    To address this issue is Shelter From the Storm’s Stir-It-Up Cannabis Coffee House with the motto, “”Bring your own, smoke your own medicinal marijuana.”” Started and run by two medicinal marijuana users, Steve McWilliams and Barbara MacKenzie, the coffee house serves a dual purpose. It is both a place for medicinal smokers to congregate and an information resource center.

    Now housed in an unassuming building off Adams Avenue marked with a large, painted pot leaf on the window, the coffee house stands as the victor of the battle for the rights to medical marijuana.

    McWilliams has been arrested three times, and April 20 will mark the end of his three-year probation. He also acts as the chair for Patient Advocacy Efforts on the Medical Marijuana Task Force, which works in conjunction with the city to implement California laws.

    In addition to being a safe haven for medical marijuana users, Shelter From the Storm is a coffee house that provides free tea, coffee and hot chocolate to all.

    There is a main room that serves as the information center and waiting area, and a separate room in which patients can smoke. The rules are simple: Bring your letter, bring your own smoke. Providing and sharing is not allowed by law.

    In the smoking room, two bongs sit among copies of “”High Times”” and how-to-grow videos. I asked if they were for any patient to use. “”No,”” MacKenzie emphatically replied. “”It’s bring your own pipe, too.””

    On the horizon is the creation of cannabis verification cards, which MacKenzie said “”will make the whole process that much easier.””

    Instead of Shelter From the Storm having to go through the process of trying to make sure that all the proper requirements have been met — doctor recommendation, the person being who they say they are, etc. — the potential medicinal smoker will be able to go through the city and alleviate the process.

    “”It would really be nice to see the city set up a centralized distribution agency,”” MacKenzie said. “”Marijuana is an annual crop, making personal cultivation rather difficult for those who actually need it. That would make it a lot easier for people who need larger doses to be able to continue to medicate.””

    For now, Shelter From the Storm is trying to help set up a network of caregivers to help patients meet their needs.

    “”Being a caregiver isn’t easy,”” MacKenzie said. “”A lot of the people who could benefit from medical marijuana aren’t in the best condition mentally. If they are trapped inside all the time and can’t get enough medicine, they aren’t going to be happy people.””

    So the task force has to face decisions like how much marijuana is enough.

    “”It can look like a lot of marijuana to an outsider,”” MacKenzie said. “”I can use about three joints worth a day, which means a little bit every 10 to 20 minutes.””

    “”To support ourselves, we also have a small business,”” McWilliams said. “”We sell things like cups, stickers and different hemp products like T-shirts, backpacks and hats. We really like people to stop by and see us; we love to let people know about who we are.””

    Shelter From the Storm’s Stir it Up Cannabis Coffee House is located at 4683 33rd St., just south of the corner of 33rd and Adams Avenue. They are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Call (619) 521-0337 for more information.

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