Craig Giesecke: Dispatch from weed country

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Craig Giesecke

One of the great things about relocating to A Different Place is the learning curve. While some folks find it too easy to begin honking and beeping about how things just ain’t right in the new place, I find it mostly tremendous. So it is with my wife’s effort to obtain medical marijuana here in Southern California.

(While living in Miami years ago, I frequented a gas station that had a sign on the cash register. It said, “$5 fee if we have to hear how you did it up north.” I have little patience for those who try to impose Back Home rules on a new environment.)

Let it be said up front I am not nor have ever been a pothead. I was unimpressed in my college days and remain so. But, at least in my generation and particularly those younger, I am in the minority. This leaves me fascinated by the whole process under the legalized system here.

So far, the most difficult issue has been obtaining a California driver’s license. While getting the marijuana prescription is easy, the state wants to make sure one is really, Really, REALLY a California resident before actually obtaining the weed itself. It seems Kim never changed the name on her Social Security card after we married (shortly after Katrina, when even mail delivery was An Issue), meaning she’s currently in Federal Government Purgatory awaiting the new SS card before she gets her license, proving who she is and therefore obtaining the weed. It’ll happen in the coming week or two.

Getting the prescription is incredibly easy. Kim talked to the doctor via Skype (he has several local offices) and, after answering a few basic health questions, she got her official prescription good for a year. She even got a discount for friending the doc on Facebook. The accompanying paperwork outlines the two basic types of weed, their benefits and issues, various hybrids and various methods of consumption — along with some recipes. Some help you focus, others help you relax. Various hybrids give various results. Quite informative, particularly for a guy like me who has up to now simply chosen to not be involved.

There is a fairly wide gulf between those who use and those who don’t. Like gambling, I have no moral objection – it’s just something I never or rarely am around. My daughter’s boyfriend is office manager for a medical marijuana office in Seattle and my younger son and his wife moved to the Pacific Northwest in part to find a place where weed is more readily accessible and accepted. Far as I can tell, this is The Future and I’m glad to be part of it, even if it’s something I’ve just not gotten into. But never say never. I never wanted a damn cell phone, fergodsakes, but I got one and now, like any of us, it’s simply Part Of Life.

Kim has a series of physical issues, including some arthritis, possibly some fibromyalgia and maybe some other stuff. Throw in her battle with depression and so forth and she’s generally an ideal case for this kind of treatment — particularly since everything else she’s tried has come up pretty much a failure. Given all I’ve read, personally seen and heard about weed’s benefits, I’m absolutely stupified this treatment isn’t generally available everywhere and, further, an insurable and viable option.

Of course, like any such substance, you don’t want folks getting behind the wheel after intake and there are stiff DUI laws in effect against such and that’s fine. But, generally, I’ve lately not seen anyone of adult stature getting all stereotypically blown away by overindulging. Just as I take my blood-pressure pill each morning, so is the weed used to treat what ails. Matter of fact, my BP meds also come with a warning against driving or operating machinery — not to mention the bourbon/wine/beer I so enjoy. It ain’t the vice, it’s how you handle it. Except in this case, one person’s vice is another’s workable answer and, quite possibly, solution. There will always be a few who go off-campus and abuse the program. Sadly, too often we overcompensate our laws and enforcement.

All this said, I am not a proponent of simply legalizing all marijuana any more than I’m a fan of allowing the public sale of moonshine produced by a neighbor. Simple legalization means the consumer has no idea what they’re getting and it could and would be highly dangerous. My younger son came up with a good analogy, saying the non-sanctioned marijuana market is like going into a bar where all the booze is in unmarked, opaque bottles – you don’t know if one contains bourbon or wine or vodka and the drink you get could be wonderful or awful or possibly deadly. The keys are in correctly labeling the product, regulating its production, stratifying distribution and verifying and taxing inventories – exactly what is done for any narcotic, alcoholic beverage or tobacco. It is not an easy or quick process to legislate.

I do not know what return the state of California receives from the sale of medical marijuana, though at least one report I’ve seen pegged it at $105 million for 2012. This is but a drop in the state’s bucket, but certainly more than enough to pay for regulatory work. Dispensaries and growing collectives are licensed by local governments that impose their own fees. State tax on the sale is 5%, with local governments tacking on their own.

Most dispensaries are located in unmarked warehouses (to reduce the robbery risk – they can contain a lot of cash) and most deliver within an hour – like pizza. Recipients are limited to eight ounces in possession and it must be carried in the trunk to avoid the temptation to consume while driving (the same as an open bottle of booze). But eight ounces is a LOT of weed. Try buying eight ounces of dried parsley the next time you go to Rouses. It’s suggested that prescription holders carry the prescription with them at all times. Do not try to get on an airplane and do not cross the state line. In other words, things are more tightly regulated than your average bottle of bourbon or Xanax prescription.

The remaining question, at least until Kim actually gets her prescription, is how well it will work. She’s optimistic, particularly since she’s got a lot more experience with it than I do and feels physical benefit from even the garden variety pot she’s been able to wangle over the years. It has helped her work when she otherwise couldn’t, socialize when she otherwise wouldn’t and, in general, be productive for herself and to the world in general when she would otherwise withdraw. All without turning into a living Cheech and Chong routine.

I’ll report back when we get a better idea of how it all works out.

Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He was the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes, and a regular weekly Uptown Messenger columnist for most of 2012 and 2013. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.

6 thoughts on “Craig Giesecke: Dispatch from weed country

  1. Let me be the first to offer my thanks to Craig for agreeing to jump back in the saddle this week. I’ve missed his columns since he moved to Southern California earlier this year, but when I saw some of his recent online musings about his family’s experience with medical marijuana, I thought that what he was observing was so interesting and so different from the rest of the country that it would be of interest to readers here in New Orleans.

  2. Oh, forgot, Those who are pro-legalization saying, “TAX IT” in regards to weed have forgotten to look at alcohol.

    Well, it seems we, those still in NOLA, as opposed to , Southern Cal, have a problem on TAXING alcohol, don’t we? At first, those who said prohibition was stupid and that taxing was going to make the government rich, are now saying, “Hmm, if the beer gets taxed more for all the social problems it creates, the sales are going to go down, and less beer sold.”

    Aside, who said lowering the COST of drugs is going to reduce all the crime and murders?

    So, on one hand, those who said lower the cost and then say tax it, are contradicting themselves as the TAXES should be raise to cover the COSTS of all the social problems alcohol creates. So legalization says, “it will lower the costs and you can tax it?”

    Either way, some how, some way, someone is going to pay.

    So let’s correctly TAX BEER and ALCOHOL MORE. A LOT MORE, like at least DOUBLE, TRIPLE, 4x, 5x, 10x, 20x, whatever it takes to cover the costs of EBT, Section 8, SNAP, WIC, mental health services, 500 more police with generous pensions, you name it. More taxes on alcohol is the same as what the legalization crowd is advocating on drugs anyway.

  3. Like most of ya’ll I missed his columns, until this one. Now I’m trying to remember what it was I liked….oh yes food. I could read this stuff in an underground newspaper.

  4. Best of luck to Kim … and another of the reasons why a woman, regardless of her love for her spouse, should not change her name.

  5. Maybe I should have made this more clear — I’m not advocating marijuana as a cash cow. Certainly various government agencies can and should use it as a revenue generator to cover costs of regulation and whatnot. My point is about the medical uses, which are sometimes overstated but well-documented nonetheless. I think it’s silly to deny its use based on some “Reefer Madness” type of stereotype. I’ve yet to see any studies talking about the social costs of marijuana, though I am sure they exist. But, like any such substance, they need to be weighed against the benefits and regulated accordingly.

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