Collective wisdom

Don’t throw the baby out with the bong water

To be honest, I was skeptical back in the days leading up to the passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. I suspected the initiative’s advocates were using marijuana’s dubious medicinal powers to backdoor eventual carte blanch legalization.

Turns out I was right—and wrong.

There’s no doubt that Prop. 215 paved the way for the two proposals for out-and-out legalization being considered today, activist Richard Lee’s ballot initiative and the legislation introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. However, after reporting on the issue for more than a decade, I’ve come to the conclusion that far from being dubious, marijuana is very strong medicine, indeed.

This conclusion can hardly be called scientific. I’m not a doctor; I haven’t conducted any empirical studies. However, I have interviewed hundreds people who claim to have been helped by marijuana, and collectively, their stories make a compelling argument for its medicinal use.

As medical marijuana has gained acceptance, the number of maladies it can be used to treat has expanded far beyond the regulations originally set in Prop. 215. Of particular interest are its psychiatric applications, including the treatment of anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.

Nevertheless, many people continue to refuse even considering the medicinal use of cannabis. This applies particularly to older folks, who can’t get past the notion that smoking marijuana is a crime. It’s worth repeating that in California, for medical use, marijuana is already legal for anyone possessing a valid prescription.

In Sacramento, the police and sheriff’s departments have stated they will not arrest legitimate patients or take their medicine. For added insurance, the California’s medical marijuana ID card, while not mandatory, is recognized by law enforcement officials statewide.

Other potential patients worry that marijuana might freak them out. Well, it might, but there’s an easy way to avoid it. As you’ll discover on your first visit to your friendly neighborhood collective, marijuana comes in two basic strains, indica and sativa, which are then crossbred to create desired traits.

Indica is a highly effective pain reliever and provides the “body high” most people associate with being “stoned.” Sativa strains are often used to treat nausea, and have the heady, more activating effect associated with “catching a buzz.” Sativa strains can give you a bad case of the jitters, especially if you’re new to medical marijuana.

Fortunately, the people behind the counter at nearly ever collective I’ve visited are knowledgeable and more than happy to explain the different strains and their effects, as well as introduce newcomers to the wide variety of salves, tinctures and edible products available for those who don’t want to fill their lungs with smoke.

At many of the collectives I’ve visited, especially the ones that permit medicating on site, there’s a camaraderie between patients that’s just not found beneath the fluorescent lights of your doctor’s waiting room. The clubs humanize medical treatment, in an era in which health care has become cold, mechanical and out of reach.

I think this is worth preserving, and although I support the total legalization of marijuana, I’m concerned about what’s going to happen to the collectives once that goal is achieved. It’d be a shame if they disappeared, but it seems doubtful they’ll survive the ability to buy pot at the corner store.

At any rate, for now, medical marijuana is the only legal game in town. If you’ve been considering it, see your doctor, get a prescription and head down to the nearest collective while you still can.