Getting a medical marijuana card in Massachusetts

Jon Gold - 08/15/2018 12:27 PM

Getting a medical marijuana card in Massachusetts

Jon Gold - 08/15/2018 12:27 PM

Marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, for both medical and recreational purposes. But, thanks to the Commonwealth’s unique cocktail of NIMBYism, old-school machine Democrats who are terrified of anything new, churchy local governments banning pot shops in many towns, and well-meaning red tape, there’s still nowhere to buy the stuff without a medical marijuana card, a month after it officially became legal to operate such a business.


I’m an extremely casual user of marijuana. I was a little more dedicated in college, but still never one of those faintly awe-inspiring megastoners, who seemed to be gently baked for every waking minute of the day and could still achieve some semblance of adulthood. (Hell, some of the biggest potheads I’ve ever met are also totally well-adjusted and able to do everything I can do, and more, while consuming enough weed to put me into a giggling half-coma in front of the TV. I can’t help but be impressed. Serious alcoholics are rarely so functional.)


But, lately, in my quest to de-chubbify myself by a few percentage points and feel a little less lousy, I’ve been cutting back on booze, my traditional way to unwind in the evening and prepare to go to sleep. Hence, my limited re-adoption of smoking pot as a pre-bedtime habit.


And it’s been great! Although the raging effects of the munchies have largely blunted the weight loss from drinking less beer, I’ve been sleeping a lot better and I don’t feel like a smear on a linoleum floor most mornings. The problem is that I don’t have a great way to obtain the required substances, being both lazy and anti-social.


All this is by way of saying that, thanks to laziness and impatience, I decided to try and get a medical marijuana card so that I can navigate the world of legal weed now, rather than later, whenever the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decides to get its shit together. It did not seem like a big step, given that most of the people I know with medical marijuana cards are just garden-variety stoners.


Above: A medical dispensary, as envisioned by most people.


(To be very clear – I’m fully aware that legal marijuana is a Godsend for people who suffer from a lot of serious and often terminal illnesses, and I tend to believe that medical marijuana programs are a pretty unadulterated Good Thing. They generally provide tax revenues to state governments, employ people, and, more to the point, offer a genuinely excellent therapeutic option to people who could really use the help. So while I am absolutely writing this piece for laughs, I don’t want to give the impression that I think medical marijuana programs are entirely¬†a quasi-legal way for potheads to acquire and consume the kindest of buds.)


Nevertheless, given what I know, it didn’t seem like it’d be too difficult to acquire a medical marijuana card of my very own. After all, I really do have clinically-diagnosed mental health issues like anxiety, depression and ADHD, and my success at curing myself via traditional, legal pharmaceuticals and therapy has been mixed. I expected the screening process at the clinic (which I will not name here) to be cursory, and the clinic to largely exist for the purposes of taking in $200 appointment fees, rather than for more high-minded reasons.


I could have been wrong. The clinic could have been a gleaming, state-of-the-art facility, staffed with well-trained medical professionals who would drill deeply down into my symptoms and help me to decide whether medical marijuana was right for me. I was, however, not wrong.


The clinic was a tiny little storefront with an expensive smart TV in the reception area, which was staffed by a pleasant young man in scrubs who mostly referred to me as “bro.” Was he a nurse? An orderly? Somebody who just really liked wearing scrubs? I could not tell you. He cheerfully informed me that the doctor was running 15 minutes late “as usual,” and told me to have a seat. Sure enough, the doctor arrived about a half an hour later.


She was a middle-aged woman with a heavy foreign accent that I couldn’t place. When I mentioned that ADHD was one of my symptoms, she laughed and remarked “you don’t look like it!” How were ADHD people supposed to look, I asked her, upon which she performed a stagey pantomime of a spacey kid, eyes darting from point to point, saying “huh?” and acting confused. Clearly, I was in good hands here.


We discussed the specifics of my symptoms not at all, nor the other medications I take, and the question of whether medical weed was the right treatment for me never really came up. Instead, the doctor showed me a xeroxed page, explaining the differences between indicas and sativas, THC and CBD, and so on. “Sativas have THC and do this for your body, and indicas have CBD and help you sleep,” she said. I think it’s more complicated than that, but hey, I’m not a doctor.


You see, the doctor said, and while I am paraphrasing here, this was the actual metaphor she used, when you’re a peasant out in the field, you need THC to improve your attention symptoms and not wander into the forest and get eaten by a bear. It improves focus! Whereas you need an indica at night to wind down and tell your body it’s time for sleep, so that you can get up and work in the field the next morning. (Framing the use of marijuana as a practice as old as the use of alcohol in human history is a common trope among pro-pot activists, I’ve noticed, and must confess that I have zero idea of how accurate this portrayal is.) I nodded along, an expression of polite interest plastered carefully across my face.


She then took my vital signs, or at least the ones for which she had equipment. Given that all she had was a small digital pulse oximeter, she had to adopt the expedient of asking me what I thought my blood pressure was. I guessed 130/90, based on the normal figure of 120/80 and adding a few points from trying not to burst out laughing. “So, would you say you’re having a stroke right now? Best guess?”


Finally, this careful examination, which took all of ten minutes, was over, and I was shooed back into the waiting room to fill out another form, pay the genial “bro”-er at the desk $200, and be instructed in how to fill out another bunch of online forms from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. I’m on tenterhooks awaiting the results of this stringent oversight procedure, which I’m told will bear fruit in about 10 days.


Now, OK, fine – I’m bagging on a business that did exactly what it said it would do and a couple of people who were, mostly, perfectly friendly and nice, but the whole process was deeply half-assed and weird enough to be a scene from a Coen brothers movie. I’m looking forward to legalized recreational pot in part because I feel like it’ll obviate the need for this time-and-money-wasting charade of medical legitimacy. Here’s a business that charges you a couple hundred bucks to get licensed for something that should be freely available to responsible adults – is that adding value to anything, or is it essentially just rent extraction? And on the flip side, don’t people with a serious medical need for this stuff deserve a little bit more professionalism than a dingy little storefront and a doctor who asks you to just estimate your own blood pressure?


On the other hand, it’s almost certainly better to give your money to a scuzzy but legal clinic than it is to whoever’s supplying your pot the old-fashioned way, and, in the long-run, this kind of practice doesn’t seem long for this world – eventually, people who want to use marijuana casually will be able to just go ahead and do it, and people who need it for serious medical issues will be able to get it prescribed to them by real doctors.


That’s not to say that marijuana policy isn’t important, or that it’s something that’s going to happen automatically – federal law, unequivocally, still treats pot users like criminals, which is asinine – but changes, for the better, seem to be coming. And thank God; I have a LOT of work to do out in the field tomorrow, and I’d been thinking a little too hard about what’s out in the forest, bears or no bears.