A visit to the medical marijuana doctor

Atop a Glendale high-rise, a physician checks symptoms and determines if marijuana is the right course of treatment. It seems it often is.

Steve Lopez

An employee of Green Oasis, a medical marijuana dispensary in L.A., holds a bud from a variety called Blue Goo before weighing it for a customer. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Oooh, there's a pinch in my lower back.

My head hurts too.

And my vision is blurred from going through long lists of Southern California physicians who specialize in herbal medicine. I need relief, and I need it fast, but how does one go about choosing a medical marijuana doctor?

"I am a person first, a scientist second and a friend always," a Melrose Avenue doctor says in an ad that can be found in medical cannabis magazines.

I suppose there are advantages to having a medical marijuana doctor who is a friend always. But I wasn't really looking for a friend.

"Sadly, many of the doctors' offices in our field are shoddy at best," said an ad for a clinic in my neighborhood. "They definitely are not something to gamble on."

Good advice, I guess. In the end, I chose a Glendale clinic because it was close to home, offered "superior professionalism" and had an appointment time that worked for me.

But I was a bit nervous on my way to see the doctor. What if I got rejected?

Not that I've heard of that happening to anyone. The open secret is that it's a cinch to get a marijuana "recommendation" in California. A "recommendation" isn't a prescription, but it would allow me to visit a dispensary and buy my buds.

In Los Angeles, locating such a place would be no harder than locating a palm tree. The little green crosses are everywhere, with 186 dispensaries operating with city permits and an estimated 600 more that found a loophole.

Why so many?

Because of the usual bungling at City Hall. An estimated 600 or so managed to open -- if you can believe this -- during a MORATORIUM on new dispensaries, while city officials fiddled.

Neighborhood groups began complaining about proliferation, proximity to schools and rising crime. So now we've got a city attorney who wants to shut them down and a City Council that will take another whack at this thing in a week or two. But in the meantime, you can shop til you drop for "Sonoma Coma" and "Humboldt Haze."

This is what happens when you're in that murky middle between legal and illegal. I'm all for medical marijuana, and know it brings great relief to many sick people, but it doesn't take a detective to realize that recreational users are driving the industry under the guise of medical need.

As I've written before, we'd be better off legalizing pot altogether in this country, as well as regulating and taxing it. Instead, we spend a fortune on a failed fight that helps cartels and drug gangs prosper, even as bodies pile up.

But let's get back to my courtship of Mary Jane.

I parked in Glendale, took the elevator to the top floor of a high-rise and was greeted by a young man in jeans and a ball cap.

"Are you here to see the doctor?" he asked.

As far as I could tell, the entire floor was abandoned but for this little operation. Nice to know there's still one part of the economy firing on all cylinders.


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