IN THE WRONG BUSINESS
I drove up to the parking lot at 10:33am last Saturday morning and there wasn’t a car to be seen; crap, could they not be open yet? I circled in front of the door and discovered that 11:00 am was the opening time so off I went to the bank just a hop skip and a jump up the road and did my deposits. At about 10:58, I returned and to my surprise, there were about twenty five cars in the parking lot on this just starting to snow December day and a line out of the door waiting for the them to open.
I stood out like Resse Witherspoon did on the grayest of New England days as she made her way through the Harvard campus dressed in head to toe Barbie pink in the movie, Legally Blonde. The people in this line were made up of a motley looking sort as they vaped their way waiting patiently. They were thin, somewhat scraggy. They looked like they hadn’t seen sunlight in sometime and many looked like they were in the midst of chemo treatments, sickly, thin and colorless. A familiar sight each looking like and reminding me of my brother as he and I traipsed back and forth from hospital for chemo treatments and home again. Some looked like they were part of the club who never leave their living rooms unless they need to, like that look of the kids who are addicted to video games dressing completely in head to toe black, vitamin D deficient. This was not me as I stood among them in the long line. I almost felt a little guilty standing there, but I got over that fast. I am part of this unlikely tribe, a victim and survivor of a two time we caught it early cancer diagnosis; and someone who does not want to take barely a Motrin let alone be addicted to oxy.
No this wasn’t the Apple store the first Saturday in the busy shopping month of December. It was a compassion store. The Greenleaf Compassion Center in Portsmouth where the economy was ripe and blossoming and where they only take cash, check or debit cards. I am in the wrong business. It was like being at a MAC counter the week before Christmas, free gifts with purchases, spend $25 and get an extra treat for an additional $12.50. They had coffee mugs that also double dutied as coffee bongs and hats, tshirts and chocolate treats fully charged with a variety of ‘medicine’ as they refer to it when you ask about the varieties available. It is a happy place in its odd way. It is a place that is also a political hotbed, a place filled with people who want to be well, who don’t want to choose the pharmaceutical route for their pain and have to jump through hoops to make sure their specific illness falls under the codes designated to achieve the platinum card- a Rhode Island state medical marijuana card. Though the term ‘medicine’ is a little tough for this former back in my high school Jamestown days weed imbiber, I understand the importance of shifting the meme as it relates to the way the terminology is perceived by the majority. In fact, the end result of this miracle product is reduced pain, reduced discomfort and a calmer groovier set of rose colored glasses to view the world. Don’t we need more groovier views of the world? Don’t we need calmer? Don’t we need less oxy addicted medically constipated humans and a less anxious collection of souls out there in the planet?
This topic is a hot one in the midst of an opioid crisis the likes we have never seen. I know there are thousands of people just in our state who have been affected by the abuse of opioids. Marijuana runs the risk of being thrown into the negative messaging barrel of bad information. Marijuana is not Oxy. It is not heroin. It is also not alcohol or cigarettes. As I stood there in the line, I noted to myself that I use medical marijuana cautiously and carefully. I am not a stoner, I am not an addict. I use it as a safe way to address the intense discomfort I have felt since my mastectomy. As I have written numerous times, medical marijuana has been the only relief to the upper band tightness I have felt since my surgery. I use it sparingly and responsibly usually right before bed on very occasional evenings. It works better than the prescription for oxy that was automatically handed out after each of my three surgeries. It has worked better than Tylenol or Motrin. Like alcohol, I would never indulge and drive, never smoke before work or an appointment or anything where I had to be a grown up; I am a responsible patient. This is all a part of making sure that this experiment of medical marijuana can become the first step to making this legal for all in our state.
One thing I learned early on in owning a business is to not talk religion or politics. I have abided by this for my entire business life. But watching my brother die having to figure out illegal ways to obtain the only drug that would ease his pain and also have to try to locate it on the street was something that has stayed with me for over twenty years. Listening to the stories of people who have intense joint pain or back pain (no pun intended) and I know that medical marijuana would be helpful, but the codes necessary do not attach to these ailments. I must speak about this because I have seen its effectiveness. There is no reason why people who need it, like my brother did, should have to register like a common criminal with the state, pay yet another fee and have limitations like a ridiculous wait to obtain the card that has now been changed from a two year license to a one year.
As I stood there in the line waiting to spend a hundred dollars among every other person standing in the line waiting to spend probably more than that, I couldn’t help but think, “Why is this not legal here beyond medical?” I understand the perception of its harmful effects, but when I think about the positive effects compared to hard core drugs that are highly addictive, and up until recently highly available and the future tax income potential, this seems like a no brainer. I would rather know where the product was coming from because let’s face it, if someone wants to smoke pot, they are going to smoke pot. Why not capitalize and at the same time make sure the pot is clean and sourced properly?
It is seldom we hear of someone going into a public place and blowing it up because someone was high on marijuana. Alcohol is far more dangerous, cigarettes are still being made and sold and our children are still smoking them and we know the damaging effects of both of those. I am sure there is lots of research that marijuana is a gateway drug that the anti marijuana people out there espouse, but in my humble opinion, no scientific backup here, I don’t know one single person in my early circle from both my younger years and my present years who has ever gone beyond marijuana to something stronger. And back in the day living on a 3 by 9 mile island there wasn’t much to do besides smoke pot; lots of pot. Actually I have found the opposite to be true, if anything marijuana helps the sugar industry more than the heroin one. It surely doesn’t help the alcohol industry as this is the last thing I want to drink after a few puffs on a joint.
Is it big Pharma that is lobbying against marijuana becoming legal? Because goodness knows pharmaceutical companies are not going to be creating large organic growing fields in their highly industrialized buildings. If the sugar conglomerates out there are concerned about their demise as more and more of the general population learns that the sugar industry is more like the cigarette companies of yesteryear (like the bread companies were when Dr. Atkins came out screaming the negatives of bread, remember that?) they should be lobbying full throttle for its full legalization. Sugar and pot are like peanut butter and jelly, it is a marriage made in heaven. The restaurant business should also be gathering their posse and trying to get this legalized too for that matter. People are going to smoke pot. Why not monetize it and do something that helps grow our state tax base?
Like alcohol, I do not feel it should be allowed in outdoor public places, or in cars of anyone driving or passengers. It should be smoked in controlled spaces and in the privacy of our own homes or backyards. Why are so many so afraid of this? This industry is here to stay. What part our little state plays in it is the sixty four thousand dollar question? When I say I am in the wrong business, I don’t mean that I would ever want to own a compassion center, way too much red tape. I hope it is worth it for these rebel owners who have risked much to be the line leaders in this growing business. As I consider the future of retail and downtown livelihoods as we move further and further towards everything being available online, I witnessed that people actually have money and actually still leave their homes to shop. If marijuana was legal, the opportunities for brick and mortar businesses are exciting and I am not just speaking of places that sell it.
I know that there are people who believe that we don’t need more drugs, people should be high on life, exercise, hobbies, but indulging in alter experiences is not anything new. Humans like alter experiences and they are going to continue legal or not. Let’s make this happen and allow for the legalization of marijuana for all. Regulate away, tax away for that matter as good old fashioned economics will drive the success of the legalization simply because of supply and demand. People want to buy pot legally and are willing to pay for it. How many Apple I phones have you bought when the one you have is perfectly fine. You want it, you are willing to pay the absurd $850 for it and you don’t even need it. Rhode Island has the apple store potential if we can legalize marijuana. In weak economies, the businesses that thrive are liquor and lipstick; the feel good items. Marijuana is a feel good too. I know as my conservative peeps out there are reading this, they may be cringing with the notion that I am taking such a strong stance on this issue. It is always a risk when you say something controversial, but I have seen the struggles of many who would benefit and I have first hand knowledge of its many positives. I don’t think our kids should smoke pot. I also don’t think our kids should drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. I am fully aware that this next step will need lots of detailed focus to avoid the potential of our children getting their hands on anything that could harm them. Massachusetts is getting ready to open their stores. We should move on this sooner than later so everyone in RI is not driving across the Massachusetts line to not only save on state tax, but the inevitable marijuana purchases as soon as Mass opens their first store.
We are often tongue and cheek referred to as Rogue Island. Let’s for once find ourselves being known as rogue for something instead of shady and misaligned politicians and Crimetown. Just because it is legal, doesn’t mean everyone has to indulge. As a matter of fact, every resident could be a beneficiary of the wealth of cash from the taxes our state could put on this out of the gate. As our governor goes after big businesses to expand and build here in our state, we have a monetary opportunity right under our nose. Way better than adding super harmful gambling casinos to our little state and a great opportunity to soften and create grooviness too. We don’t need more casinos, we surely don’t need any more corrupt politicians, we have plenty of those, progressive thinking about new business doesn’t have to be just going after tech companies or adding more bike paths (though I whole heatedly support both).
When I think about the part of legalization that is the fun part, I know there is a lot of potential. I am not naïve though. I know there are many regulations that have to be considered and I feel for law enforcement and politicians who will have to work hard to make laws that haven’t been created yet. We have many states like Colorado who have already been at this. Let’s find out what is working, what they would have done differently in hindsight and adapt what is working without reinventing that wheel, learn and correct what has not worked and fixed some of the issues that they have had. I am sure that this writing today will sit both comfortably and uncomfortably with many, but here is the thing- when I think of how much marijuana has helped me, how much it helped my brother, I am a believer. May the critics not ever have to be in the shoes of someone who needs it, but in my opinion whether someone needs it or wants it, it should be available. Time will tell but for now I will happily continue to take full advantage of my very legal card until maybe our state legislature can move ahead and consider that there are so many who will benefit from across the board legalization. Are you listening?