A news blog for Seattle's Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods

 

Inside SPaRC, Phinney Ridge’s medical marijuana dispensary

February 19th, 2011 · Comments

Seattle Patient Resource Center (SPaRC) opened quietly last June on the top of the gray building on the northeast corner of Greenwood Avenue North and North 72nd Street. The medical marijuana dispensary bills itself as a full-service “aftercare” facility, serving clients who have a doctor’s referral to use marijuana to treat a variety of chronic and debilitating physical problems.

“We’re a benefit to the patients and a benefit to the community,” SPaRC owner Daryl Christian explained. “That shatters all the stereotypes of the hippie hangout.”

SPaRC is located at 7200 Greenwood Ave. N.

Security at the facility is tight. Visitors to the upstairs dispensary climb the stairs on the north side and must knock on the door and state their name. Employees inside look through the peephole to verify their identity. All outer doors are deadbolted, and the facility is protected by an ADT alarm. Each of the growing rooms inside has a separate locked door.

Three growing rooms have heavy-duty filters that are supposed to take the marijuana smell out to the roof, and a fan runs continuously in the office window. Christian says the marijuana smell should dissipate before reaching the ground. (However, while walking by SPaRC on several occasions, I could sometimes, but not always, smell it.) Posted signs state that smoking on the premises is not allowed.

One of three grow rooms at SPaRC.

In 1998, Washington state passed a law that allows patients suffering from terminal or debilitating physical conditions to use medical marijuana. However, marijuana use remains illegal under federal law. The state law is actually vague on who exactly can grow medical marijuana and how much. A Seattle Times article last month explains the law, and the recent proliferation of dispensaries across the state.

Last month, My Ballard reported on two dispensaries in that neighborhood. Aurora Seattle reports that another medical marijuana dispensary has applied for permits at 8313 Aurora Ave. N. And in an editorial in Thursday’s Seattle Times, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes called for marijuana to be legal, taxed and regulated.

SPaRC, which has a City of Seattle business license, runs its dispensary like a regular store. Just inside the front door is a purchasing window, with a list of prices on a white board. Medical marijuana is stored in large glass jars on shelves behind the window. Qualifying patients are issued SPaRC ID cards. SPaRC employees use a scanner to scan the bar codes on the patient’s card and the jar of medical marijuana, then enter the amount of marijuana that the client wants. Clients are given a receipt with their name, address, the type of marijuana and weight purchased, sales tax and total amount. SPaRC accepts cash or credit cards.

Medical marijuana at SPaRC comes in varieties such as “Stardust” and “Trainwreck.”

The scanner system keeps track of what types and amounts each client has purchased over time, so they can track which kind of marijuana best alleviates their symptoms, and whether they’ve needed more or less of it. SPaRC has a rewards program, including one free gram for 20 grams purchased. Clients can also purchase clones – clippings off the mother plant – to take home to grow their own.

Jars of medical marijuana are labeled with bar codes.

Christian said three or four of SPaRC’s patients died last year. “That’s very upsetting,” he said. “It made me feel that I had to be as good as I can be. It’s a big responsibility. People are depending on you to make them feel better.”

One of those patients is Tyler, a 22-year-old Army veteran who was seriously injured at the age of 20 while serving as a photojournalist in Iraq. “I fell out of a helicopter,” he said matter-of-factly. “It was 300 feet in the air. I was sitting with my feet hanging out and we came under attack. We went through evasive maneuvers and I fell out.”

His 50-foot harness saved him from hitting the ground, but the fall caused Cervical Degenerative Disc Disorder in his neck. He also suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the incident.

Tyler’s doctors prescribed heavy medication for the pain, “but I didn’t like the side effects. I didn’t feel like myself. (Medical marijuana) doesn’t have the same negative effects,” he explained.

But, at first, he was hesitant to try medical marijuana. “I was very skeptical at first. I had smoked marijuana a few times in high school and didn’t really like it. (But) I’m far happier, far more myself and more present about what’s going on around me. It’s absolutely been a lifesaver.”

Tyler, who normally needs a cane to walk, said that about 30 minutes after “taking my medicine,” he can walk without his cane for the rest of the day.

“I like SPaRC because it feels the most medicinal,” he explained. He says some other medical marijuana dispensaries didn’t seem as legitimate about helping patients with real problems, and don’t provide the educational clinics, called Cannabis College, that SPaRC does.

SPaRC also sells some medical marijuana edibles created by a chef. Christian hopes to eventually sell smoking products such as papers and pipes, but he’d really like to be able to sell water vaporizers, which are safer than smoking because they vaporize the essential oils of the leaves.

Christian wants SPaRC to benefit surrounding Phinney Ridge businesses by bringing more people into the neighborhood to shop at local stores and eat at restaurants.

“I’m putting together a system that works for the patient and the community,” he said. “We want to treat patients with honesty, integrity and professionalism. That’s what the patients deserve.”

State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, who lives in Phinney Ridge, recently sponsored a bill to allow marijuana to be sold out of state liquor stores. She believes general marijuana use should be legal and taxed, with those taxes helping out the state budget.

Christian, however, disagrees with that proposed bill. “I would be totally against the liquor stores (selling marijuana), because that would be taking it out of the hands of people who are doing it.”

He said if the state got into the business of selling marijuana, it could deny to sell to people with a criminal history. “And chances are, anyone who’s been involved with marijuana in the last 30 years has had some kind of legal problem” because marijuana use of any kind was against the law, he said.

SPaRC’s sister company is Washington Medical Marijuana Group, which moved into the downstairs part of the building last month. That’s where healthcare providers can screen patients for qualifying conditions.

“We provide location and support services for healthcare providers who want to provide medical marijuana for patients, but want to keep it separate from their regular services,” Christian explained.

Washington Medical Marijuana Group, on the first floor of the building, is where patients can meet with a doctor to determine if they are eligible for medical marijuana.

Christian himself ran WMMG for two years out of his home, then clinics out of a nearby doctor’s office. “It allowed me to see what patients needed,” he said. “I always wanted to have a dispensary. When I started running this clinic, I knew I really wanted to help these patients.”

But SPaRC and WMMG’s move into the building is not without controversy. Emily Lauderback, who owns SPACE: A Design Build Collective, which was located on the bottom of the building for most of last year, told PhinneyWood in November that she was moving out in mid-December after what she said were repeated problems with the marijuana smell, and also incidents of loud music and water leaking through her ceiling.

Lauderback posted details of the problems in the Forum, and spoke with us over the phone for an hour. Christian disputed Lauderback’s claims, but declined to discuss the accusations in depth.

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