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August 4th, 2010 Sarah Jacoby | News Stories
 

Pipe Dreams

NORML’s Cannabis Cafe gets a second chance.

     
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CAFE SOCIETY: Inside the new Cannabis Cafe.
IMAGE: leahnash.com

High time for a new cafe.

At 4:20 pm on Saturday, Aug. 1, the Cannabis Cafe reopened its doors on Southeast 82nd Avenue after an earlier incarnation shut down in May in Northeast Portland.

Now, in a 5,000-square-foot space that looks more like a cabin due to its Lincoln Log-inspired exterior and wood-paneled interior, the cafe is designed to be a meeting place for the 36,000-plus carriers of Oregon medical marijuana cards.

Opening day was a sea of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws logos, pot-themed music, and anticipation. An hour before the doors opened, speakers blared and delicious barbecue smells from the grill wafted over the already-forming line of cardholders.

Madeline Martinez, executive director for the Oregon chapter of NORML, says the Cannabis Cafe fills medical marijuana patients’ need for camaraderie and socialization when many of them are going it alone.

“It’s hard enough being disabled,” says Martinez, a 59-year-old grandmother of five who suffers from a degenerative joint disease that leaves her with chronic pain.

The first version of NORML’s cafe opened last November at 700 NE Dekum St. but had to close six months later. Rumpspankers, the restaurant that owned the space, decided to start its own bar that uses devices allowing for the inhalation of marijuana without smoke, according to NORML board member Anna Diaz. The cafe had also received complaints from nearby Woodlawn neighborhood residents.

Oregon’s NORML chapter says it evaluated more than a 100 locations before choosing its new home.

The area along well-traveled 82nd is primarily commercial. Problems with neighboring businesses weren’t evident over the weekend in the new space, which is one of several businesses in a strip mall at 322 SE 82nd Ave. Martinez says she’s found the neighboring stores “very welcoming.”

Employees in most of the neighboring shops declined to comment. But Chantel Chan, a tattoo artist at Forbidden Body Art, itself in the strip mall for only three months, expects to benefit from customer traffic at the cafe.

“It’ll definitely be good for us having new people around and seeing the place,” she says.

The cafe’s new strip-mall location has been used before as both a wine shop and a fireplace showroom, so the decor is more than a little bit eclectic. With a full kitchen, a game room complete with pool tables, and both indoor and outdoor enclosed space, medical marijuana users have the space and opportunity to smoke together but out of public view.

Similar to the back room of Steve Geiger’s pipe shop Highway 420 at Southeast Foster Boulevard, only people with medical marijuana licenses will be allowed inside and there will be no sales of pot. Instead, the cannabis is donated and growers are reimbursed, says Martinez. Customers must pay the $35 annual NORML membership fee, a $20 fee to be a member of the cafe and $5 per entry.

One niggling problem arose when the city’s fire marshal found a back stairway needing repair during a July 29 inspection, limiting capacity for the moment to 49 people inside and 20 people on the patio at a time. Cafe organizers hope to have those repairs made by Aug. 14.

For medical marijuana cardholder Ben Cunningham, Martinez’s business partner, any gathering spot is welcome. He says the reopened cafe gives local medical marijuana patients a sense of acceptance.

“We’ve waited this long to simply hang out,” says Cunningham, who suffers from a stomach ulcer and other pain. “Here we get to come, we get to have medicine, and we can be around other people.”


FACT: Oregon voters legalized the use of medical marijuana in 1998. An initiative on the ballot this fall would create a statewide system of medical marijuana dispensaries.
 
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