Sunday, November 28, 2010

Buying Medical Marijuana from a Dispensary: My First Purchase

Now that I had my medical marijuana certificate certifying that I had a medical condition that cannabis may help alleviate, I was free to legally purchase medical marijuana from a licensed dispensary.

But where do I find dispensaries?

Just as I had done when trying to find doctor’s known to recommend medical marijuana, I decided to use California NORML’sCalifornia Dispensary Locator” to find a dispensary. By entering my zip code, I could locate collectives/cooperatives (a.k.a. dispensaries) within my area, as well as delivery-only services that would deliver marijuana to my doorstep.

Since I don’t know much about the various strains of available marijuana (i.e. I know nothing about the various strains of marijuana), I decided to visit a dispensary and have a knowledgeable person show me the various types of marijuana and explain their effects, as opposed to having a delivery service drop off a strain that I just randomly selected from a list.

So I selected the “Collectives/Cooperatives” option, entered my zip code, and then clicked “Search.” A split-second later, I had a list of dispensaries that I could visit to learn about medical marijuana and to make my purchase. The list was organized by proximity to my zip code, with those closest to me at the top. It included their names, locations, phone numbers, and hours of operation. It also showed the distance to the dispensary from my zip code, and included a link to a location map.

Pretty easy.

I selected one that was closest to my home. Their hours of operation were from mid-morning to late evening, seven days a week. Since it was mid-afternoon, I called them and spoke with a representative. I told her that I had just received my doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana and that I wanted to buy some from her store. She explained that in order to purchase from their dispensary, I needed to bring my medical marijuana certificate and a valid driver’s license. So I grabbed my certificate (the original… copies aren’t acceptable), hopped in my car, and then drove to the dispensary.

The dispensary was located in a busy commercial area with lots of business people and shoppers going about their daily activities. The main thoroughfare was lined with restaurants and furniture stores, car dealerships and automobile repair shops, hair salons and barber shops. The dispensary itself was located in a strip mall alongside other small businesses, including a tax specialist and an automobile parts store. While the dispensary’s store front was conspicuous, it was also innocuous, blending in with the other small businesses surrounding it. Patrons were walking into and out of the various businesses, and no one seemed to be paying particular attention to those walking into and out of the dispensary… it was just another shop in the strip mall.

I parked in front of the dispensary and got out of my car. I walked towards the store and as I reached for its front door, I heard a “click” and then saw the door open slightly. I grabbed the handle, pushed the door open and entered. I found myself standing in a small lobby. To my right was a security guard. He had opened the locked door for me. To my left were a dozen chairs lined against the walls of what appeared to be an empty waiting room. Straight ahead of me was the receptionist, sitting in a small cubicle behind a glass barrier.

She greeted me, took my medical marijuana certificate and driver’s license to make copies for their records, and then handed me a clipboard with some paperwork I had to fill out. The paperwork asked the basic questions: name, address, age, etc. It also explained that the dispensary is allowed to sell medical marijuana only to those who have a valid certificate, and that I am not allowed to sell or otherwise provide marijuana to anyone else.

I filled out the paperwork and handed it back to the receptionist. She returned my medical marijuana certificate and driver’s license, pointed to a closed door to my right, and then explained that only four people at a time are allowed in the dispensary area where the medical marijuana is located, and since there were already four people in there, I had to wait for someone else to leave before I could go in.

So I waited. Within a few moments the door opened and a patron exited.  The guard then motioned me into the dispensary area. After I entered, he closed the door behind me.

In front of me were three glass countertops. One was filled with marijuana paraphernalia… bongs, pipes, etc. The other two were stocked with glass containers filled with marijuana. Behind the counters, up on the wall were two large chalk boards listing the various types of marijuana available that day, as well as their prices. It reminded me of walking into a Starbucks coffeehouse, but instead of scones and crumb cakes sitting in the glass display, there was marijuana. And instead of today’s favorite coffee blend listed on the chalk board, there were unfamiliar names like Northern Lights, Jack Herer, Kush, Blue Dream, and Silver Haze. There were about a dozen or so different varieties.

Three other customers were bent over the glass countertops, intensely studying the various marijuana-filled containers. Behind the counters were two sales reps. One looked up and asked if he could help me. I wandered over to the counter where he was standing and explained that I had just received my certificate and that I wanted to buy medical marijuana. He said, “Sure!” and pointed to the counter to my left and said, “That one has Indica,” then pointed to the one in  front of me and continued “…and this one has Sativa.”

Indica and Sativa? I had no idea what that meant.

He then pointed to the chalk boards up on the wall behind him and stated, “Up here are the strains we have available and their prices by gram. You’ll notice that the more you buy, the lower the price per gram.” I looked up at the chalk boards and studied the prices more closely. Sure enough, the more you buy, the lower the price per gram. I also noticed that one chalk board listed Indica strains, while the other listed Sativa strains. The quantities of each strain ranged from one gram to 7.5 grams, and increased in one-gram increments. Since my plan was to minimize my visits to their store, I decided to buy the maximum listed: 7.5 grams. The typical price of 7.5 grams was $100.00, but the price did vary by as much as plus-or-minus $10.00 depending on the specific strain purchased.

I then told the sales rep that this was my first time in a dispensary, that I have never bought medical marijuana, and that I had no idea what the difference was between Indica and Sativa, nor the various strains listed. His eyes lit up. “Really?” he exclaimed, “Cool!”  I had the impression that he was excited because this was my first time buying... and that I was an old guy. I half expected him to commend me for overcoming the "Reefer Madness" propaganda of the 1930's that I was obviously subjected to as a kid. (I'm old, but not that old.) 

He told me about the differences between Indica and Sativa, that Indica highs are most often described as a pleasant body buzz while the sativa high is often characterized as uplifting and energetic .

Apparently, Indicas are great for relaxation, stress relief, and for an overall sense of calm and serenity. Marijuana Indicas are also very effective for overall body pain relief, and often used in the treatment of insomnia. They are the late-evening choice of many smokers as an all-night sleep aid.

In contrast, the effects of Sativas are mostly “cerebral.” They give a feeling of optimism and well-being, as well as providing a good measure of pain relief for certain physical symptoms. A few pure Sativas are known to have a quite spacey, or hallucinogenic, effect. Sativas are a good choice for daytime smoking.

My enthusiastic sales rep noted that the different strains of Indicas and Sativas vary slightly in appearance, aroma, taste, effect, and potency. We spent the next 20-minutes huddled over the counter, viewing and sniffing each individual strain as he pulled out the containers one-by-one, explaining in detail the subtle differences of each.

Since this was my first time buying and using medical marijuana, and since the effects of the Sativas sounded like what I needed, I asked which type of Sativa I should try first. “Blue Dream,” he suggested with matter-of-fact authority. I nodded, “Blue Dream it is.” He then used tweezers to pull out individual Blue Dream buds and placed each one on a microgram scale, adding additional buds one-at-a-time until the scale’s digital output read “7.5.”  He then put the buds into a green plastic prescription bottle and asked, “Do you have a bong or a pipe?”

A bong or a pipe? Hmmm… I guess I do need to use some type of device to actually smoke the marijuana. I asked what the differences were and he gladly explained that pipes are smaller and are easier to carry around, while bongs are larger… sometimes very large, standing two feet high or more… but provide a smoother smoking experience. Why are bongs “smoother?” Because they’re filled partially with water, and as you inhale, the marijuana smoke passes through the water before entering your lungs. Smoother sounded better to me, so I opted for a bong, albeit a smaller one… only about six-inches tall.

The sales rep tallied my purchases, which totaled $140.00. I had planned to pay in cash, but realized that I didn’t have enough money when I pulled out my small wad of bills. “No problem,” my sales rep said, “We take credit or debit, too.”  Really? That’s great! I was relieved that I could continue with my purchase. But then an uneasy feeling began to wash over me. "Use my credit card?" I thought to myself. I became uncomfortable with the idea of using my credit card as it would be a permanent record of what I bought, when I bought it, and where I bought it from. But my hesitation began to wane as I reminded myself that medical marijuana is legal in California and that I’m operating within the law. So I decided to use my credit card and exercise my rights as a California citizen to buy medical marijuana... credit card record and all.  

So I completed my purchase, walked out the security-guarded doors, hopped in my car, and drove home.

While driving, I occasionally glanced in my rear-view mirror wondering if a police officer had witnessed me exiting the dispensary and was now following me with intent to pull me over for marijuana possession. But then I again reminded myself that I had my certificate proving that I had a legitimate need for medical marijuana. Plus, I was carrying less than an ounce… well under the eight ounces allowed under California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.77(a) as amended by SB 420.  Plus, Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 1449 on September 30, 2010, which amends California Health and Safety Code Section 11357(b) so that the adult possession of up to 28.5 grams (one ounce) of marijuana is classified as an infraction, punishable by no more than a $100 fine, regardless of whether the marijuana is for medical purposes or not. (Note: This new law takes effect on January 1, 2011.) Given that I had no criminal record… not even a traffic violation… and also given that I was carrying such a small amount of marijuana, I resolved my concerns by concluding that pulling me over wasn’t really worth any officer’s time.

With that, I finished my drive home, pulled into my garage, and closed the door. And as I made my way into my home to show my wife what I had purchased, I began to feel a little bit excited about trying medical marijuana for the first time, gleefully anticipating its positive effects on my medical condition.

It wasn’t quite the positive experience I had hoped for.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Medical Marijuana: Getting a Doctor’s Recommendation

I decided to not broach the subject of medical marijuana with my doctor (i.e. I chickened out), and instead chose to search for doctor’s known to recommend medical marijuana. Fortunately, during my research on marijuana, I came across a useful link that makes it easy to find doctors who will prescribe medical marijuana. When I had Googled “marijuana dispensary locator,” up popped California NORML’sCalifornia Dispensary Locator.” By entering my zip code, I could locate physicians willing to recommend medical marijuana… as well as collectives/cooperatives (a.k.a. dispensaries), and delivery-only services (where they will deliver marijuana to your doorstep).

I selected the “Physicians” option, entered my zip code, and then clicked “Search.” A split-second later, I had a list of physicians that willingly, openly recommend medical marijuana to their patients in need. The list was organized by proximity to my zip code, with those closest to me at the top. It included their names, locations, and phone numbers. It also showed the distance of their office from my zip code, and included a link to a location map.

Pretty easy.

I selected one that was closest to my home and called just after 9:00am. I spoke with a representative and explained my ailment and that I was seeking a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana. She asked if I had seen a doctor regarding my condition. I had. She then asked if I had paperwork diagnosing my condition. I did. Given that I had paperwork documenting my condition, she suggested I schedule an appointment. As it turns out, they had an available opening early that same afternoon, so I scheduled it.

I left for my appointment a little sooner than necessary to ensure I arrived on-time. The office was located in a nice area, so I felt safe traveling there. When  I arrived, I walked in. It was clean, professional, and welcoming. In fact, it reminded me of just about every other doctor’s office I had visited. There were comfortable chairs and a coffee table, with end tables strewn with magazines available for casual perusing. It was well lit, with soft background music playing. Very familiar, very comfortable surroundings. There were two other people in the waiting room, whom I assumed were patients. Both were waiting their turn to see the doctor.

The receptionist greeted me, had me sign-in, and then handed me a brief information form to fill out. The form contained the usual medical-history questions… existing conditions, allergies, family history, etc. It also included information about medical marijuana, its effects and its known medicinal uses, and the limitations and privileges afforded under California’s Proposition 215.

After returning my completed medical-history questionnaire to the receptionist, I sat and waited my turn to see the doctor. A few moments later, Dr. Smith called me into his office.

Dr. Smith asked how he could be of service. I explained my condition and that I was wondering whether medical marijuana might help relieve my symptoms. He first reviewed my questionnaire, asked me a few clarifying questions, and took my blood pressure. Then he discussed my condition in detail, explaining its known causes and suggested therapies, and then asked whether I had tried any of those remedies. I had, but with limited success. After asking a few more questions, he explained that he felt medical marijuana may help, and then recommended I try it.

And that was that. My meeting with Dr. Smith had lasted about 20 minutes, and I now had my medical marijuana recommendation.

With Dr. Smith’s blessing, the receptionist handed me my certificate titled, “Physicians Statement, Health and Safety Code Section 11362.5,”  certifying that I had a medical condition which may benefit from medical cannabis. She promptly snapped my photo, and a moment later, handed me my Medical Marijuana Patient Verification Card, which confirmed that I had the legal right to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The receptionist then warned that if I grow my own marijuana I will need to prominently display my certificate near my plants.

Grow my own pot? It hadn’t occurred to me. I gave it a moment’s thought, but after reflecting on my own past experiences with vegetable gardening (and how hard it was), I opted to simply buy marijuana from a licensed dispensary. I absolutely love the idea of purchasing fruits and vegetables at Certified Farmer’s Markets from growers who are in the business of providing fresh produce to consumers instead of laboring to grow my own. So I decided to do the same with medical marijuana… to purchase it at licensed dispensaries from growers whose business is providing quality products to their customers.

Now I just need to find a dispensary.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Medical Marijuana - Will My Doctor Prescribe It?

It was time to call my doctor to ask if she would write a medical marijuana prescription  for me. Suddenly, I found myself getting nervous, trepidatious. Would she be upset with me? Scold me? Be disappointed in me? These thoughts overwhelmed me. But then I thought, “What a shame!” that our society has made me feel apprehensive about talking to my doctor regarding my medical needs. After all, during my annual check-up, my doctor and I talk about my health, and she regularly asks me if I use alcohol or tobacco. And I feel completely comfortable telling her the truth. Yet because of the stigma associated with marijuana, I feel uncomfortable discussing medical marijuana.

Then I began to wonder, “Could she get in trouble for talking to me about medical marijuana? Could she lose her medical license?” So before calling her and possibly putting her in a situation where she could risk losing her license, I decided to do a little research.

I discovered that doctors are not allowed to write prescriptions for marijuana because it’s classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. If a doctor writes a prescription for marijuana, then they can have their DEA registration revoked and no longer be allowed to write prescriptions for any medications listed as controlled substances. And for doctors, losing their DEA registration can severely limit the medications that they can prescribe, which can effectively put them out of business.  However, California doctors can openly discuss marijuana and whether it may be beneficial for their patients. California’s Proposition 215 allows doctors to recommend marijuana to their patients, and for patients to possess marijuana. It’s good to know that I need to ask my doctor for a recommendation, not a prescription.

But I’m still nervous about calling her.

Why? Because of an experience I had with my wife’s doctor. He’s a pain management specialist. His focus is specific: he helps people manage their chronic pain with medications. The meds are taken orally, or can be injected directly into the site where the pain occurs. My wife requires both oral meds and injections to manage her chronic pain. What concerns us both about these medications are the potential side effects she may suffer. To manage her pain she has prescriptions for Hydrocodone, Methadone, and Lidocaine, and also gets steroid injections. These are potent meds, and their long-term use can cause other physical problems, including addiction. From what I have learned about medical marijuana, it has shown efficacy as a pain-management alternative to these other drugs, is significantly less harmful physically, and is virtually non-addictive.

So during one of our bi-monthly visits with her doctor, as my wife was lying on a table and he was slowly inserting a four-inch long syringe needle deep into her hip to inject a cocktail of meds at the pain site, I innocently asked whether he could write her a prescription for medical marijuana. He glanced up at me, eyes-widening, and said, “What?!! You want me to lose my license?!!”  He was half-joking, but was also half-serious. I replied, “Of course not! I was just curious. It’s not a big deal.” And that was the end of our discussion. He’s a an excellent doctor and we have a great relationship. He has helped my wife tremendously for several years… and I do NOT want him to risk losing his license. From that experience, though, I learned to be wary of asking doctors about prescriptions for medical marijuana. We never discussed the subject again.

So given my apprehension about contacting my doctor to discuss getting a recommendation for medical marijuana, I decided to search for doctors already known to give recommendations.

And I discovered that there are plenty of doctors willing to give medical marijuana recommendations.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reefer Madness - Where Do I Buy Marijuana?

Now that I intend to try smoking marijuana, I need to figure out how to get some.

I have read statements by marijuana legalization proponents that say kids can easily get marijuana. Their statements seem confirmed by the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which notes that 7.3% of kids aged 12-17 are current marijuana users. That means 1-in-14 high school kids currently smoke pot. So they’re getting it somewhere. But where? According to the August 2010 report, National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV: Teens and Parents, , published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), "Three in four teens (76-percent) who can get marijuana obtain it from a friend or classmate." I guess that means the remaining 24-percent get it from a drug dealer. (That really is just a guess on my part.)

The fact that 76-percent of teens say they can get marijuana from a friend or classmate doesn’t really surprise me.  I know when I was in high school, it was generally understood that if you wanted to buy pot, you just had to walk into one of the boy's bathrooms. But I have no intention of wandering into boy’s bathrooms asking teenagers if they can "hook me up." While I may want to try marijuana, I’m an adult and I have no desire to contribute to the delinquency of a minor, nor to encourage them to use licit or illicit substances. Children shouldn’t be engaged in drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or using marijuana recreationally. (Sorry kids... it’s just the way I feel.) 

But where do I get it?

I suppose I could drive around town, searching for unsavory characters loitering street corners in crime-ridden neighborhoods... but that sounds a little scary. Or maybe I could hangout at bars or clubs late at night and ask patrons where I might score. But since I'm not into the nightclub scene and don't hang out at bars (preferring instead to spend my evenings with my wife watching the latest episode of Survivor, or Hell's Kitchen, or The Biggest Loser, or Dancing with the Stars, or Oprah, or Dr. Oz., or... well, you get the idea), then I need to find an alternative.

So I did what anyone over the age of three would do in our internet-connected world: I Googled "where to buy pot."  In 0.17 seconds, I had about 59,200,000 results. A quick review of the search results reveals a variety of websites promising to sell marijuana online via mail order. Really? Mail-order pot? Can it be that easy?

Apparantly not.

I checked out a couple of the websites and quickly learned that they offer a type of marijuana hybrid where they cross-breed a marijuana plant, for example, with a blueberry plant producing a "...hybrid plant containing just as much THC as full-strength marijuana, yet with a mild blueberry aroma."

Ummm... no thanks.

I'm uncomfortable with this option for two reasons: First, I'm interested in experiencing actual marijuana, and not in smoking a marijuana-blueberry hybrid. Second, I'm not certain it's legal to sell or possess hybrids. If I correctly understand the DEA's explanation of the Controlled Substances Act, the Act allows for the immediate inclusion of substances that are " immediate precursor of a substance already controlled." In other words, if it's a derivative of marijuana (and especially if it contains THC), then it can be immediately classified as a Schedule I drug, the same classification as marijuana and THC.

So, if I don't want to cruise dangerous neighborhoods, or hang out at bars and clubs late at night, or openly buy hybrid products that the DEA may still classify as Schedule I drugs, then what options am I left with? Hmmm... well, I am a resident of California.

Ah, yes... medical marijuana.

I wonder if my doctor will give me a prescription? I'll have to give her a call.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trying To Decide: Marijuana - Good or Bad

California's Proposition 19 created quite a stirring debate from both sides; those in favor of legalizing marijuana and those opposing legalization. Personally, I have long thought out-loud to friends and family that marijuana should be legalized, regulated, and taxed just like alcohol and tobacco. So when Prop. 19 came along, it sounded well suited to turn my "legalize it, regulate it, tax it" beliefs into the law of the land.

Alas... it was not to be.

Do I care that Prop. 19 didn't pass?  No, not really. At least not from a user's perspective, anyway. Why? Because I don't use marijuana. I don't smoke it, eat it, vaporize it, or otherwise use it in any form. Not even in its Federally approved medicinal form Marinol.

But I do care because I truly view the impact of marijuana as similar to the impacts that alcohol and tobacco have. All three substances have been used for decades (centuries, really) by humans, and their effects on the body are well known. In fact, marijuana is shown to be less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. And I think that adults should be allowed to make their own decisions as to whether to experience the effects of these substances on their own bodies.

I'm not encouraging anyone to use marijuana, by the way, no more than I would encourage them to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, or even to super size their meal deal. What I do encourage is allowing citizens in our society to exercise their freedom of choice; a freedom currently prohibited for marijuana.

I freely admit that I could be wrong about my beliefs that marijuana is relatively harmless and that it has a low impact on our bodies. So I intend to use this blog to share my explorations of marijuana, it's impacts on individuals, as well as society, from both sides of the legalization debate.

And I plan to start by smoking marijuana.