May 152011

Bud’s note: John Bogert (not Bogart, you stoners) is a Los Angeles Daily News columnist who recently joined the ranks of Prop. 215 patients. He’s more whimsical than cynical and delivers a light-hearted Sunday read. Enjoy.


In an earlier age it might have been mildly interesting to sit among reprobates in a medical marijuana dispensary filling out forms and fielding a vacant “Wha?” from a middle-age guy in cargo shorts when I asked if scoring pot always involved so much paperwork.

But first, I’ll own up to a small-scale pot-smoking background that began and ended during the late Triassic when I bought weed from a guy named Whacko, a man whose local renown was based on an accidental appearance in a Rolling Stones documentary and on how he required no paperwork at all.

Then again, the dismal seeds and stems he pushed didn’t make us high either, unless you count the dizziness that came from hyperextending our lungs with useless smoke.

Pot, or medical marijuana here in a state where it is half-legal, was for me a mere memory from the days before children and the better angels of responsibility shouting in my ear, “Stay straight, you might need to drive a kid to the hospital!”

Then came chemotherapy, an alternating-week intake of drugs that come marked with the same toxic waste decals you find on weedkillers. So who’s surprised the stuff leaves me feeling seasick for four days afterward despite the use of prescription curatives that don’t quite work.

Like a lot of things you hear about, what I heard about the pot/chemo connection was all good and part of the general theory that anything from beyond the medical mainstream is somehow better.

That’s how I wound up paying a retired doctor the going $100 rate for a pot recommendation.

I will not name the doctor or the dispensary because there still hovers over all of this a certain furtiveness and paranoia not fully erased by California Health & Safety Code 11362.5., the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. And the fact remains that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, not that the feds seem to be paying it much attention.

So there I was breaking federal law with a doctor who spent nearly an hour talking about cancer treatment and the absurdity of controlling a substance that he prescribes for people ages 21 to 90 suffering from a variety of chronic illnesses and from too much mainstream medicine.

Being a cynic, I’m guessing that maybe more than a few of his patients are faking it. But I can’t find statistics separating recreational pot smokers from the genuinely ill in a state with more than 202,000 permitted users.

Meanwhile, smoking the stuff graduated long ago from Mr. Zig-Zag papers to expensive electronic humidifiers. All the better to burn the perfectly dense bud clusters that flourish on your average, pampered, hydroponically grown, expertly hybridized, azalea-size pot plants.

Under California law, dispensaries providing the goods must operate as nonprofit collectives of registered patients who are not buying, but reimbursing the dispensaries for the cost of weed. Which they do in a statewide industry generating an estimated $1.3 billion in yearly transactions and paying hundreds of millions of dollars in salaries, rent and overhead costs.

But none of this exists without conflict and contradiction, with state law enforcement still going after storefronts “illegally pushing pot.” This as opposed to me walking in, telling a doctor that I have chemo-nausea and getting, without showing medical proof of any kind, a recommendation that allowed me into the collective’s pot store.

This turned out to be a welcoming, sky-lighted space of natural wood shelving and counters stocked with a profusion of glass bell jars filled with marijuana buds.

The feel of the place was pure Harry Potter, which is to say there is something comforting and almost medieval in a presentation that taps into a collective memory of how things once were and maybe ought to be.

Either that or I’m just a sucker for throwback decorations showcasing a variety of too-cutely-named products culled from two distinct strains (sativa and indica) of cannabis selling for $18 to $25 a gram.

Either way, the collective’s literature insists that the stuff should be carried and used under the same rules governing a pint of Four Roses bourbon. This is not, after all, Amsterdam.

But I did do some choosing with the help of a kid who seemed genuinely pleased to be waiting on someone with an actual medical need. I settled on a sativa strain said to lack a distinct high while combating nausea. Which is how I wound up on my patio doing exactly what I told my kids not to do, what – in the great scheme of things – is certainly no more damaging or evil than any of the other things we routinely do to make the world tolerable.

I was smoking something called, I think, In Your Face Fanooligan. Or maybe it was Naughty Infidel or Peace Pipe Panzer. Whatever it was called, the stuff worked instantly on the nausea.

“Wow!” I said, guessing at the massive amount of stoner man-hours expended to produce something so far removed from the throat-killing Whacko blend of old.

But there was, naturally, a problem. The magic worked for about an hour, after which I needed to smoke again and again, inexorably weaving the not unpleasant smell of the pot with the all-pervasive and long-lingering heavy-metal taste of the chemo drugs.

The chemo literature warns against eating favorite foods during treatment. The problem being the speed at which the human brain, in cahoots with chemo-altered taste buds, makes an iron-sheathed association between food and drug-induced illness.

As it turned out, the warning applies to pot smoking as well, a once pleasant — now abandoned — occupation that I now associate not with Led Zepplin and fun but with feeling low as a mutt.

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