THE ACTIVIST Leach welcomes compassion centers, but worries about the fate of “mom-and-pop” marijuana.
The classroom at the rear of RIPAC's Providence offices is not exactly state-of-the-art. The brick walls are painted a grubby, peeling green. And the linoleum has seen better days.
But the digs are A-OK with Keith Leach, 37, a sort of professor of pot who has been teaching cultivation classes here for the last several months.
Among his tips: let the seeds germinate in a moist paper towel; bat guano is a great, cheap fertilizer; and clippings, used to start new plants, last about six weeks in the refrigerator.
Leach, now a licensed caregiver, says he started growing marijuana illegally about 15 years ago — in part to avoid lining the pockets of the drug cartels. "I didn't want to pay to help kill people in Mexico," he says.
But for the professor, do-it-yourself weed is more than a salve on the conscious. It's a way of life.
Last fall, he went to Washington with his wife Catharine to protest the arrest of marijuana activist and grower Marc Emery. At home, he cracks open "It's Just A Plant: A Children's Story of Marijuana" to explain the drug to his eight-year-old son. And he discusses Dutch marijuana seed companies with the geeked-out, granular knowledge of a committed hobbyist.
So his work in the local medical marijuana movement is a sort of calling: his classes not just technical seminars, but odes to the pleasures of self-sufficiency. He takes great joy in giving away pot to those in need.
Leach counts himself a strong supporter of the compassion centers — "I have a tendency to applaud any cannibusiness," he says. If the dispensaries set up cultivation classes that supplant his, more power to them.
But the grower acknowledges some concern about the approaching fade of Rhode Island's "mom-and-pop" marijuana culture.
Indeed, he worries that the arrival of the compassion centers — regulated, easy-to-access — could give lawmakers and police an excuse to crack down on basement grows; a bill before the legislature last year aimed to do just that.
And if the basement culture takes a hit, he suggests, it is not just the hobbyist who would lose out.
UNLIKELY ACTIVIST Smith has found purpose in pot.
Ellen Lenox Smith, 60, sits in her wood-paneled living room, a small machine sending electrical pulses through her body by way of several clips attached to her fingers.
This is one of several treatments for her Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder that leaves bones slipping out of place in ways gruesome and painful.
In a couple of days, Smith and her husband Stuart will leave their modest, snow-encrusted home in a rural-suburban stretch of North Scituate to fly to a hospital just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin for her nineteenth surgery.
"I look normal to people," says Smith, a mother of four, "but inside, I'm kind of jelly."
The joint trouble started 13 years ago. And in 2006, a doctor at a Pawtucket pain clinic first suggested medical marijuana. "I laughed and I said, 'if my parents were alive today, they would not believe this conversation,'" she says. "You're supposed to stay away from that stuff."