On the Trail of Mary Jane
Wendy C. Ortiz is a native of Los Angeles. She is left-handed and frequently accompanied by a thirty-six-inch tall girl named Octavia. She writes and works as a marriage and family therapist intern. Her book Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books) is now available.
The Doctor is In.
In order to be on the up and up, and to accomplish the goals of this column, I needed to obtain a medical marijuana card.
Our first excursion was abetted by a friend and co-owner of a dispensary; for every subsequent dispensary visit, certain protocols have to be followed, such as carrying a certification, by all intents a glorified prescription card made on a buff-colored piece of card stock with a gold seal emblazoned with the name of the prescribing doctor’s office.
A Late Friday afternoon, we inch toward a section of Los Angeles without a universally agreed upon name. Is it Koreatown? Is it Mid-City? In any case, we pull up to a small parking lot with only two storefronts: one a hair studio, the other a doctor’s office.
After doing limited research and asking a friend who is a consumer of medical marijuana how he obtained his card, we are seeing a doctor that bills herself as “The Most Trusted Medical Marijuana Doctor Since 2005.” I’ve seen her billboards in the past. The Most Trusted Medical Marijuana Doctor Since 2005 is unlike any doctor I’ve ever visited, and not just because she prescribes medical marijuana. The doctors I’ve seen don’t tend to use glamour shots on their websites, nor do they advertise on billboards, postcards and business cards throughout the city.
The website is straightforward, describing qualifying conditions, pricing information, and additional services, such as letters to employers and the offer of express service (an extra $25, paid in advance online). A photo gallery, which shows a well-lit palatial room with a chandelier, red walls, and flocked wallpaper, is somewhat reminiscent of a bar I like. Gold fixtures and frames, gilded mirrors, and golden chairs (all empty), fill what I presume is a waiting room. In one photo, I see a black door interrupting the red and gold scheme. An unidentified elbow peeks out of a doorway in another photo. Other images show a pistachio-colored hallway and what look to be carefully appointed rooms in which I imagine I will be talking with a beautiful, glamorous doctor under yet another chandelier.
When we arrive, drivers’ licenses and cash in hand, the room is not as well lit and the chairs appear to be facing the opposite direction as in the photos. The security guard allows us entrance to what feels like a cave, a cacophonous cave, because we’ve walked into a viewing of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Everyone is seated on chairs that do appear to be the chairs pictured on the website, though a little worse for the wear.
We are told to approach a window where a couple of young women in T-shirts and jeans give out clipboards with patient information forms to complete. I notice an ad for a cheesecake calendar featuring “the girls” of this doctor’s office. We take our clipboards and sit down in one of the many available chairs next to a small glass table. Everyone is entranced by the big screen television. I fill out my form and have to pause when it asks for the name of my doctor, as though I have a regular doctor, and so I hastily write in the name of the doctor who delivered my daughter.
The clipboard returned to the window, I’m asked why I haven’t sought standard medical treatment for the conditions I present with, and before I can answer, the young woman asks me something to the effect of, “Because you knew you wanted to be prescribed something natural and not something potentially addicting like prescription medication?”
I’m found to be worthy and am told to seat myself again. I’m keenly aware of the fact of patient confidentiality, and find myself appeased by staring at the backs of the other patients in this clinic, some who are alone, a few who came in pairs. Finally, my name is called. When one’s name is called, it’s to move the patient from the chair they’re in to one single chair closer to the hallway, a procedure used to expedite the process.
After a handful of minutes, someone leaves and I’m called in to the first pistachio-colored room in the hallway off the main room. Instead of the glamorous doctor, there is a man and an open can of Squirt on the small table where he will write the prescription. In five minutes time, I listen to what sounds like a million words, spoken at breakneck speed, most of which I can understand, and watch this doctor scribble a number of words on a form as he explains to me why I want medical marijuana over standard pharmaceuticals. He explains my own symptoms to me and there are only two moments when I must interject a reply to his monologue. I walk out and wait a few more minutes; my name is called from the window, and I’m deemed certified. I pay, opting out of an extra $20 for a photo I.D. card that would position my face next to a marijuana leaf, and next to the leaf, the face of the glamour doctor. My consort is just a few minutes behind me, and I wait outside for her in the parking lot. Across the street is a dispensary, and I look it up on my phone. From its rudimentary website I learn that it’s one of the dispensaries registered with the city of Los Angeles, and that first time patients can choose “either an edible, pre roll, or couple grams of shake.”
I can hear the opening of what will be another loud movie starting on the wide-screen television. When I peek into the waiting room for the last time, I realize it’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. I try to make meaning from this.
First dispensary: Star Trek references on the wall
First and second dispensary: dog bowls.
Prescribing doctor’s office: Star Trek movie.
The web I’m weaving between these locations is a little disjointed, not unlike the webs spiders weave when exposed to marijuana.
The cars roll by on this late Friday afternoon. A man walks along the sidewalk and glances at the open doors of the doctor’s office as he ambles past. A woman pushing a stroller with another child gripping the woman’s pants walks by in the opposite direction. A car pulls into the dispensary across the street; I watch a man enter the establishment through the swinging glass door. It’s all so very ordinary, calm but for the din of the movie being played for the patients. In the car I look more closely at my “card.” When I later ask my recommending friend which doctor he saw in the doctor’s office, he tells me he saw the glamour doctor and remarks on how beautiful she was.
Days later, the new city attorney will announce efforts to close down illegally operated shops. Locations I’ve driven past, hoping to visit, suddenly have empty storefronts, their low-budget neon signs switched off.
In the meantime, I’ve been recommended and approved for twelve months of therapeutic use of marijuana and the ability to enter the remaining dispensaries around Los Angeles.
SUGGESTED READSOn the Trail of Mary Jane: Finding the Natural Way
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On the Trail of Mary Jane: Happy 4/20
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