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Audrey Hatfield needed an alternative. After she was diagnosed with epilepsy in September 2009, the medications she was prescribed for her condition created more problems than they solved.

"I think all prescription medications are harmful," she says. "Ninety-five percent of them destroy your liver and kidneys. They might help whatever symptom it is, but at the same time, they also have other problems on top of it, and that makes you end up having to take other medications if you're willing to do that. And I wasn't willing to do that."

She was willing to look into medical marijuana, and the next year found relief through medicating with sativa strains. Inspired by her experience — and the realization that for those without health insurance, medical marijuana can be cheaper than prescription medications — she created the nonprofit advocacy group Coloradans 4 Cannabis Patient Rights. Through the organization's patient assistance program, doctors and dispensaries lower medicine and appointment prices.

All in all, her immersion in the world of MMJ came sans negative side effects, save one: its effect on her personal life.

Single at the time, Hatfield had been participating in online dating, an increasingly popular resource for busy adults. Forty million Americans have participated and, according to research firm Hitwise, today there are at least 1,400 dating sites from which to choose.

"I was checking out some dating sites," Hatfield remembers, "and I'm like, 'You know, I'm a medical marijuana activist. Whoever it is that I plan on dating needs to know this is what I do, and I'm an extremely busy person.' I just found it really hard being on some of the quote-unquote regular dating sites to even talk about what I did."

So she created CannaFriends in 2010, a dating site for medical marijuana "patients, advocates, supporters and industry professionals" around the country. The site, which may be the first of its kind, has started slowly but currently numbers about 40 male and 20 female members, 46 of them from Colorado.

"All of the questions for people that go on there are all related to their involvement with medical marijuana, whether it's patient-wise, business-wise, activist-wise," Hatfield says. "We also post recent news, as far as anything that's going on in the different medical [-marijuana] states relating to any of their bills, or any rules and regulations we have; an area for recipes ... It's kind of a little bit of a mix of everything." Members can also post art and photographs.

To attract more members, ladies especially, cannafriends.com is giving away 100 free accounts for each state. Accounts otherwise cost $4.20 — yes, in a nod to cannabis subculture — for the first three months and $15 per month afterward. Hatfield describes the prices as low when compared to the average $29 fee that other dating sites charge per month.

Toni Arvello, a resident of Arizona who suffered from lower back pain for 33 years before becoming a patient, is one of the site's early members.

"I am appreciative that cannafriends.com is online because I am comforted with the thought that I am not the only person who prefers medical marijuana over drugstore pharmaceuticals," Arvello writes through e-mail, adding that she joined the site because she didn't want to continue to be insulted by people who are "neither physicians nor chemists, yet, who nevertheless, think they ought [to] comment offensively."

newsroom@csindy.com

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