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Seattle farmers market features medical marijuana

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
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Medical marijuana farmer market
  • Recommendation from a health care provider needed to shop at the farmers market
  • The market operates in a legal gray zone in the state of Washington
  • Organizers hope a bill in the state legislature will give medical pot users better legal footing

Seattle (CNN) -- The crops for sale carry labels like "dark vader," "uk cheese" and "white russian."

But the overwhelming smell of cannabis gives away the fact that there is really only one item for sale here: medical marijuana.

There was little publicity for Seattle's first medical marijuana farmers market held on Sunday. No posters or signs were hung outside the market's venue, a small club where "erotic poetry" readings are held.

Word of mouth alone though packed the hall as hundreds of people lined up to go in. They gained entrance with a recommendation from a health care provider stating that they need marijuana to treat a medical condition.

"I am actually standing upright because of cannabis, there's nothing else I found that would help me with chronic pain issues," said John Muise, a gaunt figure with long dangling dreadlocks. "I couldn't even explain how my life would be if I didn't have cannabis. I would probably be addicted to opiates and in a wheelchair."

Despite the packed crowds and stands full of marijuana, the farmers market operates in a legal gray zone.

"Medical marijuana is not legal in the state of Washington," said state Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer. A law passed in 1998 allows for what is called the "medical marijuana defense" -- that allows for juries to take into account if someone charged with pot possession was taking the drug for health purposes.

Under the current law, certain health care providers like doctors or nurse practitioner can issue the recommendations for medical marijuana for a variety of ailments including cancer, HIV and anorexia.

But unlike in California or Colorado where medical marijuana initiatives led to an explosion of dispensaries that provide the drug, in Washington the medical marijuana community has remained, for the most part, underground.

"Dispensaries are not legal, co-ops are not legal here," Moyer said. "The intent of the law is that you receive medical marijuana from a designated provider who can only help one patient at one time. Some people are interpreting that as they provide marijuana to someone and then 15 minutes later do it again for another patient."

"It's a city by city, county by county situation right now," said Philip Dawdy, a spokesman for the Sunday market and medical marijuana advocate who says there is still "an old West" feel to the medical marijuana community in the state.

In Seattle, however, medical marijuana users have something of safe haven. A 2003 measure officially pegged arresting people for personal use of marijuana as the lowest priority for the city's police department.

Still fears persist among medical marijuana users. At the market, several attendees asked the handful of news crews present not to take images of them. One couple said they would lose their jobs as teachers if the school where they worked found out they were at the event.

"This could be construed as dealing drugs," medical marijuana grower Ken Bell said as a line of customers grew in front of his "Ken's Medicine Bowl" stand. "We need the state to clarify the gray areas."

Market organizers said they are hopeful that a bill working its way through Washington's legislature will provide medical marijuana users and growers in the state surer legal footing to operate on.

In the meantime, organizers say they will hold more farmers markets and push for medical marijuana rights -- within limits.

"We don't want to be anything like California," market spokesman Dawdy said. "They literally have dispensaries on top of each other in Venice Beach and out in the valley."