My Journey to and from Medical Marijuana and Back

Written by: Shawn DeNae - CEO Washington Bud Company

I was a young athlete feeling alone, depressed and in excruciating pain after a gymnastic move that separated my femur bone from my hip socket during a routine warmup in 1975. Back then there was no such thing as physical therapy and the doctors sent me home to strict bed rest for 60 days with instructions to not move. I was feeling sorry for myself when friends showed up with a promise they had something that would make me feel better. They gingerly lifted and placed me in the back seat of one of their parent’s sedans and drove way out into the South Dakota prairie. Once they were certain we would not be detected from afar, they pulled out a joint; first time I had heard that word for a marijuana cigarette.

Puffing on that joint did a few things for me; the pressure in my head relaxed, my mood became euphoric and my body wanted to move. It was as if the cells in my body instructed my brain to begin my own PT regiment. I immediately crawled out of the back seat and began to do tiny squats which lead to walking which lead to getting back to school in record time.

The quest was on! Finding weed became the goal. I continued in my athletics and grade A studies but I, quit often, did them stoned. One thing lead to another and friends began coming to me for the wild wood weed. My first garden was the next summer. At harvest time I discovered my crop had been picked clean of all leaves and buds; I suspect there were happy dear in the forest that season but it was a complete failure of padding my stash!

Fast forward to 1987: by that time I was married with two kids living in Wyoming. My husband and I made a decision to no longer risk our family with road trips to bring in pounds of Columbian Gold (full of stems, seeds and considered schwag weed today). We bought the first edition Marijuana Grow Bible by Jorge Cervantes and set up a little indoor garden to keep us and a short list of friends in supply. On July 29, 1987 I came home for lunch to find my husband being questioned by the sheriff and his deputies hauling out our plants, scales, lights and anything else they viewed as paraphernalia. The judge suppressed the evidence based upon hearsay via a Crime Stoppers anonymous call and we high tailed it out of Wyoming to the friendlier state of Washington.

Again, we set up a small indoor grow to supply us. The D.A.R.E. program was in full swing when our 5th grader came home one day to declare that the cop at school; “the one with the gun” told him we were criminals and he had to turn us in to the police! We could not compromise our family and took down that garden as fast as possible. We got out of the scene, gave up smoking weed and focused on family and building our construction business.

During the following 16 years, my health went to hell. I was in constant over-all pain and became reliant on pain killers (however I could get them) to get me through the day and booze to knock me out at night. At one point in my mid-thirties my husband turned to me and said. “Honey, you’ve got to figure out what’s wrong with you or you’ll end up in a wheel chair by the time you’re 50.” I went on a quest and constantly sought solutions from Western to Eastern medicinal practitioners with little effect. I was diagnosed with a string of maladies from fibro myalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis to ‘soft tissue disease’ (whatever that is) and finally at the age of 42, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Pain was my constant being; I was not a happy woman and my family felt it.

That changed in August 2010 when we discovered Seattle Hempfest. A young man handed me a joint. I lite it up and again felt the pressure in my head melt away, recognized that familiar euphoric feeling tingling through my body and as I blew out that first puff in the presence of a police officer, I knew I wanted to get back into the cannabis community. I dove into reading everything I could and discovered the term ‘medical marijuana’. It soon dawned on me that I had been using cannabis medicinally all those years ago when I thought I was just getting high! But, why? Why does this plant make me feel so much better? How does medical marijuana work? Why is it an illegal schedule 1 drug? And what could I do about it?

We had been experiencing the fall-out of the economic crisis since 2007 and made a conscience decision in early 2011 to again initiate a cannabis garden. Our kids were grown, we owned 2 properties that could house indoor grows in outbuildings and we had duel passionate purposes; get me well and build a family legacy in the legal cannabis industry. We established a ‘Collective Garden’ with patient authorizations hanging on the wall under the butchered 5073 law that had recently been signed by the governor and the compassionate intent of I-692 passed in 1998. We were in the marijuana business again!

I began seeking compatriots and joined every policy meeting and advocacy group I could find. I started a blog to educate folks: A Cannabis Conversation – Marijuana Talk for Mainstreet. I began to juice fresh cannabis leaves, experimented with mixing up tinctures and topicals while dreaming of all the products we could make to help people in pain. We began selling directly to the safe access point stores as Washington Bud Company in February 2012. According to a woman at the WA State Department of Revenue, I was the first caller to ask how we could pay taxes on our sales of medical marijuana. I figured if we paid taxes and were as ‘out’ as we could be that was the best defense we had in case it all came tumbling down. Life was good, I was off pain killers and turkey bags full of high grade flower flew out the door as fast as we could grow and manicure it.

The ground was shifting again in early 2013 as Initiative 502 began to form in Washington State promising legal recreational cannabis sales. I worked with teams who poured over the initiative and came to the conclusion that, as written, the promised legalization was doomed with three tiered taxation, unheard of regulation and no safety net for patients. I volunteered to chair the ‘Health Before Happy Hour’ campaign to craft legislation that focused on protection for patients and their cottage industry providers. We lost that campaign in Washington State and I-502 came into full swing the summer of 2014.

Recreational cannabis is now king bringing in million dollars of excise tax which helps fund everything from education to better roads. Legislation passed in 2015 that completely dismantled the ‘Collective Garden’ model that had protected us with a plausible defense while helping those in need: the patients who now must pay a heavy 37% tax. The safe access points are gone, home delivery is gone, a defensible home grow is gone; replaced in large part by holding corporations that dominate the legal market with race-to-the-bottom monopolistic mentality.

Washington State had compassion beginning with laws written in the 1990’s and many of us have not lost site of creating a system that will again have compassion for those in the most fragile of health. However, the grass roots medical marijuana movement needs leadership and angel investors to make that happen. Sensible legislation takes effective lobby efforts and that costs money that is traditionally reserved for the very influential. Where are the deep pocket proponents of medical marijuana now that recreational weed is here? Do they no longer care?

Now that we are entrenched into growing legal cannabis, the focus is on remaining viable as competition becomes fierce. There are over 1000 growers in Washington State serving just over 300 stores and cut throat pricing is making weed cheaper than it has ever been. Supposedly good for the consumers but devastating to the independent cottage growers. One way to stand out is to get our cannabis blessed by the Department of Health by following their rules of pesticide and heavy metal testing. We have successfully traveled down that rabbit hole and back despite conflicts and inconsistencies between the rules established by the WA State Liquor and Cannabis Board and the DOH. I am at least solaced by the fact that we grow all of our cannabis the same way we always have – clean and poison free. My health depends on it.

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