Reefer medness

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 10, 2011

It wasn't just the ghost of her parents nagging at her; Smith had a bad experience with pot in college. But she decided to give it a whirl and quickly settled on a recipe: blending 10 tablespoons of ground marijuana with 1 cup of oil and downing a few teaspoons of the concoction at night.

Smith also takes hits on a vaporizer and she's part of a study on the effects of juiced cannabis. None of it gets her high, she says, but she feels a certain peace when she closes her eyes. She sleeps better.

Smith, who once taught social studies in the Burrillville schools and coached swimming at Scituate High School, was forced to quit work for good in 2007. But she has found purpose in medical marijuana advocacy.

She frequently speaks with new patients nervous about the drug. And she is a vocal supporter of the compassion centers. They will help those without access, she says, but they could even come in handy for those who grow on their own; Smith has been robbed of her crop twice and a backup would mean medical security.

Whatever the advantages of the compassion centers, though, Smith clearly has a fondness for the culture of the individual grower.

As the sun sets over the family's sprawling organic garden out back, she makes her way to a chair lift at the top of the basement stairs and glides down to show off her grow room.

It is a two-stage garden. One compartment is filled with immature plants in the vegging stage — some White Widow here, some OJ there. And in the flowering compartment, encased in foam board, a fan blows on a set of tall, mature, vibrant green plants.

The gardener gently presses a leaf between her thumb and pointer finger and looks up at a visitor. "It's like they're your babies," she says.


It's a sunny Monday morning and about 150 people are crammed into a basement auditorium at the Rhode Island Health Department for a public hearing on the proposed compassion centers.

The applicants — Johansson included — have lined up patients aplenty to testify on their behalf. But it's clear where the hearing is headed.

Those who have put in the time — assembling professional applications and lining up political support — fare best. And those who have not stumble.

Mayor Allan Fung, a Republican, and Democratic State Representative Peter Palumbo, both from Cranston, raise concerns about a pair of proposed compassion centers in their city; a failure to meet with local police is a red flag.

But Johansson fares the worst. Albert DiFiore, a lawyer for the town of West Warwick, talks of the minister's persistent zoning problems and labels his application a "fiasco."

Johansson, afterward, is deflated. "I don't think we have a chance at all," he says.

The minister worries aloud about the fate of medical marijuana's grassroots sensibility. And while the underground will survive in some form — Leach will keep growing, and so will Smith — it is clear that one chapter has ended. And another begins.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at

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