Hoping to spark a tradition

Medical marijuana
By PHILIP EIL  |  July 2, 2013

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DELIVERY SYSTEM An array of wares at the Medical Marijuana Festival.

The blessing starts just after 2 pm.

Wearing bright blue shorts, a striped golf shirt, sunglasses, and a leather bucket hat, Reverend Mathieu Bureau of Warwick’s Chapel by the Sea strides to the front of the crowd and takes the microphone.

“Marijuana is a godly creation from [the] beginning of this world,” he says. “It is known as the ‘weed of wisdom,’ ‘angel’s food,’ and ‘the tree of life.’ ” Medical marijuana, he says, “helps each and every one with our sores, with our pain, with our joints.” He chuckles. Someone from the crowd yells, “No pun intended, right?”

When he’s finished (“The most wonderful herb that’s ever existed in this world. Amen.”), JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC) takes the mic.

“And that, ladies and gentlemen,” she says, “was the very first official blessing of the medical marijuana program in Rhode Island.”

It’s Sunday afternoon at a crumbling, overgrown parking lot a mile west of the Providence Place Mall. Today’s first-ever RIPAC Medical Marijuana Festival isn’t quite a medical convention and isn’t quite a block party. It’s more of a mix between a gardening expo, a chronic pain support group, and the parking lot party before a Phish show.

There are people in crutches and slings and wheelchairs who make their way slowly from booth to booth. The state’s two medical marijuana dispensaries — Providence’s Thomas. C. Slater Compassion Center and Portsmouth’s Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center — both have tents where potential patients can fill out enrollment forms. But there’s also a dunk tank, a Del’s lemonade cart, a band playing Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam covers, and a booth selling all kinds of innuendo-laden T-shirts (“L.A. Grown,” “A Pound is 16 Ounces.”)

At one tent, Dave Leroux from Wyoming, RI’s Growin’ Crazy gardening store gestures to a stack of protective eyeglasses. “If you want to work on your plants when your grow lights are on, they’re extremely bright,” he says. “You’re exposing your eyes to all kinds of ultraviolet light.”

At another, Rich Ferreira, owner of Holy Smokes in Newport, stands flanked by two young, tattooed ladies wearing sneakers, booty shorts, and white tank tops. Pipes of all kinds are laid out on the table in front of him: pieces made from miniature Patriots helmets and mock beer bottles, glass pipes with swirling candy-cane style patterns. He plucks a sleek black object from the table: a PAX, pocket-sized vaporizer. “By not igniting anything, you bypass combustion altogether,” he says. “No super-heated gases going down your throat. No byproducts of combustion like the tar. It’s much healthier.” It charges its batteries like an iPod or a cell phone, he says.

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