PORTLAND, Ore. - Just before Cannabis Cafe opened with media fanfare in Portland, another pot "lounge" quietly opened off of Southeast Portland's Foster Road.
Highway 420, referenced Nov. 21 in an Associated Press story about Oregon's role in national pot politics, opened its “Vaporizer Lounge” Nov. 2, according to owner Steve Geiger.
“To have a retail business with a lounge, open and out front, we may be one of the first in Oregon," said Geiger at Highway 420. "But every one of the cannabis organizations have been doing something similar for years.”
Indeed Oregon actually is behind the curve when it comes to American public pot cafes. The WeedMaps.com directory of marijuana dispensaries lists nine existing cafes in California - including coffee shops - that allow medical marijuana smoking. There’s also one in Oakland, Calif. California and Oregon are two of 13 states where medical marijuana is legal.
However, a CNBC report covering California's pot industry during the Bush administration went in depth into grow and cafe options there - all while proprietors lived in fear of federal crackdowns sweeping the state. The crackdowns followed a push by Attorney General John Ashcroft to prosecute legal growers and users in states where marijuana was allowed.
Then, in March, the new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder under Obama said federal agents would not target marijuana distributors that weren't violate both federal and state laws. On Oct. 19, a federal Justice Department policy memo clarified that its federal agents could no longer prosecute legal dispensaries in states that allow medical marijuana.
Consequently, Geiger predicts other lounges soon will follow in Oregon. The newly-renamed Rumpspankers - now Cannabis Cafe - "may be the first local restaurant," Geiger said, "and we might be the first head shop with a vaporizer lounge, but there will be a dozen places in a very short period of time."
"It’s really long overdue in our state," Geiger said. "If someone was on another pharmaceutical, they could take it outside of their home. They need their medicine, even when they’re out and about, and they need a place sometimes to stop. We’re not trying to save the world, or be the first, we just want to provide for the needs of those who have prescriptions and need the medicine and need somewhere to smoke when they’re out.”
A medical card is required at Highway 420. All participants sign a club contract to enter the lounge.
“It’s $20 dues for the year, and you have to be a patient – not a caregiver or grower (a little different than Rumpspankers) – and you have to have those cards with you and sign a code of conduct that says you will not drive or try to do anything illegal or sell anything,” Geiger tells KATU.com. “We had about 20 members sign up in the first two weeks after we opened up.”