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.

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