I was soaking up the sun in Venice Beach recently when I discovered an obscure little shop called Herbalology. Located on the Boardwalk in an historic building where 60s rocker Jim Morrison once lived (and whose ghost reportedly remains,) the shop is one of several medical marijuana dispensaries scattered around Venice, California.
It is not a shop for tourists. Under California law, only California residents who have been evaluated by a qualified California physician and issued a special state I.D. card can possess medical marijuana for personal use.
Physicians are prohibited by federal law to prescribe medical marijuana; they can only recommend or approve it for patients whom they judge are seriously ill and would benefit from its use. Once approved, patients can legally possess six mature or twelve immature marijuana plants. In addition, they may possess 1/2 lb. (8 ounces) of processed weed. Individual cities and counties may authorize higher limits, but never less. And doctors retain the right to recommend amounts tailored to the needs of their patients.
Proposition 215 -- The California Compassionate Use Act -- took effect in 1996. Although still being debated in court [as of 2007], the California State Supreme Court ruled in People vs. Mower that "patients have as much right to marijuana as any prescription drug."
Nonetheless, the sale and possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and the federal government does not recognize any medical use for marijuana. As a result, police still raid doctors' offices, clinics, dispensaries, and private homes where valid sale and use are in question. Patients with state I.D. cards must remain current in their medical evaluations and renew their cards annually or risk being arrested for illegal possession and use of marijuana.
Dispensaries, which act as non-profit caregivers for patients, are especially vulnerable to legal closure. Since the sale of marijuana is illegal, dispensaries are not protected under the law. Their existence depends largely on local community acceptance and tolerance by local law enforcement. Inevitably, they operate under a cloud of secrecy and suspicion. Clients are accepted based on referrals and verification by local physicians.
Dr. Allen Frankel has been practicing internal medicine for thirty years. A leading proponent of medical marijuana, he evaluates patients in his office at Green Bridge Medical Services in Marina Del Rey, California [as of 2007.] His desire is to see "more dedicated chemists out there working on super potent extractions of THC into elixirs, oils, sprays, patches, suppositories, you name it, be an angel, go out there and perfect it! Dying patients can't effectively smoke, and muffins and brownies just don't cut it for them."
Dr. Frankel recommends medical marijuana use for patients with chronic pain, depression, anxiety, arthritis, insomnia, migraines, eating disorders, cancer, AIDS, chemotherapy, and other chronic conditions.
"I would like to see doctors, all doctors in every capacity, stand up for this recently released 5,000-year-old medication. I encourage patients to seek alternate medical practices in conjunction with western medicine."
[Medical marijuana, recently approved by voters in Arizona, will be dispensed according to the California model.]
Dawn Pisturino, RN
Original article published in The Kingman Daily Miner, September 25, 2007.