“If you don’t like medical marijuana … then you aren’t going to like the future,” reads the slogan on a T-shirt for sale at The Healing Center, a medical marijuana outlet in downtown Olympia that welcomed a steady stream of customers on a rainy afternoon in January.
"If you don’t like medical marijuana … then you aren’t going to like the future,” reads the slogan on a T-shirt for sale at The Healing Center, a medical marijuana outlet in downtown Olympia that welcomed a steady stream of customers on a rainy afternoon in January.
John Dimler, an elderly man who walked in using a cane, said he smokes marijuana to help with the pain from his encephalomyelitis, a virus that put him in the hospital for 45 days in 2001. “I’m in pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dimler said.
Dimler credited marijuana with helping him kick his addiction to oxycontin and other prescription painkillers. Dimler, who lives in Grays Harbor County, said he went to a dispensary near his home, but he didn’t like the “attitude.” He said the people who ran it were more like drug dealers than health care providers.
The Healing Center was different, he said.
“When I came in here, it was like I walked into a doctor’s office,” he said. “They treated me with respect. They definitely were concerned with what was wrong with me. Places like this are definitely needed.”
If medical marijuana truly is the future, the proprietors of establishments such as The Healing Center on Capitol Way and Cannabis Outreach Services on Lacey Boulevard in Lacey will be remembered as pioneers in Washington’s medical marijuana movement. Both are operating in a time when facing possible felony charges is part of the cost of doing business.
The Healing Center and Cannabis Outreach Services recently opened their doors to a reporter to provide an insider’s view of how they operate.
The Healing Center is in the heart of downtown Olympia, next door to Ziegler Welding. Cannabis Outreach Services is in a small office park. No outside signage indicates The Healing Center serves medical marijuana patients; a sign reading “Outreach Services” has an arrow pointing to Cannabis Outreach Services.
Inside, both look more like doctor’s offices than head shops – with comfortable waiting areas where patients sit before entering through locked doors to the interior areas where all sorts of marijuana products are sold. During the reporter’s visits, patients of all ages, races and genders were lined up at each location.
Dozens of brands or “strains” of smokeable marijuana – with names such as Lemon Skunk, Train Wreck, Permafrost and Huckleberry – were available. While there are more than 350 strains of marijuana, each with unique properties and benefits, two major types are available to patients, said Ciaran Wilburn, who runs The Healing Center.
Sativa plants give a general feeling of well-being and are used primarily for pain relief, he said. Indica plants provide more of a full “body high” and can be used to combat nausea or help a patient sleep, he said.
Also on sale were numerous edible marijuana products, including cookies, brownies and butter that can be used in cooking and “tinctures” that can be added to tea or other liquids. The Healing Center even sells creams and lotions containing marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, or tetrahydrocannibinol, that can be rubbed on the skin to help alleviate pain.
The center also sells cookbooks and how-to books on growing marijuana.
During the visit to The Healing Center, the crowded lobby was stacked with boxes of donated food for a holiday food drive. Patient Marlis Wilson, 60, and her husband, Darrel, waited in the lobby while a volunteer at a desk behind a window verified the paperwork qualifying her as a valid patient. She then was escorted into the area where marijuana is sold.
Marlis Wilson, who walks with a cane, said she uses topical creams containing THC to help with pain from lumbar surgery she underwent a year and a half ago.
“She’s got two titanium rods and 20 screws in her back,” her husband said.
She said her doctor had prescribed her oxycodone, but she didn’t like the way it made her feel and feared becoming addicted.
Wilson said she would not be able to find or buy products containing cannabis without places like The Healing Center.
“I wouldn’t trust getting it on the street,” she said.
Another patient at The Healing Center, Audre Bonadea, 51, said she has been taking medical marijuana since she broke her back in a 2002 car crash.
“It works better than morphine, and I can’t take that anyway,” she said.
Employees of businesses near The Healing Center and the owner of a business next to the now-closed Olympia Patient Resource dispensary at 420 Steele St. have said the medicinal marijuana establishments are good neighbors.
“The owners are wonderful people,” said Traci Smith, who owns a gifts-and-antiques store next to the Olympia Patient Resource Center, which has not reopened since a Nov. 15 raid by the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force.
Ziegler Welding employee Jon McGraw said he had no problems with The Healing Center next door. He said tax dollars for law enforcement might be better spent on something other than shutting down medical marijuana outlets.
“They should be out busting people for crack and methamphetamine,” McGraw said.
The Healing Center and Cannabis Outreach Services aren’t for-profit operations but are “collective gardens” that accept a maximum “donation” of $10 a gram for cannabis, considerably less than marijuana sells for on the street, said their attorney, Douglas Hiatt, a marijuana legalization activist.
Wilburn, who formerly worked in construction, said he earns about $4,000 a month at The Healing Center after he pays a single paid staff member – the others who work there are volunteers. He said his earnings allow him a standard of living about equal to the one he enjoyed when he worked in construction.
Denny Coughlin said he makes a living operating Cannabis Outreach Services, which opened in March, but declined to say how much he earns.
“It allows everyone to make a modest living, and that’s the straight-up truth,” he said.
Coughlin, 69, said he first smoked marijuana while in the Navy in the 1960s, and noticed its “pleasant” effects were much less destructive than alcohol for many of his fellow servicemen. He began to participate in Seattle’s Hempfest in the early 2000s, after his wife’s death.
He said he became an advocate for medical cannabis after his wife was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1990s. She used it to alleviate nausea and other side-effects of her treatments.
Coughlin’s current wife, who suffered severe burns in her teens in an elevator accident, still uses medical cannabis for pain relief. She also works at the Cannabis Outreach Center, advising other patients on how marijuana can help manage pain.
“What we do here is health care,” Coughlin said. “We actually help people with drug addiction, autism and a wide array of things.”
Neither Coughlin nor Wilburn has a criminal record in Thurston County.
Wilburn, 26, said The Healing Center has served about 4,000 patients since opening in April.
He said he became serious about serving medical cannabis patients after a close family friend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and began to use the drug. He said the woman, who is now dead, initially was reluctant to use medicinal marijuana, but he persuaded her to try it, and it benefitted her greatly.
He said it was sad she had to go to the black market to find the marijuana she needed.
“She didn’t want to until I talked her into it,” Wilburn said of the woman, who was married to an employee of the Washington State Patrol. “We all feel like it gave her back a year of her life.”