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Patient Collective Profile: Tacoma Hemp, Tacoma, WA

25 May 2010 News 25,777 views 29 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Early in 2009, Justin Prince began growing marijuana for a Washington State friend who was a licensed patient. He was disturbed to learn what was being passed off as medicine.

“It wasn’t really a medical choice; It was a purchase option,” insists Prince, 38. “Low-quality, outdoor shit-weed from California or local eastern Washington stuff — nothing good. The streets take advantage of there being a demand for weed, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad.

“I hadn’t realized that Washington was so far behind California in terms of having people around who weren’t just trying to profiteer off patients.”

What Prince saw came to see made him “fed up over what was being offered” and led the Washington native to develop Tacoma Hemp, the first legal dispensary in his hometown. The process was “tricky” initially, but it wasn’t long before both the tangible and intangible benefits of his business venture revealed themselves.

Prince, a verbal and energetic businessman who’s still pouring revenues back into his operation, started out by getting on the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation’s list of credentialed volunteers. At first he worked out of his home, delivering marijuana both in-town and to far-flung hamlets around Washington. Quickly, requests built up to the extent that he began asking patients to come to him. That’s how Tacoma Hemp’s modest, second-story downtown location came into existence.

Upon initial entry, the most notable facet of Tacoma Hemp is a large wall menu of offerings from Eat-N-Fly, a local edibles manufacturer. They include pumpkin and shortbread cookies that would be remarkable even if they contained none of the strong marijuana that put them over the top. There are pipes and tinctures behind glass and, out of view, potent green buds. The dispensary carries a 100 percent return policy.

Maybe the item that most speaks to the ethos of Tacoma Hemp is one thing that’s not for sale: A copy of Jack Herer’s pro-pot tome The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which sits atop a glass case. The writer/activist passed away in Eugene, Oregon last month, and his work will have no more passionate an evangelist than the man who runs Tacoma Hemp.

Retaining long-term relationships with local growers instead of dealing with inter-state providers is crucial to keeping prices reasonable in this part of  Washington — less cosmopolitan and more conservative than Seattle — according to Prince.  If a patient grows a plant that meets Tacoma Hemp’s standards, that marijuana is likely to be offered to other patients.

“The patient, as a collective, determine what we’re going to carry,” he says. The dispensary’s clientele ranges typically from 30 to 65 years of age, with some in their 80s and its youngest patient being a 15-year-old with ADHD, among other maladies. “I’ve had a pretty good selection from the time that I started.”

Prince is also the force behind Tacoma Hempfest, which will be held in Wright Park on June 26. Both established activists and civilians are set to discuss and celebrate the benefits of medical marijuana.

While running Tacoma Hemp remains a cross between a mission and a labor of love for its operator, there’s little sense that he’s come to see dispensing marijuana as a simple path to glory or enrichment. Beyond the expectedly snippy and ill-informed local daily newspaper articles, there are harsh realities that make the work difficult, if ultimately satisfying.  (As in other states where state and local laws have yet to be reconciled, plant count limits are wildly variable, which can put growers at risk. Also, thefts from growers remain a hushed-up fact of life.) Prince finds retaining a sense of purpose to be central to his enterprise’s survival.

“It’s an ever-expanding market,” he says. “The [dispensary operators] that are simply in it just to take advantage of people don’t have a chance to last very long. If you don’t actually serve the medical community and you are just taking care of your own pocket, you aren’t going to be around very long.”


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