Drive past 5437 California Ave s.w. and nothing really catches the eye. An old sign for Lange and Peizer Commercial Real Estate still stands, although that company has moved to a different location. A closer look, however, reveals the space is still bustling with customers as G.A.M.E. Collective, a medical marijuana outlet owned by Brionne Corbray.
Once inside, medical marijuana patients are greeted with potent flowery aromatics in a simple, clean waiting area and a warm welcome from Diane Cook, the matriarch/day-to-day operator of the West Seattle store. Behind Cook are stained-wood cabinets stocked with 30 jars of different marijuana strains and a myriad of THC-infused tinctures, baked goods and candies. A hand-written menu above the cabinets details the current offerings, from ice cream at $20 a pint to Skywalker Kush marijuana bud running $10 a gram.
G.A.M.E. stands for Green Piece Alternative Medicine and Education, and Collective stands for the three outlets started by 46-year-old Corbray – one in West Seattle, one in Federal Way and another in North Seattle.
As for the low profile and lack of signage, Corbray said, “You don’t really have to put up a sign for the space because people will find it. People who don’t know what it is will just keep moving by.”
Many customers at the West Seattle location live here, but Corbray said just as many travel to California Ave from East Seattle and Mercer Island.
Walk-in customers would be turned away as G.A.M.E only sells their plethora of marijuana buds, tinctures and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) treats to people with a medical marijuana card issued by a doctor.
Washington voters approved medicinal marijuana in 1998.
“It (medical marijuana) is really helpful for people and people need to understand that,” Corbray said. “It’s not for kids and there are a set of rules you have to follow and we are a stickler for that. We are here to help people that really need it. I’ve seen it relieve pain like you can’t believe.”
Corbray relayed stories of elderly West Seattle residents, many of them over 80-years-old, who are regulars at the collective. He home delivers to a West Seattle woman in her 80’s living with multiple sclerosis.
“This lady was shaking … and I gave her some tincture under her tongue and within ten minutes there was no more shaking,” he said. “She had tried smoking it and the smoking didn’t stop the shakes, but the tincture did.”
Another 85-year-old woman living with chronic pain buys THC-filled pills from the collective. Corbray said she takes the Sativa pill during the day (known for a more energetic high) and switches to the Indica pill at night when she’s ready for bed (known for it ability to get patients some rest).
On average, customers have 30 to 35 different varieties of marijuana bud for smoking to choose from along with the many baked goods and tinctures. What’s the reason for such variety?
“The thing about THC is the body builds up a resistance to it,” he said. “What people can do here is get different types and mix them together to get what relief they want and their bodies don’t get used to it.”
G.A.M.E. Collective opened July 1st 2010 and Corbray said the decision to get into the business came about by happenstance.
He had gone back to school to become a film producer and decided to make a documentary with friends, titled “The House that Mary Jane Built.” They traveled to dispensaries and spoke with medical marijuana movers and shakers across Washington, Oregon and California, trying to capture the essence of the movement.
At some point Corbray said to himself, “Whoa, there is something here, there is a story here.” The story, it turns out, was that he should get involved on the forefront of medical marijuana collectives popping up in Western Washington.
“I was thinking of it as the new gold rush, but I was calling it the green rush,” he said.
Taxes lead to legitimacy
Late in 2010 the Washington State Department of Revenue sent notifications to several medical marijuana outlets explaining that medical marijuana sales are categorized as retail sales (not prescription drug sales) and are therefore subject to Washington sales tax. According to Corbray, who has not received a notification but has talked to other owners who have, the letter says medical marijuana stores need to start collecting taxes in February of 2011.
To read the DOR’s official stance on medical marijuana sales, click here.
Corbray said he has spoken to others in the business that see taxation as a burden, but he welcomes it as a firm step toward the legitimacy of dispensaries in Washington.
“I’ve got an accountant and we are getting everything structured for us so that we’re ready to go (in) February,” he said. “I’m not going to even question it. I’ll pay it because once we make that first payment we are all good, for good.”
Corbray's statement of being, "all good, for good," makes sense in light of a law that can be murky at times.
According to an AP report posted by the Seattle Times, “… some prosecutors and the Health Department maintain such dispensaries are illegal.”
The report continues, “… the law does not allow for marijuana sales. Instead, patients must grow marijuana themselves or designate a caregiver to grow it for them.”
Sgt. Sean Whitcomb with the Seattle Police Department said investigation of medical marijuana dispensaries would be in response to community complaints.
According to the SPD Policy and Procedure Manual, "the Seattle Police Department is sensitive to the fact that some medical marijuana patients and designated providers may have difficulty obtaining marijuana for medicinal use." The manual states the following conditions would be considered in investigating a dispensary: "presence of weapons, theft of electrical power, other illegal drugs at the premise, record of citizen complaint and/or nuisance behavior consistent with narcotics trafficking, presence of children, environmental concerns and violent crime or other demonstrated dangers to the community."
As for where tax revenues on medicinal marijuana end up, Corbray hopes they are reinvested in education and public works.
“This is a tax revenue base that can help make a difference in Washington,” Corbray said, adding that his son has to share textbooks at his high school and the roads of West Seattle are littered with cavernous pot holes.
“It’s a source of income for the state to pay off stuff like that,” he added.
He believes in the domino effect of medical marijuana taxation, saying once other states see the revenue pulled in from marijuana sales in Washington, other states will eventually follow.
“To me, once you start paying taxes it doesn’t matter who is in office,” Corbray said in reference to President Obama’s decision to leave states alone when it comes to medical marijuana laws … a policy that could change if Obama loses the election in 2012. “They can’t go back and take those payments back. Once states start seeing other states making money on taxes, they’ll jump on board.”
“Because, trust me, republicans seem to like money more than democrats. Once they see that money coming in they’ll say OK,” Corbray said. “They’ll put a spin on it that makes it moral … they’ll say, ‘It’s God’s plant’ and this and that. They’ll put a spin on it that makes it seem it’s the righteous thing to do. Shoot, Rush Limbaugh will be talking about how if he would have been smoking pot he wouldn’t have been hooked on, y’know, (painkillers).”
Business is good for the G.A.M.E. Collective, and with success comes expansion. His future plans include a fourth location in East Seattle, opening a medical marijuana coffee shop at the West Seattle location (he said he’ll have a sign made once that happens), putting on marijuana cultivation workshops and informational seminars and eventually growing all of his own medicine instead of purchasing from outside growers.
To opponents of Corbray’s chosen profession, he said, “To me, this is still America. It ain’t the 1950s, 60s, 70s or 80s either. The thing is that people may feel different about it, but everyone has a right to pursue what they want to do without worrying about someone else.”
By Ty Swenson