Best of Seattle 2010: Ric Smith

Best Hero to the Housebound

Ric smith is waiting to hear the results of a test looking at a spot on his lung. He should find out within a week or so. And yet he’s remarkably calm. After all, he’s survived a lot—so much, in fact, that if you ask him to recount all the illnesses he’s had and when he had them, he has to ponder the matter.

There’s AIDS, first of all. He tested positive for HIV when he was 23 and developed full-blown AIDS six or seven years later. He’s now 47. Various kinds of cancer, including colon and leukemia, were byproducts of AIDS. Due to some dislodged scar tissue that resulted from chemotherapy, he had a stroke—when was it now? “Let’s see…six years ago,” he remembers. AIDS medications also caused kidney failure, which requires him to have dialysis three times a week—a tortuous four-hour procedure involving needles, which he hates.

Is that everything? No. But Smith doesn’t want to dwell on his illnesses anyway. Thin as a rail, walking with a cane, bearing an artificial vein stuck in his arm for dialysis, Smith wants to hear about your pain. And then he wants to do something about it.

Specifically, he’s ready and willing to deliver to your door the medication that many sick people say helps them like no other: pot.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Smith does not approve of padded doctors’ recommendations, which he believes do not comply with the spirit of the state law that allows severely ill patients to use marijuana.

“I don’t do the 40-year-olds with back pain,” he says. “I do the 90-year-old ladies going through chemo.”

He says these “blue hairs,” as he affectionately calls them, find him through word of mouth—often the mouth of Joanna McKee, founder of the Green Cross Patient Co-op, a veteran advocacy and education group. Typically living in the suburbs, Smith says, such patients are nervous about traveling to the medical-marijuana co-ops and “dispensaries” that operate in Seattle neighborhoods like SoDo and South Park.

He finds pot for them among various growers he knows, including psychologists, Boeing engineers, and others who are patients themselves but also cultivate a little extra on the side. He then drives his deliveries around town in a Chevy Lumina donated by his grandma (he drove a stick shift before the stroke). He often brings along a few flowers and some cookies (non-medicated, he adds). With the latter gifts, he’s aiming for a smile. With the weed, he hopes the women (and some men) get at least a half-hour of relief or pleasure—”even if just having pot makes ’em feel like they’re getting away with something.”

He doesn’t take money; patients negotiate that separately with the growers. He will, however, accept homemade gifts, like the dishrags crocheted with hemp by one woman.

How often does such a transaction occur? He’s very sorry. He’d like to tell you. But, Smith explains, he and a number of other people who do what he does are “walking a tightrope.” The state’s medical-marijuana law says providers can only serve one person at a time. But it depends on what you mean by “a time”—an hour, a day, a year?

It all started in 1996, when a friend dragged Smith out of the AIDS hospice he was living in and took him to Hempfest. He hadn’t eaten anything of substance in months. He met McKee at Hempfest, and through her got some pot. In the following days, he surreptitiously smoked in the garden of the hospice, which did not allow patients to use marijuana, and soon he couldn’t get enough of the peanut-butter-and-Ensure milkshakes a nurse started making for him.

He became so healthy that he was kicked out of the hospice. He now lives in a Shoreline apartment, supporting himself through Social Security and savings from when he was healthy enough to work. His most lucrative job was a short but spectacularly well-timed stint taking credit-card orders at Microsoft: His pay included stock options, just before the company went public.

Along with his delivery work, Smith also volunteers at the Cannabis Defense Coalition, an organization he helped found to support medical-marijuana patients who are arrested, and serves on the board of Dunshee House on Capitol Hill.

He says he spends just about every spare minute on his volunteer activities, though he has to lie down when he’s feeling weak. But he believes he’d feel weaker if he wasn’t doing this. “If I sit at home, I just get sicker,” he says.