The key is patients

A cannabis kid grows into a weed entrepreneur

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Longtime weed warrior Randy Thompson pulls on one of his favorite vaporizers.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY CAITLIN DONOHUE

HERBWISE "Never in a million years would I have chosen to do this," wrote Randy Thompson's mother in the September 1997 issue of Good Housekeeping. The title of Karen Thompson's article was "I Broke the Law to Save My Son." Her choice? To allow Randy to use marijuana to mitigate the gastrointestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite he suffered chronically from his Crohn's Disease.

Two months after Karen's article appeared, the magazine published letters it had received in response under the header "A Controversial Choice." One respondent, a Crohn's sufferer who opted to have her small bowels re-sectioned to mitigate her symptoms, claimed to be "disgusted" with the Thompsons: "It was the best decision I ever made. How foolish of Simon's parents to not exhaust all medical possibilities before allowing him to smoke pot."

Today Randy, undeterred by such suggestions, helps other cannabis users to find healthy ways to smoke. He is the sole proprietor of a San Jose vaporizer distribution company, Puff It Up (www.puffitup.com). Medical studies have suggested that using vaporizers dramatically cuts down the amount of tar ingested compared to smoking joints.

Johnson's company is entirely staffed by patients — he has had his card since before Proposition 215 passed — and tries to stock the "little guys" of the vaporizer world, like San Diego's Magic-Flight company. Surprisingly, Puff It Up doesn't sell Volcano vaporizers, the most popular "vape" brand whose products you've probably seen filling massive plastic bags with smoke on a dorm room coffee table somewhere.

Randy says Volcanoes, which begin at $539 for a starter package, just aren't practical. "Simplicity, that's what we're going for," he says. Thompson's favorite vaporizers — which he proceeded to pull out of his backpack by the handful at his Guardian interview on a sunny day on the Zeitgeist patio — are the kind of affordable, easy-to-use, portable tools you would expect people to use for self-administering medicine. Many of the models he brought go for under $200.

"We're non-evil," he says of Puff It Up's small box approach. "We don't like to think of ourselves as profit-driven, we're just trying to get the word out that there's a better way to smoke."

Randy is still dealing with blowback from his decision to be involved with marijuana. Like many greater Bay Area dispensaries, Puff It Up received a letter from the Department of Justice a few months ago threatening punitive action if it did not stop selling vaporizers, which exist in a legal netherworld.

In the 1997 article, the Thompsons went by aliases. But in 2012, Randy is done with hiding. He thinks it's important to stick his neck out for the medicine that he says has made his life better so that other people might have the same option.

In the struggle to make cannabis accessible to everyone who needs it, he thinks patients have a big role to play. Says Randy: "People need to stand up and say 'I'm human too.'" 

Next week in Herbwise: We test out Randy Thompson's favorite vaporizer — does the Magic Flight live up to its name?

 

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