Marijuana Train Wreck?

“Isn’t it fun growing older in Boulder?” my friend, Sam, asked at a recent gathering. “Where else can you eat a cookie laced with marijuana and go to the opera? It’s legal, and it’s free!”

What?  Free legal medical marijuana?  Until the past week, that’s been true in Colorado.  But on July 1, the toughest regulations enacted by any state will go into effect.  At the same time, U.S. attorneys are threatening to prosecute the state regulators. Why? Because regulation will legitimize the business of medical marijuana, which is illegal under federal laws. Jeff Gard, a marijuana attorney in Boulder, says, “We have two freight trains heading toward each other on the same track, and it’s not clear who’s going to win.”

I’ll explain this further in my next post, and I’ll also tell you why I haven’t been blogging so often lately. But first, I want to report what it’s been like, living in the people’s republic of medical marijuana, and why Attorney General Eric Holder is concerned that this is de-facto legalization.

It is.

Five years ago, I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. If you have now or have had severe pain in the past three years, you can qualify for a license, walk into a dispensary and pick from an astonishing array of products. You’ll see 31 flavors of marijuana, pre-rolled joints fat as cigarillos, cookies, brownies, cheese cake, truffles, peanut butter cups, granola mix, bread, drinks, ice cream made by Glacier, the best ice cream joint in town, candies to suck or chew and butter and olive oil to cook with. It’s the foodie culture meets the drug culture. Can books and TV shows be far behind? The Barefoot Contessa or Skinny Bitch Cooks with Pot?”

Gourmet Edibles

Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000, but you never saw a dispensary anywhere until 2009, when state restrictions were loosened and Attorney General Holder announced that the federal government would not make prosecution of marijuana users a high priority, if they’re complying with state law.

Overnight, people who’d been growing and selling pot illegally came in from the cold. It seemed there was a dispensary on every corner in Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs. The pages of local weeklies were covered with ads featuring marijuana leaves, ads which have been keeping those papers alive.

More than 150,000 Coloradans have registered for a license; 69% are male, the average age is 40 and severe pain accounts for 94% of conditions reported. Boulder, a city of about 100,000, has only three large drugstores like Walgreens and Rite Aid but 200 dispensaries of medical marijuana.

“Budista” working at a dispensary

Sam*, a biology professor at the University of Colorado, was the first person I knew who obtained a license, in 2009. He’d had a hip replaced and his medical records filled a box.

The first step was getting a health practitioner to review his records, sign and notarize his application. Private doctors were reluctant to do that but clinics sprang up solely for that purpose.

The state lists 8 conditions which qualify a person for a license, including cancer, seizeures, HIV and severe pain. And who, especially as we get older, hasn’t had severe pain—headaches, knee pain, back pain, pulling a muscle, tennis elbow? I’m told that college students are applying with arthritis.

Sam brought his records to the clinic and as he was filling out forms, a tall, fat man with long gray hear, wearing overalls with “Felix” sewed across the pocket, came rushing through the door, yelling that the state had sent back his documents because they weren’t dated correctly. “I paid you a lot and you screwed up,” Felix shouted.

Rick, the young man at the front desk, tried to reason with him. “You signed it yourself and wrote the date…. See?” But Felix kept shouting and pounding his fist. Rick tried another tack. “Okay, we’re going to make it right, don’t worry. We’ll re-do the papers and because of your inconvenience, here’s a coupon for a free gram at the dispensary across the street.” Felix took the coupon, closed his mouth and smiled.

“Sam?” a doctor called, opening the door to the exam room. Sam walked in and shook hands with the doctor—let’s call him Dr. Right. Young and athletic with a blond pony tail, Dr. Right said he’s an ER doctor and does this on the side. As he flipped through Sam’s records, Sam told him that after his hip was replaced, he started having pain in the other hip. “I’ve had acupuncture and physical therapy, and uh… there’s still pain… sometimes.”

“Poor guy,” Dr. Right said. “You’ll probably have to get the other one replaced.”

Sam wondered, is this a charade? Does Dr. Right know Sam doesn’t want “medicine” for pain but to relax and get high? If the doc knew, he wasn’t letting on.

After Dr. Right signed the application, Rick notarized it and informed Sam there was a special program for seniors. The license gives you the right to grow six plants, Rick explained. “That’s worth a lot to a grower. If you don’t want to grow plants yourself and assign your right to a `caregiver,’ the caregiver will pay for this exam–$100—and the state filing fee of $90.”

“What’s the catch?” Sam asked.

“No catch,” Rick said. “You can still buy your medicine anywhere and change caregivers any time.”

“Sign me up,” Sam said, thinking: this is better than the senior discount at the movies.

Rick made a photo copy of the application and handed it to Sam. “The state is running 8 months behind in processing these, so just show this copy and you’re good to buy meds.”

But Sam would soon learn he could get all the medicine he needed for free.


* Because of the shifting sands, all names in this piece have been changed but make no mistake, they are real people and real dispensaries.



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15 thoughts on “Marijuana Train Wreck?

  1. Beauregard

    The Internet is accelerating the pace of change on everything. The place of gays in society, the view of drugs, the striving for democracy and dignity…
    With prisons full and money running out and cops being laid off and progressive attitudes finding expression, the prohibitionists are like silent movie actors fighting talkies, and equally doomed.
    Surely the feds will realize they have more important things to do.
    We will look back on marijuana laws as just another dumb idea that never made sense.

  2. Anonymous

    Wow is there craziness dealing with the regulations. The state and the city are at war with each other (or at least at odds)
    A friend who manages a grow warehouse says his warehouse has to close due to the slated future train line going thorugh.
    The state says “transfer your license to a new building,” but the city says you can't transfer, you have to apply for a new license. It goes on… hoop jumping escalated to a high art.

    Keep up the worthy work on this and our beloved Rebbe.

  3. Richard

    Personally, I think there is a place for medical marijuana in the constellation of medications for real conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, etc. Unfortunately, the wink-wink-nudge-nudge abuse of marijuana for supposed medical conditions, like the severe pain of a paper cut, make the whole thing look silly and disingenuous. I walked into a dispensary to see what all the buzz was about (I live in California), and I noticed the lobby filled with four “diseased” teens who had probably turned 18 earlier in the week. It's hard to take marijuana seriously as a medication when the whole system is being “gamed” to help perfectly healthy folks get high. My fear is that the Cheech & Chong culture diving into the medical marijuana pool is going to sully access to a medication that can be helpful to people who have very real and very serious diseases.

  4. Anonymous

    Interesting. I have always said that you don't need more dispensaries than pharmacies!

  5. Anonymous

    Loved this marijuana blog–not a user myself, but am fascinated with the whole of Boulder and Colorado going to pot. I was delighted to learn of your latest venture with Reb Zalman, one of the great men we are blessed to have in our midst. I'm eager to buy the book when it's published.

  6. Erin

    It's true that the majority of “medical” conditions given for needing pot are bogus. That said, I think it stinks that something less harmful than alcohol and tobacco is illegal in the first place. It's the illogical illegality that creates all the silliness.

  7. Kim

    Sorry to get off the subject, but- are you still going to write the book about Ram Dass & son?

  8. Anonymous

    While I am not a user of marijuana, it should be legal and stop the insanity of all the wasted money policing and trying to stop its use. America has bigger issues than POT ! Here's a video about pot curing cancer…when it's boiled down to become a tarry oily substance.
    Like so many movements that have taken place in recent years…like gay people becoming more accepted…maybe marijuana is next. Marijuana organizations should unite and form one coalition.

  9. Sara Davidson

    I agree. The attorney, Jeff Gard, said, “In 15 years of doing criminal defense, I never saw a guy who smoked a joint and beat his wife and kids, or got involved in serious assault.
    But alcohol is involved in almost every case in criminal court.

  10. Sara Davidson

    I'm not writing the book about Ram Dass and Son. The parties involved decided they didn't want to pursue a book at this time. BUT, very soon I will publish and post a link to the lengthy article I wrote about them. Watch my newsletters for that.

    And thanks for your interest!
    I thank everyone for your comments. They mean a lot.

  11. JoAnn

    A similar situation is occurring here in Arizona (crazy capitol of America). We just passed the medical marijuana bill, for the 3rd time, and it is being shut down again due to concerns regarding federal enforcement of anti-marijuana laws. We have people signing up for medical licenses, and marijuana dispensaries ready to spring up all over town, and yet we are still arresting and jailing people who are growing or smoking pot. We have border agents getting shot trying to keep it from coming into the country along the AZ border, while simultaneously creating a pseudo clinical façade to legally dispense and consume it.

    What an insane situation. Full legalization is the only answer; the rest is all farce and hypocrisy. After saying this I will also add, I will never smoke marijuana, even though I fall into two of the categories that qualify me to apply for a medical prescription per current AZ State laws. Why? Paranoia, on more than one level. AZ is not the place you want to be on the wrong side of the law, especially one that changes every five minutes. Stay tuned America, we just might be waving a white flag in the war against drugs, which has in fact been primarily a war against innocent people.

    I love everything you write, hungry for more, even without the munchies. JoAnn

  12. Anonymous

    Decriminalization, taxation, and regulation . . . much the same as alcohol, with minimum age and driving restrictions . . . would go a long way toward addressing many of our society’s ills: Federal deficit; costs of investigation and prosecution; prison costs and overcrowding; drug wars between rival suppliers, with innocent bystanders caught in the middle; alcohol-induced crimes and abuses . . . The list goes on, but that’s what occurs to me, now.

    A couple of years ago, a measure was introduced to congress. I can’t recall whether it was for complete decriminalization or for medical use only. At any rate, I contacted my senator in support of that measure. She wrote back saying she opposed legalization, because (in studies) marijuana had been proved to be “a gateway drug.”

    Normally (no pun), I was quite happy with my senator’s choices; she generally voted as I would, in her position. But on this issue we parted ways.

    Many habitual marijuana users have not progressed to other illicit substances. But regarding those who have gone on to use other street drugs: Part of the problem is the way in which our society has dealt with marijuana, lumping it in with the truly dangerous substances, such as crack cocaine and methamphetamines.

    When a marijuana user smokes for the first time and discovers that the sky has not fallen, he realizes he’s been lied to . . . and begins to wonder: What other substances have they been lying about? Claiming marijuana is a “gateway” makes as much sense as claiming milk is a “gateway.” After all, every person who has used illicit drugs has probably also drunk milk; and as with marijuana, not every person who drinks milk progresses to hard-core drugs.

    When it comes to currently-illicit substances, marijuana is . . . or should be . . . in a class by itself. It doesn’t even belong with alcohol, since it doesn’t induce rage or violence.

  13. Celeste

    I'm looking forward to the next installment.

    Sarah, may I suggest to you? It's a free site that lets you make permanent links that have very few characters in them. I think it would be very handy.

  14. Beverly

    Hi, I am making notes for my memoirs, and this subject will be dealt with.

    I remember Berkeley in the mid-Seventies, when the police were instructed by the city council to concentrate their efforts on criminal activity. The result was that the city park between the high school and the police station was full of stoned teens. I was offered a toke by a ten-year-old in the daycare yard of the UCC Church on Dwight Way.

    My teen son almost died, missing a curve on his motorcycle, driving drunk AND stoned. He admits to losing ten years of his life to drugs- – and he started with weed at 14 in Shreveport while living with his dad.

    In Hawaii, my Kaiser docs CAN'Tgive me a Rx; and all islands have problems like my son's with the young people. I could qualify if I took the trouble to find a doctor, and then registered with the State, but that smacks too much of Big Brother. I won't do it.

    Finding the fine line between common sense and abuse of the herb is an important social issue – -but even Berkeley had to pull back from its Liberalism.
    I hate it that our “needs” are tearing Mexico apart as we write.Mass killings in the weed wars.

    Any recovering addict will tell you that “it is the first one that gets you. The world doesn't end, so you believe that you can 'handle it.'” My family cannot; we have very bad genes.And weed is soooo seductive.

    I have warned my grandkids: other people can. We cannot. That is about all I can do for them. Their parents don't like me.
    Bev in Honolulu

  15. GInger

    Hi Sarah — thanks for this post — it has provided lots of material for discussion here with my friends in NOVA and in our home. I appreciate that we can talk about what is going on with medical marijuana — there are many sides to the argument for and against legalization. I agree with Beverly that it can be a very slippery slope for teens and college kids. As parents we try to be vigilant — open conversation always helps. Seeing more that one side of this issue does help widen my perspective even though it may not change my opinion. Keep writing on this subject – it is a topic for which we need accurate information.

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