Jim McCleary is a member of The Reporters Inc’s Board of Directors. To learn more about him, click here.

Society’s Going to Pot

Maybe Now I Can Get Some Rest

June 2013

Whatever the reasons, and there could be many, I can’t get a good night sleep anymore.

Four hours is usually the point at which a weak bladder or a fading sleeping pill will jar me awake.  Before I can stop it, my brain starts obsessing about all the things wrong in the world and within minutes I’m wide awake, all hope for more sleep gone.

In a few hours it will be 7 a.m., the start of another day with only four hours of sleep to work with.

In a different time and a different city my remedies would be predictable: melatonin, Earl Grey’s Sleepy Time Tea, Tylenol PM, a shot of Makers’ Mark — or some combination of all the above. But I live in Los Angeles now, where “alternative” is synonymous with status quo — alternative lifestyles, alternative medicines, alternative fuels, alternative thinking, alternative music.  The solution to my insomnia, I eventually realized, was literally right under my nose: medical marijuana (a.k.a. “alternative medicine”).

Until recently I lived in a house in the middle of L.A. that was within walking distance of a grocery store. No joke, there were four marijuana dispensaries between my house and the grocery store.  Four, in a six-minute walk! That fact shouldn’t be particularly surprising when you consider there are more pot dispensaries in L.A. than there are Starbucks.

However, that will all change soon, after voters approved a ballot measure on May 21 that will hugely reduce the number of storefront pot shops, from 850 to about 135. Let’s face it, legalized pot is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean attempts by municipalities and special interest groups to expand or limit the definition of legalization will ever end.

The fact that the issue is currently couched in a medical framework is only temporary — because the big picture really isn’t about the medicinal value of reefer.  Yes, of course, there are many people with medical issues for whom a joint could be of great benefit. But when you have four dispensaries in three blocks, your customers are not all AIDS and glaucoma patients.

For many Americans, pot is as pervasive a habit as a few glasses of wine at dinner are for others. Some of these frequent tokers are using the “medical” rationale simply because it makes their smoking seem more legitimate.

In America, societal change and acceptance takes years, sometime generations. Today we call it medical marijuana so that 10 years from now we can put it in the same category as a Marlboro Lite, which is really where it should be.

In order to get a so-called “med card” for your marijuana in California, you need to first have a consultation with a doctor.  Your primary physician can prescribe cannabis, but so can a number of these storefront physicians. They’re licensed MDs by the state but they also either moonlight or specialize in writing these prescriptions.  I went the storefront route.

The particular location I visited was recommended to me by my friend (in tow) who also gave me a coupon for $5 off my consultation.  We walked in almost at closing time and there were six people in the waiting room. But I soon found out that wouldn’t matter. This process doesn’t take long.

In what I presumed was the examining room I found a man sitting behind a desk who looked like Don Rickles with a stethoscope.  He was wearing a smock so dingy it’s quite possible he’d worn it every day this year without washing it. In the opposite corner of his office I gazed at what looked like an examining table, although a huge pile of unfolded clothes sat on top, making it hard to identify for sure. It might have just been a credenza from IKEA. Either way, I was pretty sure, and hopeful, we wouldn’t be needing it this evening.

He asked a series of leading questions: “How many years have you been smoking pot?” Well, I did in college, but that was about a quarter century ago. Hardly at all since then. “So about 20 years then?” he persisted. Um, well OK.  Do any of my responses really matter, I wondered. Does anyone get denied a med card because they flunk this test?

He then asked about my ailments, which are truly legitimate. Not sure what stories those folks in the waiting room were going to tell, but I really do have insomnia and a bad back. “How many years have you had these issues?” Well, really just recently with the sleep problems. My back has been bad off and on for years. “So, like 20 years?” he inquired.  Sure, whatever you say.

He then became perplexed by the next question he was supposed to ask — because he couldn’t remember it. After a few minutes of grunting and scratching his head, he decided to move on. “Do you have any interest in growing marijuana?”

Seriously? “No, not at this time, thank you.”

Apparently my answers fulfilled the state of California’s requirements for issuing me credentials. I paid my $35 and was handed a license. I chose the 8 ½ x 11 heavy stock version (complete with an official-looking gold sticker) rather than the laminated, wallet-sized card available for an extra charge. I was now legal. The entire process took less than 30 minutes.

I was ready to go shopping.

The whole idea of smoking dope makes me cough just thinking about it. But thanks to the miracle of edible marijuana, you never have to spark up again. Rather than coughing, however, your physical reaction might be to gag. The flavor’s a bit like licking an ashtray, I suppose. Or perhaps drinking bong water. (Neither of which I’ve tried, for the record.) But it’s infused in chocolate, so with a little mind control you can convince yourself you’re just eating a Hershey’s kiss.

Upon entering my dispensary of choice, I was cleared by security and get buzzed into the “showroom,” with wall-to-wall glass display cases filled with containers of various buds.  The nice lady behind the counter asked if it was my first time, which it was.

Since this was a cooperative, I had to demonstrate my commitment to the community by planting marijuana. This ruse was played out when she handed me a sprig of pot and asked me to “plant” it into moist brick of floral foam. I don’t know much about horticulture, but I was pretty sure the pot leaf wouldn’t magically root and become next month’s bounty.

I was then told about all the nifty benefits of being a member, including a daily “happy hour” when members can spin a wheel of “fortune” for various pot prizes. I was a little late for happy hour, so I just took my cookies and cream chocolate bar ($20) and went to check out; that’s when I was warned about how potent this stuff is, particularly for a newbie like me.

As it turns out, the stuff works as advertised. After some tweaking of the dosage, I eventually found that just a small amount about an hour before bedtime is all I need to calm my nerves and get through an entire night. I’ve had at least seven hours of sleep each time I’ve used it. I can comfortably say insomnia is no longer an issue for me.

So it’s all a good thing, I guess — the relative ease in obtaining what was once illegal. I suppose it’s too early to tell the net effect on the community as a whole. Detractors say legalization makes it more attractive and attainable for young people. But who are we fooling? If a kid today wants to experiment with drugs, he’ll find a way to do it. Legal or not.

No, the people most likely to get tangled up in this new pot culture aren’t children. It’s people like me, people who didn’t use before, wouldn’t have considered using while it was illegal but, hey, since it’s now so simple and legal to get, why not see if it’s a solution to a problem?

Time will tell if a society that goes to pot (literally) will end in society going to pot (figuratively). The jury’s also out on whether my insomnia will be kept at bay permanently by my new-fangled med.

For now, though, I’m just gonna sleep on it.

Jim McCleary can be reached at jimmcleary3@gmail.com.

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