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Lessons for Florida from A California Pot Tourist

| August 18, 2014

That's all it takes? (Rachel Patterson)

That’s all it takes? (Rachel Patterson)

By Karen Cyphers

In November, Florida voters will likely approve Amendment 2 – a proposal that seeks to expand health-care options to include medical marijuana.

At that point, it will be incumbent on lawmakers to implement regulatory schemes that protect rather than exploit Florida’s health-care system.

Toward this goal, looking at the experience of other states can offer a roadmap of what to do or to avoid.

In terms of the latter, California offers a lot to consider.

My July trip to Los Angeles was not intended as an exploratory mission to delve into the issue. But in between In-N-Out Burgers and mosquito-free canyons, it was hard not to notice the overwhelming presence of cannabis dispensaries and clinics.

To buy weed in California, look a block in any direction for a green plus sign – a blend of the leaf’s color and the medical cross. A more appropriate insignia would be a giant hoop – as in, what a person must jump through, and easily, to become a legal marijuana consumer in the state. There’s not a grown soul from Del Norte to San Diego who wouldn’t qualify for a medical cannabis “recommendation.”

Why, then, did California opt to go through doctors at all? And, how does a state do this right the first time?

These are questions that Florida must consider as we sit on the doorstep of approving our own medical marijuana law.

To get there, it may help to agree on a few basics.

First, let’s say that marijuana has some legitimate medicinal value. Let’s also assume that for some people, this value is great, while for others it may be nothing more than a kitschy alternative to melatonin or Advil.  We can also acknowledge that there’s potential for abuse, as with any substance. And that nobody knows exactly what all of those benefits and costs may be.

I did a little field research so that I could return to Florida with opinions based on something more than supposition.

My first stop was Google Maps, which offered a handful of options for cannabis doctors within walking distance of our rental in West Hollywood. I called the closest for an appointment and got one 30 minutes later, even after explaining that I was a Floridian on vacation. (California law requires medical cannabis users to be residents of the state).

The waiting room had five people in it – young, old, male, female, black, Hispanic, white. On the wall beamed a flat-screen playing new-agey music and rotating images of marijuana farms with messages such as: “It is fun to cultivate your own” and “If 6 plants is not enough for your condition, your doctor can write you a script for up to 99 plants.”

What kind of condition would that be, exactly? (Rhetorical question. There is no such condition.)

I didn’t have to wait long for service. A bearded guy got my weight and had me sign forms in which I acknowledged the potential risks of cannabis use. Then I was brought to the doctor.

He was young, and according to the diploma on the wall, just five years out of medical school at UCLA.

“So, what’s going on?” young doctor asked.

“Well, I’m here on vacation from Florida for a few weeks, and thought I may as well do this legally.”

There was no need to clarify the subject of that sentence.

“Uh-huh,” he said, preparing to take some notes. “Well, in terms of symptoms, what are you feeling?”

“I’m on proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux,” I began.

“And that condition can make you feel nauseous, right?” he asked.

“Yes, it can.”

“OK, what else?”

“I was in a car accident a few years ago and my neck still goes through periods of spasm,” I offered.

context floridaYoung doctor then asked me to recline on the table. He pressed on my belly while going over my family history: a mother in remission with cancer and a father with GI issues, too.

“I’m going to recommend that you do some abdominal exercises like crunches each day to strengthen your muscles, which can help with acid reflux. And I am also going to recommend cannabis for you.”

That was it. He signed a diploma-looking document that would tell dispensaries and law enforcement alike that I am a legal weed smoker.

“Any particular kind of cannabis you recommend for me? Like, something non-euphoric maybe?”

He pointed to a poster on the wall that in a traditional doctor’s office would feature some set of human organs, but instead listed the comparative properties of sativas and indicas.

“Something higher in CBD may be good for you,” he said, already bored and ready for the next in line.

Whether it was this young doctor’s affect or my projected feelings about him, the room felt full of demoralization and cynicism.

Click On:

Imagine: More than a decade of intense schooling and state-of-the-art training at a renowned medical college for this – spending days in a tiny, dim room listening to people’s unremarkable or fabricated complaints and offering nothing but a ticket saying your patients won’t get arrested for doing what they likely would do regardless.

I thanked him and went to the front with my certificate.

The bearded weight-taker greeted me again and snapped my picture for a State of California weed-legal wallet card, which is good for one year. The exam, $70, and the ID card, $20.

And then he handed me a lease agreement.

“You’re going to need this to get into dispensaries,” he said, handing me what normally a landlord would. “You can fill anything in for the names and addresses; they won’t check. Just say you moved here recently and haven’t changed your ID yet.”

How very … medical?

The first dispensary I visited made no effort to pretend that healing was involved. The three secured gates led to a man at a desk who in a thick Russian accent requested my ID and doctor’s note, then pointed me over to a faery-like girl behind a weed-filled glass counter.

“What are you looking for?” she asked.

“Something that is non-euphoric with lots of cannabinol,” I said. “That’s what my doctor recommended for my condition.”

“Oh,” faery said, seeming unsure of what that meant.

“Something very low in THC but high in CBD,” I said in a failed effort to clarify.

“How about this one?” she said, placing a glass container on the counter for my inspection. The label read “Trainwreck.” I opened my weed app, Leafly, to see what this strain was about, and found it to be the very opposite of what I had asked for.

Dismayed but not surprised by the lack of medical pretense about the place, and not about to spend $40 on the wrong stuff, I left.

It was a five-minute walk to the next dispensary. It was well lit, impeccably clean, nicely decorated, and full of books on meditation, yoga, massage and other therapies. After I was let in by security, the receptionist talked me through the rules and perks of membership at the cooperative.

Inside this dispensary’s main weed room was a menu of non-euphoric, high-CBD options, along with various edibles and oils that weren’t psychoactive. The salesman coached me through the differences in strains and their potential effects. I left with an eighth of an ounce of ACDC, apparently identical to Charlotte’s Web, the strain approved by the Florida Legislature for use by patients with specific, serious conditions.

I was also offered a joint of the regular stuff, just for having come in for the first time.

My adventures in marijuana tourism ended for the day, but my reaction has just started to really crystallize. (Pun intended).

The upshot is this:

Why create a law that uses doctors in ways that are a waste of their education and time, and take them out of circulation for patients who have actual medical needs? How, in California, is a doctor’s cannabis recommendation anything but a formality?

Many weed-smoking Californians don’t even bother to jump through the doctor hoops. They’re unafraid of arrest and unconcerned about where they buy their pot.

A Bay Area friend explained: “Why would I go through all that to get a prescription? It’s everywhere. You smell it on the streets, indoors, it’s everywhere.”

The seediness (no pun intended) of California’s “medical” marijuana landscape is dramatically increased by the pretense of medicinal use – not diminished.

If Florida’s voters approve Amendment 2, our state will have an opportunity to implement a marijuana law that avoids heading down this same cynical path. It will be a challenge, but the reward of fostering an honest, quality health-care system is well worth the effort.

Karen Cyphers, Ph.D., is a public policy consultant and an adjunct instructor at Florida State University. She lives in Tallahassee.

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7 Responses for “Lessons for Florida from A California Pot Tourist”

  1. rickg says:

    My brother in law lives in California. He has a medical marijuana certificate for constant headaches. It relieves his symptoms within a few moments of smoking. We need it here too and perhaps one day people will realize the benefits and not compare it with harder drugs. Alcohol is much more dangerous.

    • Rick says:

      Not only the alcohol rickg, but smoking cigaretts are a hell of a lot more dangerous & lethal. That & they happen to kill thousands of people every year. (I didn’t really see any statistics for how many people die a year from cannabis. Does such a thing even exist? Gateway drug my left one.)
      If the dick-headed government had any real brains & truely cared about the publics health they would do something constructive about cancer sticks.

  2. Seminole Pride says:

    Karen, I can’t see your point. First of all California and Florida are two entirely different States. That what makes all of us so unique. California is very liberal, we are Southern conservative. Four of our last six governors were Republicans. California was operating in a deficit for decades, we have a healthy surplus.Our laws are different. Our culture, life style, and people are different. So I don’t think Florida needs to look at California for how to set up a medical marijuana program. Our thinking is entirely different. That’s why United States is such a great country, every state is unique.

  3. m&m says:

    Califonia, the state of fruits and nuts. Lets be like them. We already have their kind, illegals, druggies and crooked politics..

  4. Fleek Weebnut says:

    California screwed this up from the beginning. They never really thought out how to roll this program out. In the beginning it was out of control. Imagine buying “medicinal” weed from an out of business KFC building (Kind for Cures), and other clever tongue in cheek names. Clearly this was never intended to be for medical reasons only.
    Colorado is doing it the right way. if you’re going to do medicinal, regulate it like real medicine. Have a doctor write a prescription! If you’re going to do it for recreation, make sure you include taxes to offset education, enforcement, regulation, counseling, etc.. Don’t just set it loose to the wolves.

    I can’t stand pot, so I don’t care whether or not it becomes legal or not. I am very much against prohibition though. Even if it doesn’t pass, people are going to smoke it anyway, and we’ll be paying our tax dollars for incarceration of non-violent offenders, and in some cases our blood for the violent criminals and their turf wars.

  5. OrlandoChris says:

    Adrian Wyllie deserves my vote and yours too. He is a honest average Floridian just as you and I , that is willing to stand up and do something for the interest of all of us here in Florida. The other candidates both Republican and Democrat are owned and controlled by special interest, like puppets and will lie to your face to gain your vote, then continue the same old agenda that we complain about year after year. Time to get off this merry-go-round, election after election, thinking it will be any different. Take a stand, vote for the candidate that loves this state and is willing to take time out of his life, effort and money to SERVE the people of Florida and stop voting for these ‘paid for’ career politicians that are only out for money and fame and have zero interest in us Floridians. Even if it’s just for honesty alone, vote for Adrian Wyllie instead of the other two (Scott/Crist) which are proven liars. The choice is yours and yours alone, if you want the same old corruption and slap in the face, go ahead and vote for one of the two puppets (Scott/Crist) OR do what is right for our (yours and your children’s) future and vote for Adrian Wyllie. Support him by donating to his campaign, spreading the word and contribute to the super brochure program which I think is very powerful. Visit his website today.

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