Without the help of medical marijuana, hundreds of veterans might not be around today, Cheryl White said Thursday.
The self-described “Army mom and old hippie” nearly lost her son a few years ago when he returned from three overseas combat tours. For about eight years, she hardly saw or spoke to him.
“He was just shelled up, he came back broken,” White said. “He couldn’t be around people.”
But since he began using medical marijuana, White said, she’s seen a huge difference in him. She believes cannabis saved his live.
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It’s had a huge effect on her life, too. The three-time breast cancer survivor said that dozens of surgeries and chemotherapy treatment left her body battered. Rather than turn to pills, White, like her son, opted to use medical marijuana.
“It makes everything tolerable,” White said.
White was among dozens of patients who visited Rainier Xpress, a downtown Olympia dispensary, on Thursday. On Friday (July 1), the business — and all other medical marijuana businesses in the state that have not gotten licenses — will close its doors, and patients will need to find somewhere else to buy their marijuana.
Business owner Patrick Seifert said Rainier Xpress has about 9,000 clients — 4,000 of whom are veterans. He worries that they won’t be able to find the products they need in the licensed recreational marijuana stores, where medical marijuana patients are now expected to buy their cannabis.
He said that many patients suffering from chronic pain or nausea choose to use products high in CBD instead of THC. The difference, he said, is that CBD blocks pain receptors, while THC provides a “head high.”
“Nobody is growing (CBD marijuana) because in the recreational market, no one wants it,” Seifert said. “I’ve already had customers leaving in tears because they don’t know what they’re going to do.”
White teared up, too, when she considered that her son may not be able to find the marijuana he’s accustomed to. She said she believes Rainier Xpress’s closure could create a crisis for veteran patients. She worries that many will turn to prescription painkillers without access to medical marijuana.
“You don’t take medication away from the people who need it,” White said. “If anything happens to my son, I’ll go after the government.”
Trying to stay open
Seifert said Rainier Xpress will close despite several efforts to keep it going. But there was a problem with timing.
When Rainier Xpress first opened in February 2012, it was located on Legion Way, near Sylvester Park. Last July, Seifert moved the store to its current location at 322 Fourth Ave. E.
But the new location made it hard for Seifert to convert his store to a state-licensed recreational and medical marijuana establishment. State law mandates that marijuana businesses can’t be located within 1,000 feet of a playground or public park — and Rainier Xpress is too close to the Artesian Commons park at Fourth and Jefferson.
The park is the site of the city’s only publicly accessible artesian well, but it also has been a lightning rod downtown since it opened in May 2014 because of crime and drug use there.
“The well is the reason that we can’t stay here, but the well is probably where somebody is shooting up right now,” Seifert said.
The state began taking applications from medical marijuana businesses that were seeking to become medically-endorsed retail businesses in October 2015. Seifert said he waited about a month to turn in his application because he needed to find a new location.
He secured about $1.4 million in financing and planned to move Rainier Xpress to the former Desire Gentlemen's Club at 3200 Pacific Ave. But by the time Seifert pulled the plan together, all of the licenses available in Olympia had been spoken for.
“Waiting that month killed us,” Seifert said. “We didn’t even have a chance.”
He’s heard that several other medical marijuana business owners are in the same boat — so he worries that it will be much harder for patients to access marijuana.
“How can you say this is for the patients if you’re taking away more than half of the access?” he asked.
The efforts to preserve Rainier Xpress — as well as 12 other Washington dispensaries — came down to the wire Thursday. Attorney Moe Spencer filed for a temporary restraining order in Thurston County Superior Court, which would have allowed for the dispensaries to stay open for the time being. The basis of his argument was that all 13 of his clients had been denied licenses, even though most of them had applied on, or just after, Oct. 12, 2015 — the day the state began taking applications.
“None of these people are getting a license, and that’s the big issue,” Spencer said. “It was completely arbitrary.”
Judge Carol Murphy denied the motion on Thursday, and Spencer rushed up to Tacoma to the Court of Appeals to file an emergency motion. But he learned that he hadn’t filed the necessary paperwork in Thurston County.
Spencer said he plans to continue the process Friday (July 1).
What’s next for Rainier Xpress?
Seifert said he’s hopeful he’ll find his niche in the reshaped medical marijuana industry. He’s so hopeful that he’s extended his lease at the downtown Olympia location by three months.
But the business operating there likely won’t be Rainier Xpress. Seifert hopes to open Releaf Xchange, which would essentially guide patients through the new system.
Starting July 1, the state also will no longer allow collective gardens, groups of up to 10 patients who together could grow as many as 45 plants. Instead, just four patients on the state database will be able to band together to grow as many as six plants each.
Seifert said Releaf Xchange will help bring patients together to form these cooperatives.
He also hopes to teach classes about safe marijuana use.
One of Seifert’s priorities is to continue working with 22 Too Many, an organization that bloomed out of Rainier Xpress in 2012.
The Marine Corps veteran said other veterans frequently came into his business to ask for help. Many talked about wanting to end their lives or harm themselves. From there, he created what he calls the “24-hour promise” — in which veterans promise not to harm themselves for 24 hours, and Seifert and other 22 Too Many volunteers promise to help that veteran out.
Seifert then adds the veterans’ names to a whiteboard in his office, and they become what he calls his “whiteboard veterans.”
“They don’t come off of that whiteboard until they’re back on their feet,” Seifert said.
Several of Seifert’s veteran patients were at Rainier Xpress Thursday, chatting and purchasing marijuana before the story closed. Most said they weren’t comfortable talking to The Olympian because they didn’t want their marijuana use to affect other aspects of their lives — including other medical care they’re receiving through the government.
A veteran named Sandy said she’ll miss Rainier Xpress because of the professional way in which Seifert and his employees provide their services.
“This place, it hasn’t been a bud store where you come to get messed up,” Sandy said. “It’s a medicine, and they treat it that way.”
Sandy said she uses marijuana to deal with anxiety and a degenerative disease that affects her back, knees and ankles.
“It calms my head,” she said. “And I prefer it over the other addictive painkillers.
“I really don’t know why they’re taking this away from us.”