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Originally published October 18, 2012 at 5:15 PM | Page modified October 19, 2012 at 9:41 PM

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Op-ed: Buying marijuana for my 70-something immigrant parents

Guest columnist Sumi Hahn writes that buying marijuana for the first time in her life, for her elderly parents, turned her into a supporter for Initiative 502 to legalize marijuana on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Special to The Times

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IF you think marijuana is something other people do, then you’re in the same boat I was a year and a half ago.

That’s when I found myself buying pot for the first time in my life — with my 70-something immigrant parents.

The experience turned this minivan-driving mom of three into a staunch supporter of Initiative 502, a ballot measure on the Nov. 6 ballot to legalize marijuana.

My mother, a cancer patient, needed a better way to manage her pain. So I asked her oncologist about a prescription for cannabis.

Because of marijuana’s legal limbo, medical professionals are not allowed to suggest it as an alternative to the dangerous and addictive opiates usually prescribed. Once we opened the door to that subject by ourselves, however, the paperwork was straightforward.

But where to get the stuff? Neither the doctor nor the nurse could say.

So I went online. I chose a store near my parents’ house.

I had to pick up the kids from school, so my folks went by themselves.

They called from the dispensary. It sounded like a frat party. My father anxiously asked me what they were supposed to get. The cookies they bought — at $6 each — didn’t do much for my mother’s pain.

We would have concluded that medical marijuana was a myth, had it not been for an attentive nurse who asked whether the herb was providing any relief.

I explained what happened.

She looked us over carefully. “A colleague of mine is very involved in the medical cannabis movement. I’ll let her know where you’re going next.”

A smiling woman approached us in the waiting room of the chemo ward. She sat down and explained that most dispensaries failed to follow the inadequate legal guidelines that currently regulated them.

“There are very few dispensaries in Seattle that I’d trust,” she said, “And Green Buddha is the best of the best.”

The previous dispensary had not even asked for my mother’s prescription. The woman who answered the phone at Green Buddha wouldn’t even talk to us until the doctor’s office had faxed over the necessary forms.

“Are you a caregiver?”

“Yes.”

“Are you going to accompany your mother?”

“Yes.” My palms started sweating.

“You’ll both need to bring your IDs and the medical authorization.”

When we arrived at the unmarked storefront, the door was locked. The woman who opened it was the same person who had vetted our call.

She reviewed the fine print of the prescription. Green Buddha was one of a handful of dispensaries that had never been raided, because she insisted on operating above the letter of the law. She also required that her patients stay within legal bounds.

“It is illegal to transport marijuana on federal roads, and all interstates are federal roads, as are ferries. ... Put your medicine in your car trunk and lock it. ... Keep one copy of your medical authorization on your person at all times. ... ”

It was a long litany. I was impressed. My mother, terrified.

We decided to get some cookies and candies. The cookies from Green Buddha, aptly named Snickerdoodles, smelled far more strongly of marijuana than the cookies from the first dispensary.

After a year and a half, my mother has finally overcome her fears about using an “illegal” drug. Instead of taking pills for her pain, constipation, nausea and lack of appetite, she nibbles on a quarter cookie twice daily.

“How can something so helpful be illegal?” asks my father, a retired anesthesiologist. “It makes no sense!”

Law or no, pot — like tobacco and alcohol — is never going to go away. So let’s take it off the streets and put it into legal storefronts, away from criminals and into the hands of regulators and tax collectors. Remove the fear and social stigma, and educate the public about this beneficial plant. Ensure that those in need have access to products that are reliably sourced and responsibly sold.

Yes on 502.

Sumi Hahn, a community volunteer, and her husband, winemaker Mike Almquist, own Book Bindery restaurant. Her email is smhahn7@hotmail.com.

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