Club Medicine

By Christie, Jim | Reason, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Club Medicine


Christie, Jim, Reason


Support for medical marijuana is growing, but many patients are not waiting for a change in policy.

Shortly after his arrest last May, Ronald "Stich" Miller showed off what was left of his marijuana-growing facility and recalled his plants, more than 100 of them, with pride. He boasts that the confiscated crop of "Seattle Blue" clones he was cultivating in a Bainbridge Island, Washington, mobile home could have been featured in High Times, the marijuana aficionado's journal. The police who arrested Miller and JoAnna McKee, his live-in companion, were similarly impressed, according to McKee. "The police told us they never had seen anything as clean as our plants," she says.

The police shouldn't have been surprised. Miller and McKee are the founders and operators of Green+Cross Patient Coop, Washington state's sole above-ground medical-marijuana network, an open secret on the island and in Seattle, a half-hour ferry ride to the east. Earlier in the year, Miller was shown delivering marijuana on a Seattle PBS program called Health Notes, in a segment originally produced for the McNeil-Lehrer NewsHour. In 1994, McKee unsuccessfully lobbied the Bainbridge Island City Council for a resolution urging local police to deprioritize arrests of pot users with painful medical conditions. The resolution also urged the federal government to permit the use of doctor-prescribed marijuana.

Looking through Miller and McKee's files after the arrest, the police would have seen the signed doctors' letters required by Green+Cross, certifying that the patients had informed their physicians of their intent to seek marijuana from the coop. The couple also kept a mission statement: "GCPC will not sell cannabis. Instead, it will be given away with the understanding that financial contributions will be accepted and should be sufficient to maintain our operation costs. Persons who are unable to make a financial contribution shall not be denied cannabis because of their inability to pay."

Judging by the middle-aged couple's modest home, from which they were evicted shortly after their arrest, Miller and McKee were not turning many people away. A "Don't Tread on Me" banner next to their front door, which police kicked open to serve a search warrant, advertised their attitude. (In September, a Kitsap County Superior Court judge threw out the county's case against Miller and McKee because police overstepped the limits of the search warrant.) Inside the mobile home, the couple didn't have much in the way of possessions. They are frank about their marijuana use and about why they started Green+Cross. Money wasn't one of the reasons. "In a year's production, if we were providing for the street, we'd be able to make $500,000," Miller says. "We did everything for donation and cost." McKee says patients did not donate any set amount. "It was always pay what you want."

Green+Cross, which had been up and running for a little less than two years before the bust, was well known in Seattle's AIDS community. Shortly after Miller and McKee were arrested, Bill and Jim, partners and co-op members from Seattle, dropped in on the couple for a visit and stayed for an interview I had scheduled with Miller and McKee. Bill and Jim had found out about Green+Cross through an AIDS treatment clinic in Seattle. "A lot of doctors don't really want to talk about it," Bill says. "It was a case worker who slipped a number to me and said, 'You might want to get in touch.'" Neither man has much to lose by getting involved with Miller and McKee. Bill has been struggling with AIDS for nine years, while Jim suffers from degenerative arthritis, prostate cancer, and a history of strokes.

The two vouch for the quality of the product provided by Green+Cross. Although his face is gaunt, Bill says he has gained six pounds since he started using Green+Cross marijuana, which helps him with his appetite. Smoking marijuana also helps Bill with another constant of AIDS. …

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