November 14, 2009
By Dan Cook
The United States’ first marijuana cafe
opened on Friday, posing an early test of the Obama administration’s move
to relax policing of medical use of the drug.
The Cannabis Cafe in Portland, Oregon, is the first to give certified
medical marijuana users a place to get hold of the drug and smoke it — as
long as they are out of public view — despite a federal ban.
“This club represents personal freedom, finally, for our members,” said
Madeline Martinez, Oregon’s executive director of NORML, a group pushing
for marijuana legalization.
“Our plans go beyond serving food and marijuana,” said Martinez. “We hope
to have classes, seminars, even a Cannabis Community College, based here
to help people learn about growing and other uses for cannabis.”
The cafe — in a two-story building which formerly housed a speak-easy and
adult erotic club Rumpspankers — is technically a private club, but is
open to any Oregon residents who are NORML members and hold an official
medical marijuana card.
Members pay $25 per month to use the 100-person capacity cafe. They don’t
buy marijuana, but get it free over the counter from “budtenders”. Open 10
a.m. to 10 p.m., it serves food but has no liquor license.
There are about 21,000 patients registered to use marijuana for medical
purposes in Oregon. Doctors have prescribed marijuana for a host of
illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and
On opening day, reporters invited to the cafe could smell, but were not
allowed to see, people smoking marijuana.
“I still run a coffee shop and events venue, just like I did before we
converted it to the Cannabis Cafe, but now it will be cannabis-themed,”
said Eric Solomon, the owner of the cafe, who is looking forward to
holding marijuana-themed weddings, film festivals and dances in the
The creation of the cafe comes almost a month after the Obama
administration told federal attorneys not to prosecute patients who use
marijuana for medical reasons or dispensaries in states which have
About a dozen states, including Oregon, followed California’s 1996 move to
adopt medical marijuana laws, allowing the drug to be cultivated and sold
for medical use. A similar number have pending legislation or ballot
Pot cafes, known as “coffee shops”, are popular in the Dutch city of
Amsterdam, where possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal.
Portland’s Cannabis Cafe is the first of its kind to open in the United
States, according to NORML.
Growing, possessing, distributing and smoking marijuana are still illegal
under U.S. federal law, which makes no distinction between medical and
Federal and local law enforcement agencies did not return phone calls from
Reuters on Friday seeking comment on the Portland cafe’s operations.
“To have a place that is this open about its activities, where people can
come together and smoke — I say that’s pretty amazing.” said Tim Pate, a
longtime NORML member, at the cafe.
Some locals are hoping it might even be good for business.
“I know some neighbors are pretty negative about this place opening up,”
said David Bell, who works at a boutique that shares space with the cafe.
“But I’m withholding judgment. There’s no precedent for it. We don’t know
what to expect. But it would great if it brought some customers into our
(Writing by Bill Rigby; editing by Mohammad Zargham)