Last month, Seattle finally did something cool again. Well, as did Washington as a whole. In addition to gay marriage, "we" fully legalized weed! Aaah! Amazing! Since the issue started garnering attention this election season, I’ve been as smug and delighted as a person who hasn’t been a resident since leaving for college, has never actually voted in the state, and writes for a publication that is specifically about a different trendy city on the opposite side of the country can reasonably be. Probably a little more.
All of which is to say that going home for Christmas this year was going to fucking rule, no question.
I had a pretty measured, realistic idea of how this whole thing would go down, too. I'd gloat-text all of my friends just as soon as I'd been greeted at the airport with a lei of pot leaves and a freshly rolled joint, all while a group of gentle hippies sang some sort of strange, friendlier re-write of “Come As You Are” near the baggage claim. I'd have 10 full days in the newly declared chill zone, then could come back to Brooklyn and tell everyone all about how it's gonna go down when New York finally gets its shit together like Washington, guys. And, to be fair, on my flight back, the guy at the gate did start playing the Unplugged version of "On a Plain," presumably to taunt us during a 2-hour delay. But that was about as close as it came.
In all my vicarious excitement, I failed to notice that when Initiative 502 came into law last month, it did so with the provision that the state Liquor Control board has until next December to hammer out rules for sale and distribution. Meaning, then, that in the intervening year, you can have an entire ounce of pot on your person at any given time, but it's still illegal to actually buy or sell. For every headline about a Microsoft millionaire laying plans for "the Neiman Marcus of marijuana" businesses, there was another about a major dispensary being hit with drug dealing charges. Ah.
Which, fine, I guess that makes some logical sense from a policy-development standpoint. And anyway, medical marijuana has been legal in the state for years, and is about as hard to find elsewhere as you'd probably expect (not very). But here's where it should be noted that I am so, so square. Even when I actually lived in the city, I couldn’t have really told you where to get weed in Seattle, and was sort of banking on this new order to help me out. I mean, I’m sure I could get it, but even now it would be one of those embarrassing friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend headaches that makes you feel like a high school kid desperately trying to cop a handle of Georgi for a party. Lame enough to not really be worth it, especially not when it's competing with comfortable access to the family liquor cabinet and all my friends still hanging out in bars, not smoky living rooms.
Really, none of them even seemed to care that much. Other than one guy who talked about a debt being unexpectedly repaid in a pound of weed (this would have happened without the help of 502, I'm guessing), the consensus was basically "Eh, nothing's really changed yet." If you can't buy loosie joints at a deli and cool pre-packaged weed treats, what's the point? But still, there has to be something interesting going on, right? Something to maybe justify this 10 day vacation from the place I'm ostensibly paid to write about?
And this is what brought me to the Center for Palliative Care, a medical dispensary with a solid reputation as one of the most genuinely forward-thinking and legit operations in the city. It's also become something of a weed media go-to for interviews, policy questions, and even a possible reality show. As it turns out, this square's lone connection in the wide world of legitimate weed was the best one possible. A local chef, business owner, and lifelong family friend of mine has used marijuana medicinally for years, and now advises the CPC on everything from packaging to processing to recipes for their "medibles" side of the business. Most recently, he helped to develop a new recipe for hot chocolate. Perfect.
Run by Ben Reagan and Jeremy Kaufman, both in their early 30s and both of whom had finance jobs they hated before diving into the industry, the CPC operates mainly out of a 6,000 square-foot facility in the city's Georgetown neighborhood, with around 20 employees. As for Kaufman, who showed me around the offices last week, I have never met more of a true believer, in any cause or in any context. Which makes sense. After a horrific snowboarding accident a decade ago led him through a horrific bout with chronic pain and prescribed opiates, Kaufman eventually turned to weed for his treatment, and never looked back. In 2011, Seattle Weekly dubbed him "Budtender of the Year."
"I thought, if I’m gonna get off of these pain pills, I have to understand exactly what I’m doing," he explained. "I don’t want to just be eating a brownie I made at my house with a bunch of butter and stuff that I don’t know where it came from. There’s so many things that can go wrong. [...] This is not an industry that’s always perpetuated by the highest common denominator. If all you can do is drive from place to place, put 3 grams in a bag, and take money for it, you can make a living. But there’s a definite microcosm of real professionals showing up who are passionate, and it turns, out they’re all sick, too.”
The office, of course, had the requisite Bob Marley posters and candy dispensers, but was also neatly decorated with stacks of literature, and shelves full of elaborate tinctures, gluten-free chocolate medibles, and even topical, non-psychoative balms and bath salts ("I created those for my 94-year-old grandmother," said Kaufman), all labeled with specific strains, dosages, and targeted symptoms. This is not your average dispensary. The tinctures (discreet, ingestible oils extracted from the plant that can be put into both edibles and pills) are really the CPC's bread and butter, and are based on what any seasoned pothead can already tell you, which is that different strains can serve different purposes.
It isn't such a tough sell. Even for a cretin like me who has never been able to tell the difference between strains at all, it doesn't take a huge logical leap to assume that if you're trying to actually heal your body, not just any schwag will do. "At this point, when we’re in consults, a lot of the information that’s coming out is anecdotal," Kaufman said. "A lot of it is research-based, literature-based, and based on client feedback. If you have 1,500 patients and 190 of them have MS and you have a specific compound for MS you can administer, you can get a fairly decent demo spread of how that works, and you can fine-tune it and you can tweak it. "
Kaufman also waxed in detail about the hundreds of different compounds in any given strain (thus, the ability to create so many tincture and treatment varieties), the benefits of different ingestion methods, "combustible, sublingual, digestible, and topical" (smoking, putting in your mouth, eating it, and actually putting it on, to translate), its treatment benefits for nerve diseases and addiction, weed's potential as a cure — not just symptom treatment, mind you, but cure — for cancer, and the symbiosis between chemicals naturally found in both marijuana and chemicals in the body.
Again, it's not necessarily such a tough sell (especially given their intensely loyal client base), and regardless, you can safely say this is all a stratospheric step up from "Well, uh, this one's 'Headband,' it's pretty... energetic?" You could also safely say that a truly unreal amount of research is left to be done in a burgeoning medical field still devoid of federal funding and regulation, with advocates concerned that even with full legalization, recreational use will overshadow real scientific advancement. "It blows my mind how little we know about this stuff," he said.
For now, besides wondering when the fuck this is ever going to happen in New York, there's policy to worry about — will crippling recreational sin taxes (against which Kaufman is currently lobbying) be applied to the product at medical facilities? Will the monsters of Big Pharma and Big Tobacco simply swallow small operations (and their cannabis plants) whole? How can this be appropriately tested and labeled as a medication if federal regulators are forced to avoid it like the plague, and how many people truly care if it isn't? The only thing that seems particularly clear right now is that however long it takes to shake down, recreational weed is lucrative, in high demand, and will be just fine no matter what. It's the medical community that has cause to worry.
But anyway, my mystical, stoned Christmas vacation. Coming back to town as a fair-weather native on the hunt for bragging rights and leaving with a bunch of political questions and a full-fledged belief in the scientific cause is still, arguably, pretty goddamn square. Whatever, I regret nothing! It's an easy issue not to put at top of the political priorities list ("Yeah, of course that should fucking be legal, pills are the devil, now let me get back to worrying about whatever preposterous new Republican rape comment is going on this week"), but if someone is developing a real alternative to the chemical insanity pharmacies dole out every day, I'm happy to hear it. Besides, I still managed to clock 48 straight hours during the trip in the confines of my parents' house, eating cheese and watching Pee Wee DVDs. Make of it what you will.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.