Tucson medical marijuana users now have a home away from home where they can medicate and hang out.
The 420 Social Club on Fourth Avenue has been open to all medical marijuana card holders since last month, and it's the first to start functioning in the Old Pueblo, while a few already have been set up in the Phoenix area.
Creator Ron Johnson, a Vietnam veteran with multiple health issues, wanted a safe haven for patients to meet each other that also provided educational resources and a setting that, of course, abides by the law.
Since state voters approved the Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, medical pot is legal for several conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, but patients aren't fully protected. They can still find themselves in deep shit if found to be medicating on the streets, their car and college campuses, among other legal guidelines.
"I figured, friends already come here to smoke, might as well open it to other people," says Johnson, who also lives at the 420 club. The place is a duplex and his living area in the back is divided by a sliding door.
Johnson and his collaborators, which include Robert Clark, co-chairman of SAFER Arizona—that group is gearing up to get recreational marijuana legalized in the 2016 state elections—and local medical marijuana advocate Mark Brown, say they couldn't allow for more patients to find themselves in ill situations with the law, and so the social club was born. "Some of us got some serious issues," Clark says as he gathers pot to smoke from a colorful glass pipe. "If we are miles and miles away from home and we need to use our medicine, we have no place to go. Ron is giving us a place where we could come and medicate, and not have to risk using out on the street and get in trouble."
They point to cases involving college students who are medical marijuana patients. If university officials find pot in their possession or in their dorm, they are criminally charged and thrown out of school. The 420 Social Club is a few blocks away from the UA, and they encourage students with medical marijuana cards to get good use out of that.
But Johnson wants you to know that this place won't allow non-holders to come get high. He wants his joint (pun intended) to survive and thrive, and in order for that to happen he can't break the law. The contract lists all the stuff you can't do, including bringing weapons, tobacco products or show up there drunk.
Also, "You come in and sign in with your medical marijuana card," he says. "You can have guests but if they don't have a card, they cannot smoke."
As you walk in, a table stands near the entrance with sign-up sheets, MMJ educational brochures and business cards from the various Tucson dispensaries, as well as green and red wristbands: Green means you're good to smoke the green. The red means you're a guest, and not allowed to touch it as stipulated by the Medical Marijuana Act.
Across from that table is a glass case with beautifully hand-made silver jewelry. Johnson teaches people with disabilities in Nogales, Sonora how to make jewelry and sell it to make a living. Soon, the jewelry is moving out from that case, and Johnson hopes to fill it up with medical pot samples donated by the dispensaries. It'd be a way for dispensaries to promote themselves among patients, but it'd also make the 420 Social Club a "one stop shop."
It's a comfortable place—living room, a big TV, a stereo blasting 1960s and '70s rock, a fridge with all kinds of soda and other beverages. The door is always open. "My favorite part is all of the new, interesting people that I've met already," Johnson says.
Johnson hopes to remodel the backyard, an 1,800-square foot area, to host concerts, parties and educational forums, not only because he thinks it's needed in the community but also because he'd like to generate revenue that'll make the club 100 percent self-sustainable.
With the money from the memberships—$5 daily, $40 monthly or $420 yearly—Johnson says he's not looking for a dime to go to his pocket, it's about maintaining the 420 club and the services it offers.
An official opening event will be happening the first or second week of February, depending on when Johnson is done reorganizing the interior. In the meantime, enjoy free entrance until that grand opening takes place.
For more information on the social club, call Ron Johnson at (602) 499-6845.