In 1996, the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) was passed by a margin of 55.6%. It was later amended with California SB420, which clarified more concrete limits on what one can possess legally.
What it all comes down to is that an approved patient can possess an amount of marijuana which varies by county, but usually is equivalent to $5000 of bud. Additionally, the patient can possess a county-specific and maturity-specific number of plants and grow them to his heart's content. State, county, and city officials have to recognize this law, but federal officials don't.
Technically, cops can take your weed and impound it indefinitely. I met a fellow that had his stash confiscated, but he got it back after a three-month bureaucratic hassle. He said it was kind of cool to go to the police station to get pot.
Getting the Prescription
I researched the process a bit online. It's kind of slick, actually. There are doctors that specialize in referrals that can readily be found in the local alternative newspapers. You have to bring the referring doctor a note from your regular doctor saying that you have a condition that is treatable with marijuana. This sounds like a pain in the ass, but as it turns out prescriptions you've been issued for conditions that could theoretically be treated with marijuana are accepted as an implicit approval by your usual doctor. I even got lucky and naturally had a condition (and freshly-filled prescriptions at hand) that several referral sites mentioned specifically: asthma. Yes, asthma.
I checked online for the general procedure, and the businesses in play seemed to match the story in the article. I looked around for the cheapest referral. They seemed to average $150, with $125 being the lowest advertised. I called the cheapest one first. No answer. I called another clinic. They asked me where I was coming from and gave me $25 off due to the price of gas. An hour's drive in traffic got me to his office. His office was in a nondescript office building. I came in and a cute receptionist took my license and gave me some paperwork. It was the first medical form I'd ever read that asked for a Myspace profile address in the contact form (I don't have one). I filled it out, and as I waited the patient before me came out and got his card and certifications. He was an old guy, maybe fifty. He looked giddy.
Old, affluent stoners I expected. I didn't expect to encounter people that looked like they genuinely needed it. The other patient in the room looked like he had been recently fucked up in an industrial situation. He had a large ziplock bag full of prescription bottles and a neck brace. It's really bad taste to judge fellow waiting room patients; the old guy could have had leukemia and the other guy could have just been faking it for workers comp, but appearances are all I have to go on.
I was called into the doctor's office. He was very young, possibly younger than me. We did the usual doctor-patient deal, and he asked me what I was there for. Hazily recalled transcript:
Me: "I'd like to try to use marijuana to treat my asthma. I've used it for a while now, and it seems to make it better, so I'd like to at least do so legally."
Doctor: "It can actually be detrimental to your asthma..."
Me (interjecting): "Actually, I vaporize or eat it usually. I have a volcano."
Doctor: "I was going to say that to do otherwise might aggravate your condition..."
He continued on to a spiel about legal history of the measure, my rights, the virtues of indicas and sativas, that they have fucking weed delivery services for this, and that I should quit smoking cigarettes. The last bit kind of surprised me, since the whole procedure was a lot more formal that I'd expected. I'd sort of imagined that the doctor would have gotten his degree from the internet in a third world country or something, and that I'd be greeted by a friendly stoner in a tie dye shirt and flipflops. He'd call me "dude", perform a perfunctory inspection, and cause the appropriate paperwork to be filled out. But this guy was actually professional about it.
Our meeting is concluded, and I'm ushered out to the waiting room, where his receptionist took my photo for my card. She gave me the documentation and a more thorough run-down of how this worked: They kept my records of the doctor's visit confidential, but I should use cash and be as anonymous as possible at the dispensaries since those were the entities that got raided. Throw it in the trunk, take it home, and consume it like a responsible citizen: privately if possible, not near kids, not in your car. I left the office with a big smile on my face, an MMJ card in my hand, and the actual prescription in a folder.
Getting the Bud
I'd seen ads for the dispensaries in the local free papers for months, so I just grabbed one and looked for the closest outlet. It was basically on the way home. I drove there quickly but passed the fucker up twice. It was an anonymous, windowless little building. I parked a bit down the block and walked to it. As I approached it, a large man, the bouncer, opened the door. He asked me if I was a new patient. I said I was. He asked for the certificate and a state license. I provided them and filled out some paperwork as he validated them. Then a pretty girl led me into the shop. They had all kinds of goodies: hash, Honey Oil, THC-infused honey, brownies, cookies, truffles, sodas, and small potted pot plants (I think it varies by county but possession of eight to sixteen, depending on maturity, is legal here). And weed, of course. About twenty different varieties, sold in grams, 1/8 ounces, or full ounces. On the board, various colors and symbols denoted indicas, sativia, or hybrids. For each, they had a jar with a small sample enclosed that one can sniff and examine. I asked for her suggestions and decided to get an eighth of Purple God's Gift and one of Lemon Sour Diesel. The shopkeeper reached into drawers and pulled out large green-tinted prescription bottles from numbered drawers and dropped them into a traditional paper prescription bag. She asked me if I wanted anything else. Since the hash and brownies are still technically illegal, I passed. She threw an extra gram in the bag and gave me 25% off since I was a new customer. Total: $95. She stapled the bag shut and gave me generic instructions about dealing with potential setbacks on the way home. According to her, it was illegal for a cop to search my now-stapled prescription bag. I thanked her and left. I walked to my car, threw the bag in the trunk, and left. This is also the first time I've ever tipped a dealer.
I've always had serious nervousness when in a car and in possession of substances. In theory, at least, they can't search you on foot. But in most jurisdictions, you give away most of your privacy when you get in a car. There is always the possibility that the cop will pull you over for some other bullshit and use whatever pretense he finds handy to search your car. In the past, I was searched for making a sloppy turn. The cop pulled me over, and noticed the baseball bat that was behind the seat in my cab. He asked me what it was for. I told him it was for baseball. He didn't like that answer, so he searched me. Somehow, the fucker missed the two-odd grams of pot in the jar in my pocket and let me continue on. Since then, I'd always opted to walk to my dealer. On this trip back I experienced none of the past anxiety. The weed was in my trunk, in prescription bottles. I had paperwork in the passenger's seat that basically told a cop to fuck off: the great state of California says that I can possess up to eight ounces of marijuana. Aside from some painful traffic, I got home without a hitch.
I tried to maintain my dignity when I got home. It had been 111 days. The longest I'd gone without since 2000 is two weeks. I went to the best light source in my house and opened the bag. The gram was fairly neutral kind bud. Nothing special, but I've certainly paid normal prices for some like it before. I opened the bottle of Lemon Sour Diesel and poured it out. It was a healthy eighth. I don't have a scale to verify the weight, but it looked about right. It was in two pieces: one large Christmas tree nug, and a smaller one. It smelled lemony and good, and it had a healthy number of crystals. Not the best bud I've ever seen, but it would have been a $60-$65 eighth back home easily. I put the weed back in and opened the Purple God's Gift. It came in smaller nugs, but they were very healthy. Kind of low on the crystal count, but I don't think that's the point with indicas anyway. I put the weed back in and took it all to my desk. The chick at the shop told me to stick to indicas at night and sativas during the day, so I decided to start off with the Diesel.
About two hits into this, I knew I wasn't going to be able to finish the bowl. Holy god.
I'll spare you the tedious review of the strains. In retrospect, they are good, but not the best I'd ever had. Amsterdam was much the same way: I'd had better weed back home (Texas), but they had really good stuff consistently and an atmosphere that was free from paranoia. The weed I'd get at home that would have exceeded their quality would have only come around once or twice a year. I'd say that the consistency in California or Amsterdam is far better than the... variation and excitement... that comes from doing things the old-fashioned way in a backwards state. I'd also say it's done better in California than it is in Holland. There, you usually go to the back and push a button on a little box, allowing you to see samples of the weed alongside the prices. You don't get to examine it. You don't get the prices in some form you can understand without tedious mental calculations. The prices and masses are not consistent: you can have 2g of X for 30 or 1.5g of Y for 43. By the time you've factored in our shameful exchange rate, and convert the quantities involved into something you can deal with, you've done quite a bit of mental calculation. My first time at one of these places had me staring into that dingy, grime-encrusted box trying to see what weed looked like the best bang for the Euro, and trying to figure it out an hour after I'd gotten off the plane.
The setup here in California is much more simple and straightforward. You have a big board with names and denominations that correspond to those my dealer used. You have cute chicks pick out pre-measured bottles rather than some surly Eurotrash douchebag, and it actually comes out to be much cheaper per gram than even the black market here can provide.
I next went to another dispensary and got an eighth of Jack Herrer. They threw in a gram of Granddaddy Purple that actually looked better than the eighth since I was a first-time customer. It reminds me of turning 21 and hitting as many bars as I could to get free shots.
I've since visited many other dispensaries. Most have free gram or free kind joint days on two random days of the week. You can buy an eighth and they throw in one or the other gratis. It's kind of nice, and I have gone out of my way for the free gram before. A number of them offer the eighth eighth or the thirteenth eighth free, which is also nice.
I've also grown some balls on the other consumables, and bought a few. I got two jars of flavored THC honey and drank them on consecutive days. The first had almost no effect and the second made me feel like I was tripping. I also bought some some hash and found it to be good. I'm looking into tinctures.
I've also since bought some hash. First I got what is called "Humboldt Hash", which sells at 10 per 0.5 grams and looks roughly equivalent to the low-end Morrocan hash in Amsterdam. More recently, I got half a gram of "Chemdog Goo" for $50. It resembles the isolator hash in Amsterdam (though I was too broke at the time to actually buy any): very blonde, with a consistency of dried peanut butter. This goo was very powerful, and tasty too.
Due to the intensity of my asthma treatment, I have not gotten around to noting all the varieties of bud I consumed, but this is a partial list: Orange Crush, Sugar Shack, Caribbean Diesel, Blue Dream, Master Kush, Bullrider, Headband, Magic Kush, Pine Tar, Honey Dew, Third Eye, Strawberry Cough, Blue Satellite/Killer Queen, Pineapple Express, Guru, Skywalker OG, and Sweet Ginger.
In a recent ruling, the AG here in California sought to clarify some of Proposition 215, the law that makes all this legal awesomeness possible. There's been some controversy over whether a dispensary can be operated on a for-profit basis.
I was in my local dispensary today, and some dude was bitching about the prices, complaining that it wasn't supposed to be operated for profits. The dude behind the counter told him to fuck off, politely. That's the most drama I've seen at a dispensary so far.
I've also tried to get a handle on how they operate. None of the clerks at the dispensary seem too eager to say where the weed comes from, and I don't blame them. I have a feeling that it comes from private small-scale grow farms within the state, just like it's done pretty much everywhere else. I've seen the guys that work at my most-frequented dispensary breaking up what looked like a quarter pound into little jars.
The source of the weed is important, though. Most Federal drug laws are derived from the idea that since drugs are necessarily trafficked by the black market, they are likely to cross state lines at will and their regulation is the domain of the Federal government. This may be true for heroin, coke, or even Mexican ditch-weed, but I can guarantee you that most, if not all, of the weed sold at these dispensaries was grown in-state. California grows a lot of weed, and it smokes a lot of weed. It works that way in most places where there is a high population because, if you get together enough people, there's always a market for anything. Additionally, transporting drugs can be dangerous, especially with California's numerous Border Patrol and Agricultural Control checkpoints.
I frequent a dispensary that has the fewest daily deals but is forty miles closer to me than the next nearest one. All the employees seem to be stoners around my age, and their eyes are usually pink or red. The whole establishment, despite the best efforts of air purifiers, reeks of doob. I even met the owner once, he was an older guy that looked vaguely like Keith Olbermann.
The Health Benefits
Does it help my asthma? Probably not. I vaporized quite a bit with friends back in Texas, but didn't bring the necessary equipment here to California. When one vaporizes, it does tend to cause a good amount of beneficial coughing.
I visualize the amount of tar in my lungs as a varying quantity: If I smoke a lot of schwag and hold it in for a while, it seems like my lungs are coated with tar (they probably are). When I vaporize I tend to cough up more than I could possibly be putting in, so I figure that. For those that haven't tried it, vaporizer smoke is almost invisible and is mostly free of the matter that isn't actively working to get you high.
My asthma has been slightly worse than when I started my medical marijuana treatment, and I don't deny the causal effect here: it's because I'm smoking an eighth every two or three days. Am I abusing the system? Sort of. But my asthma is just the excuse to get the prescription. I feel I have other, more severe problems (depression, anxiety, mild Assburgers, and such), that are inarguably treatable with marijuana, but remain undiagnosed. For some careers, it really doesn't look good to have a formal diagnosis of any sort of mental aberration on one's medical record, so sometimes workarounds are in order. But I'm no Angel Raich.
And, of course, I love to get high. If it wasn't for the tolerance build-up and the expense, I would spend every waking moment blitzed out of my mind.