We visited a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, where we met a mysterious bird
"His name is 'Big Baba Bird" – Muraco, the leader of the dispensary, introduces me to the big white parrot which has settled on my shoulder. We hadn't expected that even the bird which is the main decoration of Green Buddha, one of the most famous marijuana dispensaries in Seattle, has a story. "I have an illness: seizures, which doctors can't predict or prevent, hit me unpredictably. However Big Baba Bird can sense the seizure coming a few minutes ahead, and she warns me, so I can override it with marijuana. It's a mystery how he can do it, there are very few animals which are capable of this," says Muraco, stroking the bird.
The dispensary itself isn't any less mysterious: it's not exactly called a ’shop’, because the 1998 Washington law on medical marijuana doesn't allow its sale. However, those who smoke marijuana as a medical treatment are allowed to create collectives, through which they can grow and share their own grass. So, customers aren't customers: officially they pay a donation in exchange for marijuana. They can choose from many kinds of good quality marijuana and hashish from the counter.
Muraco, the head of the dispensary
"For example, this one is very good for people who are too stressed to fall asleep after a hard day," she says, showing me one of the varieties. "And this is my own cross-breeding. You don't get high, because it contains a very low amount of THC, the active constituent, but it has a very high amount of CBD, which is good for palliating convulsions, so those who don't want to get high can also enjoy its benefits". She cites the example of a woman with spinal injury, for whom only high-CBD marijuana worked instead of traditional medicines, but it can ease the pains of others who are also suffering from other diseases. It is successfully used for controlling moderating seizures and trepidity among those suffering from multiple sclerosis. In many cases, it is the only thing which will enhance appetite and ease feelings of nausea for many patients undergoing chemotheraphy.
The owner of the shop is a professional, and answers all my questions immediately – categorising all previous assumptions about medical marijuana as 'voodoo science'. Each type of marijuana is tested in a laboratory, so patients are aware of the amount of active substance it contains. Cannabis is also strictly quality-controlled: for example, if it shows signs of fungus or other infections, it is destroyed, as it could be dangerous for patients with weak immune systems.
"One of the main arguments used against smoking marijuana is that it impairs lung function," admits Muraco. "That's true, but we teach patients not to smoke cannabis, but to vaporize it instead. The vaporizer is a smart device, which heats marijuana to a proper temperature, giving off vapours full of active ingredients." There is a room in the shop where vaporizer-training sessions are held, with information on the dangers of smoking and demonstrations of how the device works. Americans, unlike Europeans, hardly ever mix tobacco with marijuana.
"Unfortunately, the vaporizer industry, similarly to the marijuana business, is not regulated because of anti-pot prejudices," Muraco points out. "However, there is a great need for supporting these forms of harm reduction by authorities and we need FDA-approved vaporizers. Unfortunately, there are devices which work with butane gas, and which therefore pose a risk of causing the patient to ingest the toxic gas.
There are volunteers working at the Green Buddha who are also members of the medical marijuana patients' collective. It is not permitted to use marijuana in the shop because it's not like a coffee shop in the Netherlands. The client comes in, selects from the available strains of marijuana, leaves a donation, and consumes the plant at home. Muraco says that this whole business, if done properly, isn't so profitable, but she can make a living. She believes there are dispensaries which are maintained by the Mexican drug cartels to sell low quality cannabis from illegal plantations. Many of these dispensaries were closed by the DEA, which doesn't raid authentic medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle.
"We don't have any problems with the authorities," says Muraco. "They only target shops which are cover operations for inter-state marijuana trade. They leave us medical marijuana patients alone here. And now that the recreational use of marijuana has become legal, this will be even more true.'
Big Baba Bird approves, squawking loudly.
Posted by Peter Sarosi