Reefer medness

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 10, 2011

Johansson says his dad was suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that involves intermittent, searing pain in the face. And his pain pills, the son says, left him "basically drooling and a zombie."

Johansson, then working as a carpenter, brought his father to Rhode Island and suggested he try marijuana. "He was very skeptical of that — like 100 percent skeptical," he says. But the weed worked and Johansson had his first patient.

Johansson says he moved into the vacant church about two years ago and obtained an Internet ordination through World Christian Ministries in Fresno, California. His flock — Prospect Ministries — quickly expanded.

A licensed patient (gastro-intestinal issues, he says) and caregiver himself, Johansson maintains he was authorized to grow 60 plants. And he insists that three other licensed caregivers and several patients shared space at the church in a sort of co-op arrangement.

It seems clear that the operation didn't conform to state law. Johansson says he had over 100 patients, some intermittent and some more steady, and there weren't nearly enough licenses to cover the full flock.

And Pastor Erik acknowledges that he built a cash "reserve" through his work. But he maintains the relationship was far more than transactional: he gave away over 20 percent of the church's product, he says, and offered the afflicted meditation books, chats on the New Testament, and lessons in how to grow.

Prospectministries.com, Johansson's web site, is filled with testimonials from sickly patients. And JoAnne Lepannen — who runs the state's leading medical marijuana organization, the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition — recalls the headstrong minister tirelessly advocating for a patient in public housing.

This, Johansson suggests, was the promise of medical marijuana's pre-compassion center period — something neighborly, organic, righteous, and free of the most small-minded government control.

But as the bust suggests, many in law enforcement see a lawless element in the present state of affairs. And Johansson, free on an unsecured bond, has reluctantly applied to run an official compassion center in a bid for legal protection — his application as quirky as the man behind it. A male Rottweiler and a female pit bull, he wrote, would be central to his security plan.

In the meantime, the pastor prays that his ministry — caught between the old regime and the new — won't land him in federal prison.

Bock_DSC2374_main
THE FUTURE Bock plans a clean, clinical compassion center.

THE ENTREPRENEUR

Seth Bock, co-owner of the Newport Acupuncture and Wellness Spa and would-be proprietor of a Portsmouth compassion center, couldn't present more differently than the voluble, bespectacled Johansson.

When he sat down recently for a chat in the spa lobby — soothing music in the background, bottles of "sweet soy oil" and "nourishing lavender milk" lining the pale yellow walls — he looked like he had just stepped out of a J.Crew photo shoot, his well-trimmed sideburns framing a fleece vest and a crisp, collared shirt.

Bock, 38, started out in the medical ethics offices of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and planned to attend medical school. But he says exposure to the politics and money of mainstream medicine pushed him toward acupuncture instead.

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