Profile: Cathy Smith, Medical Marijuana Provider - 2010
By Andy Wright
Photograph by Stuart Dixon
Ten years ago, when Cathy Smith moved to the Bay Area from her native Maine, she immediately noticed two things. The first was the weather. "I love rain and I hate snow," she says. The temperature in Maine hit a record low of minus 50 last year, which may explain Smith's love for the soggy days many San Franciscans grumble about.
The second was the diversity. Back in Maine, "if you dyed your hair purple, which I did," she says, laughing, "the little old lady at Dunkin' Donuts would look at you weird and move over three steps. I'm 54 years old. I'm not that far from the little old lady." Here, she says, you see all types.
Smith was a meter maid looking to give her son a leg up in school, which is why she and her family moved to California, where she thought he'd get a better education. She reinvented herself as an advocate for medical marijuana users, and now runs a cannabis club called HopeNet in SOMA, a neighborhood she also calls home. The clinic is like a living room where patients aged 18 to 87 can come to smoke and partake in the community.
"The 87-year-old calls me 'mom,'" she says with good humor, and it's easy to see why, because her throaty voice exudes compassion and patience.
Smith is often accompanied at work by her German shepherd, Sugar, who is also a transplant ("I paid $150 shipping and handling to bring him here from Missouri"). San Francisco is nothing if not a town for dog people, so she loves to take Sugar out to Crissy Field, the grassy expanse that abuts the bay and affords sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin beyond.
In addition to the diversity of people in the city, Smith loves the breadth of dining choices San Francisco offers. She and her husband, Steve, particularly love dim sum, and regularly stroll the streets of Chinatown, ducking into restaurants adorned with enormous aquaria whose inhabitants are often as much dinner as they are decoration.
Medical marijuana has been a point of contention between state and federal governments; in 2005, HopeNet was raided by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Did Smith think about shutting down her business and moving somewhere else? No way.
"It may sound strange," she says, "but because of the public outpouring of support, it just made me want to stay here more."