Photographers' Blog

High times in Washington

December 11, 2012

Olympia, Washington

By Nick Adams

I had been running all over Seattle for eight hours photographing same-sex weddings that had begun at midnight when I got a call about Frankie’s Sports Bar & Grill in Olympia. It has been a whirlwind of excitement in Washington this past week since Initiative 502 and Referendum 74 became law. Referendum 74 legalized same-sex marriage and Initiative 502 legalized recreational use of marijuana for personal use, in private, to people over the age of 21 in Washington.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of photographing people using cannabis out in the open. I’ve only seen it once before at Seattle’s Hempfest, and it’s still such a strange sight to me. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was in Illinois riding along with Galesburg police officers ready to make arrests for possessing any amount of marijuana.

As I walked into the “Friends of Frankie” second floor space I was immediately hit by the smell of cigarette smoke. For a while now, patrons had been paying the ten-dollar fee to use the smoking area since Frank won a legal battle with the state. Only within the past week has marijuana made an appearance. It was interesting to note how segregated the two vices were in the area equivalent to the entire downstairs bar.

I asked the bartender to point me toward Frank, the bar’s owner, and found him engaged with a group of medical marijuana users. Frank doesn’t use marijuana personally, but sees it as a way to pull in money during hard times.

A grinder and a lot of marijuana were set up on the table. The medical users were all sharing their cannabis. The medical marijuana users also had paraphernalia like pipes and items that I had never seen before — a device for smoking amber-colored hash oil. The patrons were using a blowtorch to light the pipe.

Initially, the group was open to being photographed but as I was writing down names they began to change their minds. Since marijuana is still considered an illegal substance by the federal government, some patrons were worried that it would affect their ability to obtain federal assistance.

A member offered another patron and medical marijuana user, Robert, to try their vaporizer bag. Robert explained that he appreciated there was somewhere to go to use cannabis away from his family where he could interact with other cannabis users.

There was also a young man, Russell Diercks, and his friend, a new member of the Friends of Frankie club, lighting up in the bar. Russell explained that he works nearby and would occasionally stop by the bar for a drink, but it wasn’t a regular event. However, since Frank has started allowing members to smoke cannabis in the bar, Russell has been coming in more frequently, bringing his friends and even his mother along — exactly what Frank was counting on.

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