The place was like any other doctor’s office you’d go to when you felt the malaise creeping inside your shivering bones and simultaneously sweltering and meaty façade. The walls were home to framed pictures of sailboats and sunglass-clad frogs sprawled out on desolate beaches bathing in fricassee temperatures. The receptionist was a 20-something woman who had aspirations for dreadlocks, but loved conditioner too much to ever pull it off. Resigned, she relied on bold spectacles parked on her creamy face to create the dramatic effect.
“Fill this out and give it back to me. Then the doctor will see you and hopefully you can start enjoying cannabis like the rest of the people in Los Angeles. K!”
I had found Dr. M online and chosen him solely because he was the closest to my apartment. The exterior of his practice was on the second floor of a sun-distressed building that boasted a large, green cross on top of a yellow sign that still wore the faded mark of the tattoo place that had operated there previously. Only in Los Angeles did the tattoo artists wield needles and the doctors doled out marijuana. I was excited. In fact, I hadn’t been as enthusiastic at the prospect of medicine since I was a kid, when my pediatrician would prescribe pink, liquid Amoxicillin that tasted like bubblegum.
On November 5, 1996, the people of California passed Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act. Through this Initiative Measure, Section 11362.5 was added to the Health & Safety Code which made the following decree:
- “To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where the medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who 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; and
- To ensure that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.”
With little more than a California driver’s license and the free time of a writer, I was ready to get that little card that informed whoever wanted to know that I was legally allowed to medicate myself with marijuana in the privacy of my own home.
But there’s always a butt when it comes to all things smoke related. I didn’t really like smoking weed. I hadn’t enjoyed it since my early 20s, rarely smoked it and when I’d partake in a rare puff for special occasions later in life like during the sweaty portion of a wedding, it would always turn me into a paranoid Polaroid — motionless and terrified, questioning whether being “high” was how I always felt and being “regular” was actually The Matrix. Yet, the process of acquiring a medical marijuana card fascinated me.
Of all the men and women I met over the years, I hadn’t met a single one who had been turned away by a doctor who had the ability to write them a ‘script. Not one. They all told the same story. You go in. You fill out some paperwork. The doctor sees you and asks what’s wrong. He writes you a prescription. The receptionist takes your picture. You get an I.D. card that won’t let you drive a car, but will certainly take you to the moon. After half-an-hour, your relationship with Doritos would never be the same ever again.
The goal was simple. I’d visit as many licensed doctors as it would take until one of them didn’t prescribe me some limbo to smoke. Which is exactly what brought me to Dr. M.
The paperwork the receptionist gave me was fairly standard. At the top it officially read, “Medical Marijuana Program Application Renewal,” followed by a place to fill out my name, address and whether I was competent enough to make my own medical decisions. After finishing off the particulars, I was soon ushered through a hallway that had decorative tapestries attached to the walls that I assumed would look that much more spectacular under a black light. She knocked on the door before entering the last room on the right and showed me in.
Dr. M looked to be in his 60s. His hair was grey and quite full for his age and looked particularly good next to his hour in the sun bronze tan. The only thing about him that seemed counter-culture in his appearance were his sideburns, which were ironically military precise in execution. He stood upon me entering and greeted me with a cobra-snake-paced handshake and settled on a black stool that swiveled.
“What seems to be the problem, young man?”
“Well, Doctor. I’ve got a case of the Monday’s.”
“So you’re depressed?
“No. Not at all.”
“Then what do you mean, ‘case of the Monday’s’?”
“I’ve got it bad and can’t seem to shake it. I was hoping that some medical marijuana would help.”
“A case of the Mondays refers to depression. It’s commonly related to the workweek. Understand?”
“Then is that why you want me to consider you for the use of cannabis?”
I remember he chuckled at that very moment. It was deep from inside his belly like he really enjoyed expelling it.
“Okay, let’s start over Mr. Banks. Are you ever depressed? Sad on any level?”
I knew what he was angling at, but it seemed too ludicrous to suggest that I never felt sadness.
“Sure, I get sad. Just like everyone else I suppose.”
“Right. I’ve got a couple more questions to ask.”
What followed was actually a rather thorough exploration into the bout of depression that he had just diagnosed me with through an Abbot and Costello-esque back and forth. As he talked I knew that this was going to be a lot harder than I thought. Whether it was the $80 dollars, or his genuine desire to have marijuana shared with the populace, I knew that I was going to perpetually encounter doctors who coached their patients into delivering an affliction that seemed suitable to write down on a piece of paper that would eventually be Xeroxed.
After agreeing that cannabis would do wonders for my gloomy outlook, Dr. M handed me a piece of paper with the bolded title: Written Documentation of Patient’s Medical Records. Underneath, there was a disclaimer that indicated, “this is not a mandatory form. If used, this form will serve as written documentation from the attending physician, stating that the patient has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition and that the medical use of marijuana is appropriate.” As it turned out, saying no to drugs was a lot harder than D.A.R.E. ever made it out to be. Dr. M. deduced I had a problem. Marijuana was his solution for me.
It was two days later when I decided to give it another crack. I knew that I needed to act quickly because the paperwork from Dr. M would soon be sent out and other doctors would find it strange that a person who already had a card was angling for a new one.
At the urging of a cousin blissfully known as “Kiwi,” I decided to visit a clinic in Venice because in his words, “there are more places to buy weed in Venice than there are McDonald’s.” I was familiar with Dogtown, having lived there when I first moved, enjoying the laid back nature of the people and their frequent use of a noun I rarely got to use back home — resin.
It was a Wednesday when I drove west on Pico Boulevard towards the Boardwalk. Unlike the weekend, when shirtless performers danced, locals drummed and burnouts raised ironic cardboard signs that read, “not even gonna lie, need $$$ for weed,” a weekday at the boardwalk lacked any real chaos. The storefronts all peddled goods on the sidewalk hoping to lure walkers inside to purchase higher-priced items. If a person was ever in dire need of a hooded sweatshirt or fedora, Venice was the place to go.
I walked in the sand several feet from the actual boardwalk itself, studying the various clinics to choose from when I heard an audible call from a younger-looking gentleman with chlorine dreams and defined cheek bones that came to points like candy corn.
“The doctor is in. No wait. In and out in five-minute tops.”
I remember thinking, “one should always consider speed over accuracy when dealing in the world of narcotics.” I walked over and greeted him with a sly little nod as if what either of us were doing was illegal.
“You wanna see the doctor?”
I walked up a set of stairs and into the doctor’s office that looked more suited to treat broken surfboard leashes than patients. Everything about the décor drew inspiration from the Pacific. From the framed paintings of fishes bought from local vendors to the beaded partition of a whale that separated the waiting room from the examination room — it seemed in this joint you had to go to great depths to get high.
The receptionist was a blonde stunner who sat behind a desk sipping an iced tea that had a bright red colored hue that suggested it had aspirations of becoming fruit punch some day.
“Here to see Doctor H?”
She pushed the familiar paperwork across her desk and rolled me a pen.
“Fill that out and we should have you out of here in like, five minutes.”
How could she be so positive that Doctor H would see me fit to inhale? She wasn’t a licensed professional. I wondered if in her entire time working there had she ever seen someone turned down. So I asked.
“Hey. Sorry to bug you, but have you ever seen a person turned down?”
She furrowed her brow like what I asked was a coded message delivered through my deeply sharp Chicago brogue.
“Never. Wait. Once.”
“He didn’t have the money for the card.”
Of course. You don’t separate capitalism from the stems, seeds and sticks. In a town where everyone was an aspiring something, it seemed that you could at least be a marijuana user while you waited for your big break.
The examination room was empty when the receptionist showed me in. There was little fanfare to its makeup, but it smelled prominently of marijuana as if the person before me had medicated himself illicitly before allowing the doctor to bless him with the powers of legality. Dr. H entered soon after in a pristine white lab coat that bared his full name and title on his left breast pocket. He looked to be in his 40’s, and in great shape — probably from paddling I deduced. His hands were rough and overused like a carpenter’s. He patted me on the back and leaned against the wall.
“Hello, Mr. Banks. I’m Dr. H. What’s brought you to the clinic today?”
It was time to crank up it up a notch.
“I’ve got a terrible fear of flying kites.”
“Flying kites?” He said both words with distinct pauses between to make sure he understood.
“So then don’t fly kites.”
“I wish it were that simple. But that’s what I do for a living.”
“You fly kites?”
“It started that way. But this phobia is really interfering with me doing my job properly.”
“Then why’d you take the job in the first place?”
“I wasn’t scared initially. But there was an incident.”
“I got one stuck in a tree. Knot central. The harder I pulled, the tighter the grasp the tree had on it.”
“That makes sense.”
“Yeah. The idea of loss gives plenty of people anxiety. You’re not scared of kites, you’re scared of losing something. That’s a fairly common thing.”
“No. That’s not it. It’s the fear of flying them. The kites.”
“The cannabis will help with the anxiety,” he said, already starting on the processing paperwork. “Charlotte will take your picture up front and have you on your way.”
Sheesh. It really did take less than five minutes.
I spent the next couple weeks depressed (have some weed) and anxious (have some more weed) about the predicament. I didn’t want to resort to being bat-shit crazy in one of these evaluations because that just seemed like cheating. As a proponent of medical marijuana I was happy that those individuals who needed it to cope with various ailments could get it so readily. In fact, if either of those offices had been packed with people when I went in, I probably would have called the whole thing off because I didn’t want to keep people waiting who actually had problems and were desperate for solutions. In truth, I had spent more time walking and driving to the clinics than in the actual rooms with the doctors. As I readied to put childish things away, inspiration struck. I had finally thought of the perfect thing to say to a doctor. And it was true. There would be absolutely no way that marijuana would be the answer this time.
The last clinic was in the San Fernando Valley. A friend had recommended the place to me because he insisted that the doctor was very thorough when he went to see him himself — telling him to open up and listening to his thumper with a stethoscope before writing him a prescription. That’s what thorough was.
The clinic had a number in its name to indicate a day of the year that is popular amongst pot-smoking enthusiasts. The building itself was square and ordinary – more reminiscent of a one-man law office than a place to score a prescription. The shades were drawn. The companies name and services were stenciled on the windows along with a decaying rendition of the Rod of Asclepius. The only difference between this place and the others was that it had a beefy security guard outside who was dressed in all black as if he were in costume for a pulpy movie called Security Guards Verses Stage Crew. It’s not strange to see guards hanging out curbside, it’s just that they’re normally reserved for the dispensaries. He pointed at the buzzer and politely smiled when I made a motion toward the door.
The inside felt the most like a real doctor’s office. There were brochures for various ailments ranging from AIDS to Zenker’s Diverticulum. The magazines looked up-to-date and thoroughly thumbed through so I could only assume that this doctor actually took his time with the people that came to see him. With no one around, I took a seat and helped myself to a magazine. After a couple of minutes, a man zoomed past the little window that separated the front from the back. He popped his head through upon seeing me.
“I didn’t know anyone was here, man. I’m Dr. F.”
He sounded exactly like Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of The Dude in the Coen Brothers The Big Lebowski. I thought to myself, “The Dude abides, this doctor prescribes.”
Dr. F emerged from behind a wooden door just to my left. He was small and portly. The thick-framed glasses stayed trained to his face with the aid of a strap which made me believe he didn’t wear them all of the time.
“Are you here for a consultation?”
“Come on back.”
He showed me into a room that was full of personality. There were framed pictures of him and whom I could only assume were his wife and children. Each photograph showed Dr. F smiling slightly bigger than in the previous one. He had been in this building for a while and it was clear he didn’t have plans of changing his opinions on the use of medical marijuana any time soon.
I sat across from him on a padded bench of sorts. He took a load off in a straight-back chair and adjusted it to face me. For once I had a sense of calm. I knew I had the perfect “affliction “ that wouldn’t warrant the use of weed.
“So tell me what’s bothering you.”
“Well. This is going to sound strange but, I get really paranoid when I smoke weed.”
It was the truth. It was the reason I didn’t smoke anymore. He looked puzzled yet amused at my honest plea. There I was, complaining about the magical plant that he had spent years devoted to.
“Switch to Indicas,” he chuckled.
I was left thinking about the famous quote from Andy Warhol, “I think pot should be legal. I don’t smoke it, but I like the smell of it.” After trying and failing to get denied a medical card, there was solace knowing that those who needed marijuana could get it, and that there were so many doctors who championed it’s healing powers. I had to admit, my ego was bruised, but I knew there was something out there to cure what ailed me.