The Fame

Madeline Martinez is bringing back Portland's famous World Famous Cannabis Cafe.

The name was supposed to be a joke.

When Madeline Martinez opened Portland's World Famous Cannabis Cafe in 2009, it was the first cafe in the United States where state-authorized medical marijuana cardholders could socialize and safely medicate. The shop on Northeast Dekum Street spawned shock and awe in the community. Smokers and nonsmokers demanded to know whether she had asked permission from the right people. As word spread, USA Today, Democracy Now, and even Al Jazeera contacted her for interviews. Before long, it really was World Famous.

That created a lot of pressure for Martinez, who split from her original business partner and opened a second version of the cafe on Southeast 82nd Avenue. That location grew until closing in June 2014, when the city required extensive seismic improvements of the building and new laws banned patients from medicating at the shop.

"Third time's a charm," says Martinez, winking as she deftly flicks her salt-and-pepper hair behind her ear with a flawless purple manicure. She can't wait to start planning the grand reopening party later this summer. She loves to dance and have a good time. A 64-year-old grandmother of six, she looks 20 years younger, and her vibrant energy gives one the sense she could do this all over again a fourth and fifth time, too. She remembers the beginning of her endeavor fondly, recalling the proud sense of legitimacy one experienced as a medical patient.

"In July 2009, the [Drug Enforcement Administration] called off the dogs and said they'd leave licensed medical programs alone," she says. "I saw an opportunity for patients and caregivers to get together legally and connect. I knew that if I paid for my card, I gained the right to meet with other patients."

She had the vision to see what was possible and the finesse to see it through—a combination that's uncommon in any industry.

Raised in East Los Angeles, Martinez gained a lot of her composure from her time working at a women's correctional facility.

"I'm used to crises," she says. "I would deal with violent or suicidal inmates and then plan what I'd make for my family's dinner on the drive home from work. I quit school in the 11th grade because I saw I could educate myself in other ways. I ended up getting my GED with the inmates when I was working at the prison."

She used the same resourcefulness when she got involved in the medical marijuana conversation. Although Martinez was executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' Oregon chapter when she opened the World Famous Cannabis Cafe, she had to earn that respect. More pointedly, she had to force people to take a Latina talking about weed seriously.

"It's different now," she says. "It can be great being brown in this era. When I went to City Council meetings and started attending law conferences, I'd wear a poncho to look extra Mexicana. And you know what? That room of white people had nothing to do but shut up and listen to every word I had to say. I call that utilizing reverse racism."

Since opening the cafe, Martinez has been instrumental in legislative progress: She coined the helpful phrase "medical delivery device" to describe a tool for consumption. She also founded the NORML Women's Alliance, which provides women in the business an avenue to connect and support one another.

Now that Measure 91 is taking effect, and anyone 21 and over can consume marijuana on private property in Oregon, Martinez says it's time for the World Famous Cannabis Cafe to reopen. The fact that recreational shops won't be open July 1 will make social clubs like the cafe a welcome establishment for nonpatients to celebrate their new privilege.

The new cafe will be on Southeast Foster Road, and Martinez is looking forward to making it the best version yet. Former cafe customers can expect the reinstatement of stoner bingo during the day ("Seniors love that—and they always giggle when we call number 69," Martinez says), standup comedy, and live blues and funk on weekends.

When I met with her, Martinez was still buzzing from the excitement of receiving the keys from her landlord.

“I can’t wait to get a phone number,” she says. “You think I could get 420-710-24?” 

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