The West goes to pot

I walked into the clinic with $45, a photo ID and a coupon I found in an alt-weekly at the liquor store across the street. I was feeling anxious, I told the doctor, just not altogether right: A little depression here, a bit of insomnia there – tell-tale symptoms, a lonely cynic might say, of the pandemic “human condition”.

But I needed help. And according to the online reviews, I’d found one of the few compassionate ears in Hollywood.

“So, how long have you experienced this anxiety?” inquired my board-certified medical professional. She was dressed in a crisp white lab coat, “Dept of Plastic Surgery” embroidered on the left chest pocket, and sat at a wooden desk with a blood pressure machine and my medical file in front of her. Behind her was a sparsely filled bookcase and a poster advertising competitively priced shots of vitamin B12.

“I guess the anxiety started in high school,” I said, speaking for about everyone who has ever gone to high school. “Around puberty, maybe.”

“Yeah, that’s when it usually sets in,” the doctor reassured me with a comforting nod. “Make sure you have a good support network,” she said, her head continuing to bob. “And try getting 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity each day. Do you have a therapist?”

I shook my head.

“You should get a therapist,” she said. “It can be good to have someone to talk to. And maybe try acupuncture. I hear it works wonders.”

I could dig the mix of the conventional and non-traditional, but let’s drop the facade: I wasn’t there to make what my mother would consider a positive life decision.

“Have you ever smoked marijuana?” the doctor finally asked after an eternity (or, four and a half minutes). I didn’t say no. “Did it help?” Of course it (obscenity) did, lady. She took my blood pressure and a final glance at my paperwork.

“Well, call and update us on how you’re doing in three months. And gain some weight.” I thought about making the obvious joke but just nodded instead. “Have you ever taken a B12 shot?”

US authorities crack down on medical cannabis
Joining the club

And with that – after declining the B12 – I became an official medical marijuana patient in California, one of perhaps a million people, or two to three per cent of the population, who under state law can legally purchase and consume Cannabis sativa, sold in a dizzying array of forms, from sodas to cheesecakes, at more than 700 dispensaries here in Los Angeles County alone. For less than half the cost of a police citation for possession, pretty much any resident with some extra cash and a half hour to waste can get a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana, which was legalised for the treatment of a broad array of medical purposes by California voters in 1996.

If we’re being honest, the result is the de facto legalisation of marijuana in large parts of the state (albeit an imperfect form that still allows police to harass the lesser privileged with citations for possession and trumped up charges of distribution). To politicians and perpetually concerned parents and the decent, respectable advocate of drug policy reform, that’s a problem, the state’s widely supported medical marijuana programme considered a joke; a disaster. A programme intended to help the seriously ill is instead being used by a bunch of hipsters looking to get high.

In my case, 20 minutes after getting a doctor’s note from a plastic surgeon I was browsing a selection of ostensibly organic alternative medicine, a young Russian named Sergio behind the counter addressing me as “bro” and guiding me through treatment options like “Obama OG” (“It’s just a name.”), “Green Crack” (“It’s not crack.”) and “Houdini” (“It’ll make you disappear.”). As I left, purchase in hand, I confidently walked past a LAPD patrol car that was idling just outside, an angsty Rage Against the Machine song blaring in my head.

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