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Marijuana in the medicine chest

The advertising flier left no doubt about its pitch: a giant marijuana leaf with a phone number that ended GOT KUSH. A friend’s teenage daughter brought it home from last weekend’s Earth Day celebration on the Santa Monica Pier.

What else would I expect from a concert held on 4/20 -- a shorthand reference to smoking pot -- that featured reggae artist Ziggy Marley, son of Bob?

“Have you or anyone else experienced an illness [for] which you believe marijuana could provide relief?” the flier read. “If you don’t qualify for a recommendation, your visit is free.”

I’d seen similar ads before. Walk along the Venice boardwalk and it’s hard to not get handed one of those head-shop postcards promising instant approval to smoke marijuana.

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I’d dismissed the claim as a marketing gimmick. But it left me wondering: Could you really just walk in off the street and get marijuana?

The West Hollywood clinic took walk-in patients, so I stopped by Wednesday afternoon. I rode the elevator up with a brawny man in a wheelchair and the middle-aged woman accompanying him. We made small talk about the heat wave and the difficulty of finding a place to park.

In the waiting room, I filled out a sheaf of forms, accurately answering questions about my medical history, current symptoms and past use of cannabis.

I gave the polite, tattooed man behind the counter my driver’s license, credit card and a coupon giving me a $25 discount on the $175 exam.

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Fifteen minutes later, I was greeted by the doctor, a silver-haired man in a white lab coat, his name embroidered across the front. Diplomas lined the wall behind him. On his desk was a collection of family photos.

He looked over my medical forms and asked about the arthritis I’d noted. I told him the truth. Some days my fingers are so stiff it hurts to grip a doorknob or a steering wheel. I’d tried prescription drugs in the past, but stopped because of the side effects.

The doctor inspected my swollen fingers, gently squeezing the tender joints. He checked my pulse and blood pressure, then took a stethoscope and listened to my lungs.

His 10-minute exam was about as thorough as the one I’d received last year from the hand specialist at the orthopedic center, who sent me home with Celebrex.

This new doctor told me marijuana could help. He recommended I not smoke it. Bad for the lungs. Better to use it with a vaporizer. Or ingest it, infused in tea or baked in brownies.

Then he handed me a prescription for marijuana. Good for one year; no refill limits.

Idon’t know why I was surprised. I’m the kind of person covered by the state’s 1996 Compassionate Use Act, which allows the use of medicinal marijuana in California.

The law allows physicians to recommend marijuana for the treatment of “cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

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I was with the 56% of California voters who approved the law 12 years ago. It’s not my place to judge an adult who chooses a bong hit over Vicodin.

So why did I feel vaguely criminal as I stuffed my cannabis card -- resembling a tiny passport, embossed with a marijuana leaf -- in my wallet?

Because I’m from a generation in which marijuana was plainly illegal and thus the province of the young -- clandestinely purchased with a wad of singles, smoked with a rowdy crowd of buddies, accompanied by laughter and loud music.

And because I’ve heard from friends -- and my own teenage daughters -- that getting a cannabis card at 18 has become a rite of passage in some quarters.

Why bother trying to find a dope dealer when you can shop for weed at a place as familiar as a mini-mart?

Iwas buzzed in at the marijuana dispensary across the street from the doctor’s office. I handed my prescription to a hand that reached out through a hole in a black-glass window that I couldn’t see through. I was buzzed in through a second door and stood dumbstruck in front of a counter with more than a dozen varieties of marijuana on display.

A thin young man with a ponytail explained the different types and their effects on the body and mind, just like those pamphlets I get when I pick up my blood pressure and cholesterol medications from Rite-Aid.

I was struck by how ordinary it all seemed, trying to decide between marijuanas. A sativa or an indica? I felt like I was at the apple bin at Trader Joe’s choosing between Fuji and Gala.

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I left with a red vial of sweet-smelling Yumbolt, at $55 for an eighth of an ounce. I carried it home in the trunk of my car, convinced that every cop I passed could tell I was transporting marijuana.

At home, I couldn’t get the bottle open. My fingers weren’t strong enough to pop the top. Which is just as well.

I’m not going to smoke it. The feds don’t recognize California’s medical marijuana law. The DEA has been raiding dispensaries here; I don’t want federal agents knocking on my door.

So, on Friday, I brought the bottle into my office and my editor watched me flush it down the toilet.

The experience left me with so much to think about, it’s best I’m clear-headed while I work through it.

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sandy.banks@latimes.com


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