In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: California’s zany ‘pot doc’ scene may be headed to Florida

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

The green doctor was in.

Well, not exactly in. The sign out front suggesting the presence of a physician, printed against a large green depiction of a marijuana leaf, was slightly misleading. The doc was off taking a break from what must be an exhausting procession of we … well… patients, lured off the Venice Beach boardwalk by the large “$40” printed on a green leaf cutout over the doorway of the little shop.

That's 40 bucks for a medical marijuana consultation. Forty dollars, I’m thinking, for a glimpse of Florida, circa 2015.

Three young staffers in medical scrubs – a shade of lime green just short of iridescent – manned the front office with the kind of attentiveness one has come to expect at the DMV. They seemed awfully young. (Of course, lately, everybody seems awfully young.) And utterly disinterested in our highly questionable ailments.

The girl behind a computer, not bothering to make eye contact, handed out three pages of the necessary forms, inquiring about allergies, medicines, chronic illnesses and conditions that might call for medical cannabis. I listed hip pain and insomnia. Nothing dishonest there. Wasn't sure my fellow patients were as committed to veracity.

About four of us sat along two rows of metal folding chairs filling out our forms. I felt considerably more decrepit than the other fellows, young men in their 20s, dressed Justin Bieber style, if Justin ever ventured out without his jewelry. We were a seedy looking bunch, in a seedy looking waiting room that looked more like a labor pool depot than a medical clinic. Except for the slightly droopy marijuana leaf wallpaper. And the green clad office assistants. I fought an urge to fall on the floor, clutching my chest, writhing around in distress, as a kind of a fun way to measure their medical competence.

Nice thing about waiting at The Green Doctors consultation clinic: the open front door offered a fine view of the zany promenade along the ocean walk. Not even South Florida can offer such an unending cornucopia of bizarros, so many muscle boys and tattooed goddesses and stoners and bikinied golden girls and street acrobats and tarot card readers and musicians and street hustlers parading along the row of tiny eclectic storefronts and walls decorated with strange and dazzling bursts of graffiti art, like Britto gone berserk.

To be fair to the medical marijuana industry, Venice Beach pot docs operate on the fringe of the profession. These joints along the ocean front are the places cited by critics howling about the disreputable chaos and fakery spawned by medical marijuana. Venice Beach, more than any other place, has inspired the regulatory bills moving through the California legislature this session. (With backing even from marijuana advocates.)

No doubt the pot doc scene on Venice Beach will be cited in Florida, as opponents of legal medical marijuana rev up their campaign against the constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall. Of course, California is at the far end of the craziness spectrum among the 20 states that have already legalized medical marijuana.

A 72-year-old woman joined us boys in the waiting room. She told us that she was in pain. Played the old lady card and suggested that maybe she needed to go first in line. Showed us, as evidence, the black, strap-on cast on her left arm. After a few minutes, she complained, “Didn't have to wait this long last year.” I wondered if the broken arm was an annual occurrence, timed to coincide with the expiration of her medical pot permit.

Finally, the good doctor returned from lunch. My turn came. He was a pleasant 50-something guy, not dressed in green anything. Checked my pulse. I told him about my gimpy hip. We chatted. Maybe I was a relief from the steady stream of Bieber boys. He cautioned me that marijuana might impair my coordination, cognition or my ability to operate heavy machinery. He also warned me, with a wry smile, that marijuana dispensaries along Venice Beach were not quite so dedicated to medical science and to be careful about ingesting their cannabis confectioneries. Which, he said, can be very strong. Instead, he recommended “a place in the valley” with more professional standards.

The greenie doc encounter may have been farcical, but it was about as long a consultation as I get with a typical visit to my harried doctors back in Florida – a medical farce of another kind. Anyway, judging by the polls, a referendum for outright legalization of recreational marijuana seems a cinch to pass in California by 2016 (unless the legislature does it first), making the pretense along Venice Beach moot. (Thirteen other states, either through referendum or legislation, are considering following Colorado and Washington by legalizing recreational pot.)

Sitting there amid all that green silliness, I couldn't escape the feeling that I had joined the cast in a Saturday Night Live skit. It was an absurd comedy, except I kept thinking of a friend back in Florida (where 57,951 people were busted on pot charges in 2010). She has been fighting cancer, undergoing chemo, struggling to cope with the side effects. It seemed much more absurd that she couldn't avail herself of the relief available to people living in 20 other states.

The doctor handed me coupons to various dispensaries. Then one of the kids in green herded us down the Ocean Walk to another Green Doctors outlet for the final certification process. The $40, as it turned out, was good for the doctors visit but it would take $160 bucks for the necessary doctor-certified “recommendation” needed to get inside a dispensary. More green than was advertised. Should have checked Yelp first. Knew I couldn’t sneak that onto my expense account, not unless the folks in accounting ingested some medicinal brownies first.

Our escort, very cool in his white rimmed sunglasses and SoCal blonde hair, led us back, carrying his skate board. Trying to make conversation, I asked him, “How many people do you guys process a day?”

He gave me a dismissive look. “Dude. As many people as there are sick.”

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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