Jim Klahr and Desmond Robinson, the proprietors of Curry County’s first medical marijuana dispensary, aren’t just out to help people ease the pain of their skin cancer, or stop the obsessive yelling of an Alzheimer’s patient.
They opened the shop in Harbor, in part, with a goal of educating people that medicinal marijuana isn’t the scourge the “War on Drugs” has led many to believe — and might just be the solution to chronic problems traditional Western medicine has been unable to alleviate.
“I learned a long time ago not to listen to the buzz around this issue,” Klahr said of the controversy.
Klahr has long been involved in the fight to get where he is today.
He was involved in California’s fight to get cannabis legalized for medicinal purposes. He’s served on committees and tried to educate people of all stripes — doctors to legislators — about the medical uses of the plant.
Klahr continued the fight in Oregon, first to get marijuana legal for medicinal use and then to get dispensaries open so patients felt more comfortable obtaining it.
Hence the name of his store: Banana Belt Safe Access Center.
He has a personal interest in keeping it legal, too.
Klahr’s “rock and roll lifestyle” landed him on the federal list to get a new kidney in 2002. But the irony is that he cannot be on any form of cannabis to remain on the list — and cannabis is the only thing that lowers the numbers that rate how bad his disease is.
He’s avoided medical marijuana as he awaits his new kidney.
Curry County and Brookings elected officials, he noted, were the only ones in Southern Oregon, other than those in Klamath County, who didn’t place moratoriums on dispensary openings; his store opened three weeks ago.
It’s not some dimly-lit den of iniquity, but a clean facility with windows that light up the large waiting area. Currently two rooms are being used, one for consultation, the other to discuss the various aspects of the products.
The state of Oregon on March 1 enacted 31 pages of regulations by which a dispensary must abide, ranging from how far apart facilities must be from one another to security systems and product testing.
Klahr has about a half-dozen suppliers — Oregonians who have been approved by the state to grow marijuana and have it tested for mold and pesticides — and has registered within his system more than 100 of Curry County’s 700 card-carrying medical marijuana patients.
Still, after all their work in two states, Klahr and Robinson were unsure what to expect on opening day.
“We’d heard all these bikers were going to come down from Gold Beach,” Klahr said. “Little lies like that. But it spread by word of mouth, then we did the ads in the paper, then got the flags and the sign.
“That’s the story,” he added. “A new business has opened up and seven people are working, making money at a job they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
The stigma still exists, however, and mostly among the people who grew up in the age of “drugs, sex and rock and roll.” The federal government, which is increasingly tolerant of medicinal marijuana use, still has the drug labeled as a controlled substance.
“It’s still out there,” Robinson said. “We try to educate. The crew is always educating the people they meet, even patients and cardholders.”
In the business’s Green Room are two glass cases with five glass containers holding different strains of marijuana. Under each jar is a sheet listing the potency of each herb, and the results of its pesticide analysis and mold and mildew screening.
It indicates that a batch of Super Silver Haze (Out) has a THC level of 22.02 percent and a CBD level of .22 percent. CBD is what people seek when they’re looking to relieve the pain of a disease, or if they suffer from insomnia. But THC — known as the “active ingredient” in marijuana — is what helps people with quality of life issues.
Robinson admits it gives people a little boost of euphoria — but that is often enough to enable them to participate in life for three or four hours, be it enjoying a book or puttering around the garden.
To many, he said, it provides freedom to do things they might not have been able to for years.
Some of the most difficult people to educate about the medicinal uses have been, ironically, those in the medical field, the two men agreed.
Medical practitioners have been taught, Klahr said, to believe marijuana has no medicinal applications of any value. That’s supported by lobbyists of the pharmaceutical companies who don’t want patients leaving their customer pool. The government’s in the mix, too, he said.
“Very, very few doctors and social workers have any training in cannabis therapeutics,” Klahr said. “That’s where it’s got to come from.”
Klahr worked with a Nobel Prize-winning physician in California who wanted to conduct research on the applications of medical marijuana and applied for a grant to finance it.
“They said, ‘What are you looking for?’” Klahr related. “He said, ‘I don’t know; I’m a researcher.’ And they said, ‘Well, if you’re not looking for the bad stuff, you can’t have the grant.’”
It’s a constant battle, the men agreed.
Legislators here tried blocking the legalization of the herb, right up to the end, Robinson said.
“This came down to the week we were going to open,” he said. “They tried to get testing to be to the level of pharmaceuticals (a much higher level), which is ridiculous.”
The legislation reads that plants will be tested for molds, fungi and pesticides to protect a patient’s health; any contaminated material is returned to the supplier.
It isn’t hard to find people who have benefitted from the medicinal powers of cannabis: people with brain injuries or are in constant pain due to cancer; whose AIDS-related nausea prevents them from eating; who suffer seizures dozens of times every day — the list goes on.
Robinson suffers from neuropathy — no sensation — in his lower left leg, and pain from nine hip surgeries, some of which went awry.
“I don’t want the euphoria (some medicinal strains provide),” he said. “I want pain relief. I need a functional medicine that’s not going to set me on the couch for three hours — or make me want to get out and mow the lawn or something.”
What Klahr and Robinson have found here is that most of their patients suffer from pain, quality of life issues and insomnia. About 75 percent of them are over the age of 40 — a new registrant is 82 — and an increasing number of those in their 60s and 70s are coming in to see if it’s the right drug for them.
And increasingly, studies are showing the benefits of medical marijuana in the lives of people at the end their lives.
“This is the same argument as the ‘Death with Dignity’ — what kind of life is a person supposed to have at the end of their life?” Klahr said. “Should they be hassled for how they want to spend the end of their life? Can’t I live out my last year or years the way I see fit?”
It doesn’t mean visitors to assisted-living facilities will walk in and see grandma smoking a joint, either. Many forms of medicinal marijuana are dispensed in salves that are applied topically, or eaten in a wide array of prepared foods.
Banana Belt Safe Access Center plans to soon include medicinal marijuana in other forms: foods, oils, salves, tinctures and candies. Additionally, two doctors have expressed an interest in opening their offices within the Safe Access Center to run their general practices.
And so far, they haven’t had to hit their panic buttons once to alert law enforcement to any problem. They have called, however.
“To get (Sheriff) John (Bishop) to come down here,” Robinson said with a laugh. “I wish he would come down. I’d tell him, ‘I could fund your jail (with tax revenue generated from the facility). I could rebuild your jail.’”
Bishop has strongly come out against marijuana legalization, citing the federal government’s stance on it.
“I would gladly give the Curry County Jail $1 per gram for every gram I sold,” Klahr said.
The industrialization of all the cannabis families is a whole other venture however. Klahr dreams of the day he can talk to the folks at South Coast Lumber to see if their facility could accommodate hemp to make linen. Classes in the business of hemp’s uses could be offered at the local community college. Hemp T-shirts, he said, have proven in preliminary tests to eradicate MERSA, the bacterial infection that afflicts some people during hospital stays and is resistant to antibiotics.
“We’re just starting,” Robinson said. “The potential is mind-boggling, if it’s allowed to happen. It all depends on this facility and the next one that comes along and how we treat our patients.”
Banana Belt Safe Access Center is located in the Hanscam building at 16399 Lower Harbor Road and can be reached at 541-813-2503 or www.bananabeltmmf.com.