Legally High

Sheldon* went to a doctor in Santa Monica after his 18th birthday complaining of chronic headaches. He suffered from the affliction when he was younger, so he cited medications he had tried then and did some additional research online to back up his complaint. After a short physical, he was issued a prescription for medical marijuana, which he can get filled at any cannabis club in California.

Moe* got his prescription for medical marijuana in late February. Moe said he wasn’t nervous about the appointment because he had been briefed by some of his friends. 

“It definitely felt like a normal doctor’s appointment,” Moe said. “My doctor was very professional.”
Moe frequents cannabis clubs in Koreatown and Hollywood anywhere from one to three times a week.

They dot Ventura Boulevard almost as frequently as Starbucks, but you probably have never noticed one. Often located behind nondescript storefronts, medical marijuana pharmacies or cannabis clubs have a large presence in the San Fernando Valley.

Many students have acquired cannabis prescription cards called “club cards” from physicians, so they can go to a club and purchase marijuana legally. Some of these students have made up a medical reason and were able to acquire these cards despite being put through tests. Many doctors will give out a prescription after just a five-minute, not entirely thorough physical, Dr. Christine Paoletti, a physician who frequently prescribes medical marijuana, said.

“There are definitely doctors out there who will give younger looking people prescriptions without any sort of parental consent, and I mean, that is totally legal because the kids are 18,” Paoletti said.
“I’m very wary of younger people who come in asking for a medical marijuana recommendation. I almost always check with a parent to make sure that the illness is legitimate when it is a younger looking kid.”

Jill* decided on her 18th birthday not to get a club card because one day she might want to pursue a career in law and the card, which would stay on her medical record, could possibly act as a deterrent when she is trying to get hired.

“I have known people who have attempted to fake it and have gotten rejected, and I know people who have faked it and gotten a card,” Jill said, adding that anywhere from 10 to 15 of her friends have cards.

Sheldon frequents a club called The Weed in Tarzana, and while he prefers to buy the herb itself, he has heard good things about the candy, ice creams and tea that the club also sells. The marijuana in a club is grown better and is more dependable, Sheldon said. He smokes marijuana a couple of times a week, usually at night. He once spent $300 at a marijuana vending machine that cannabis clubs often have.

“I always keep a copy of my prescription on me at all times so that I can show it if I ever got caught by the police,” Sheldon said.

Moe described the typical club as having a heavy door with a door bell, and then a waiting room with a security guard who must see the prospective customer’s proof of registration before he can go any further. Past the waiting room, there is a counter with a whiteboard behind it listing items and prices. The room also may have couches and smoking areas.

The clubs have a wide variety of marijuana-infused foods, and Moe has sampled the barbecue and hot sauces, gum, drinks and baked goods including brownies and rice krispie treats. Moe has “tried everything once to see if it actually works. All the food got me high,” Moe said.  He specifically enjoyed the sauces, which ran about $15, because “you get to eat at the same time.”

To cook with marijuana, one must melt butter in boiling water and then boil the marijuana in with the butter to strain out the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). After the “cannabutter” cools, it can be used in any baking. 

Moe also likes marijuana strips, which are similar to the Listerine mouthwash strips that dissolve in one’s mouth. Strips cost $10 each and Moe described them as quick and easy but pretty highly concentrated. Moe has used strips more often than anything besides the plant.

The drug, which is illegal for recreational use in the United States according to the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, was legalized in California for personal use and cultivation as long as the user had a viable medical excuse through the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, also known as Proposition 215. The law states that marijuana can be sold to anyone over the age of 18 where “a physician has determined that the person’s health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

Since some 18 year-old students can legally acquire marijuana under this law, the question of whether it is legal to bring to school arises. School Chaplain Father J. Young believes that bringing medical marijuana onto campus is still against school rules.

“Even the medical use of marijuana usually renders one in an intoxicated state, a state that is inappropriate for an institution of learning,” Young said. “There would be no good reason for a holder of ‘legal’ marijuana to bring it onto campus.” Sheldon admits there would be something “sketchy” to bringing his medical marijuana on to campus and does not do so.

Some scientists believe that THC may have a “protective effect” by causing aging cells to die before they become cancerous.

Dr. Les Zackler (Vanessa ’08) is a physician who describes himself as a neuropsychiatric doctor.

“There are other physicians such as myself who will look up to see if there is any valid research supporting the use of marijuana before prescribing it,” Zackler said. “In my opinion, medical marijuana is a de facto way of decriminalizing marijuana. It’s a matter of philosophy. There are some physicians who will provide a letter to anyone who asks. They often charge money for it as a way of earning an income. In my opinion, that is unethical.”

Because of the law’s broad allowances, many students often tell physicians that they suffer from diseases that are often hard to identify.

Before going in to see his doctor, Moe had to fill out half an hour’s worth of paperwork with basic, simple questions about Moe’s marijuana usage, such as by what means he preferred to use marijuana. Moe went to his doctor under the pretense of not being able to sleep. Moe said he had trouble falling asleep and stayed up late often. Moe smokes marijuana most nights before going to sleep and has found that it “makes you tired and sleepy. It definitely helps.”

There are many doctors throughout the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles area who specialize in issuing medical marijuana recommendations. They charge about $150 for a physical, a legal aide to Bruce Margolin, the director of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), said.

“There is definitely still some level of stigma to being a pot doctor and there are a number of doctors out there who aren’t doing anything to improve that image but their are plenty who are well respected within the medical community, the marijuana community, and the community at large,” Margolin’s aide said. “There are areas in California like San Diego County that do a good job scaring doctors into not writing medical marijuana recommendations for fear of losing their licenses. Los Angeles County is about as friendly of an environment as it gets.”

The cannabis prescription lasts for either six months or a year. Moe’s year-long prescription, which cost him $150 to get, will last him another 10 months, and he’s still not sure if he will renew it for a much discounted price.

“Doctors who give out prescriptions so easily jeopardize the drug for the people who really need it,” Paoletti said. While she thinks marijuana should be legalized, she also knows that there is a great stigma surrounding marijuana in this country, and doctors can easily lose the progress that has been made.

Moe has spent hundreds of dollars more in the two months since he has gotten his card than in any two month period before he got the prescription. He smokes on the rooftop of his apartment almost nightly. Before he got the card, he would typically spend about $150 in a two month period because, in Moe’s words, “it was hard to get. It was technically illegal.”

* Sheldon, Moe and Jill all chose to remain anonymous for this article.