Burning Questions

How "prescription mill" doctors and indiscriminate pot clubs threaten the well-being of legitimate medical marijuana patients

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I may have orchestrated mankind's first perfect burn. Anyone who attended high school during the 1970s remembers what a "burn" is: the craft of producing an insult so, ahem, deft that it leaves opponents speechless.

"I know you are -- but what am I?" is a classic genre standard, as is, "Sphincter said what?"

But there are burns with pitches so pure that their songs rise above the chatter of more ordinary retorts. Such burns require preparation; I labored a week crafting an opinion column ripping on potheads, knowing they'd respond with angry letters that would be sitting ducks for burning. And I lay in wait, with an unassailable riposte: "Dude, are you, like, totally stoned? Are you on pot? Hooo! Are you high, dude?" Ha, ha, ha! What a burn!

My first correspondent -- spoiling for a fight yet unaware he was heading into a trap -- provided a perfect target.

Oh pleeease! Can a week go by without Matt Smith writing something annoying and ridiculously mean spirited? First it was about doing away with rent control, then it moved to defense of corporate media takeovers (aaargh! now that was a particularly shameless and pathetic piece ... But I digress ...), to the rabid rants at, ohmygod, the biggest threat to American Law and Order, the dreaded, disgusting Potheads! Odd, to say the least. I think even small town Texans could find this kind of sentiment a little conservative ...

Apoligies for the poor quality of writing and rambling style, but I am writing this at work AND would therefore be grateful if the name were witheld...

Dearest pothead,
No need to apologize, dude; poor-quality rambling is a natural part of being stoned. I've never written about rent control -- but who's counting? -- you're high! Anyway, while you may be toasted, B---- Z--------, I'm not, which means I'm not buying your promise to be grateful. You've already proven yourself to be a most ungrateful correspondent.

Sign me,
Ha, ha! What a burn!

Our next letter comes from the e-mail address of one Richard Feller. As with many members of a certain pot-addled generation, this correspondent's mind seems to be stuck in college.

Hey Matt. You really had me going for a while, you little devil. The article was all about working out the issues you have over not getting any at college. All the girls that shut you down smoked pot, right?

Dear Stoner Feller,
No, high dude; my college girlfriends were all crackheads and junkies. After all, the coolest people use illegal drugs, right?

With kind regards,
Matt Smith

Next from our mailbag, which filled and then overflowed with strange punctuality, given that potheads wrote the letters -- when potheads become uppity and punctual, don't the Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride? -- anyway, our next letter arrived from Carol Colburn of Meadow Vista, Calif. She took issue with my assertion last week that pot smokers are lame-os.

Dear Matthew Smith,
I have been to more parties where attorneys, judges, doctors, scientists, school teachers, pilots, business men, politicians, and show business types smoke pot openly. I guess for that type of person, smoking among their elite groups is legal. At least they act like it. There are trays of marijuana and cocaine, along with the canapés and a full bar.

Dearest Carol,
You make an excellent point, Carol. How could I possibly say pot smokers are lame-os, when there are stoner airplane pilots out there? Nobody with the skill necessary to fly an aircraft while stoned could possibly be a lame-o. My apologies. Stoned airline pilots rock. Toasted schoolteachers are bitchin'. Pothead doctors and judges rule!

Sign me,
Forgoing air travel for the rest of my life

Our next piece of mail comes from a man with a long title, which makes him harder to burn. But I'll try.

Dear Mr. Smith,
This evening I had the unpleasant task of wading through your invective and slander about medical marijuana and those who support its regulated use. I remind you that Proposition 215 passed overwhelmingly. I do not believe that the majority of California voters are either "potheads," "dope peddlers," nor exclusive members of the "doobie sect" whatever that is. ...The AMMA Medical Advisory Board is comprised of professionals. We do not support drug abuse of any kind. Nor do we feel that medical cannabis is a "miracle drug" useful for anyone with any condition. We support a patients Right under the California Constitution to utilize medical cannabis upon a Physicians recommendation. We further call upon all concerned to adopt reasonable guidelines for medical cannabis cultivation, distribution, possession, and use ... In Faith and Service,
Jay R. Cavanaugh, Ph.D.
State Recall Coordinator, AMMA
Medical Advisory Board, AMMA
Dear Dr. Cavanaugh,
Are you high, dude? Er, I mean, um, you certainly have an impressive-sounding title. And while you're wrong in suggesting I've ever used the unfair term "doobie sect," your thoughtful tone has made me question my petty, childish attempt to "burn" you and your faithful. If irony is a noble weapon in the battle against hypocrisy and malfeasance, it can also serve ignoble ends. Fearing ignobleness, I decided to pay a visit to the Market Street Club, a Castro District medical marijuana provider claiming to be San Francisco's oldest. After all, as medical marijuana user and mailbag contributor Michael Chudzinski says in a just-arrived missive, "its one thing to write an article in an office after "researching' a subject, but it's an entirely different matter to research real life." There is, after all, anecdotal evidence showing marijuana may be an appropriate treatment for a short list of medical conditions, including AIDS wasting syndrome, glaucoma, and the side effects of chemotherapy. But wouldn't it be, like, a total burn, if the legitimate medical marijuana users were sick and tired of recreational marijuana users -- who seemed to constitute the vast majority of my correspondents -- trying to co-opt the medical pot movement as their own? I arrive at the outer door to the Market Street Club seconds behind a nervous man in white cross-training shoes who's carrying a new manila folder. He peers twice at the small sign describing the club, hesitates as if reconsidering, then climbs a narrow flight of stairs to the club's inner, double-glass doors. Club proprietor James Green, ordinarily an infectiously gregarious man, cracks the door, glances quickly through the visitor's papers, reddens, stiffens, and says, "I'm sorry. Papers from that doctor are dead on arrival here. We receive thousands of prescriptions from him, and as far as I'm concerned, they're invalid." As it happens, much of Green's day is spent like this, reviewing and rejecting papers from a handful of doctors who write piles -- Green says thousands -- of marijuana prescriptions for a flat $200 fee apiece. Green, an AIDS patient who has been prescribed marijuana to combat hunger loss associated with the disease, is infuriated by what he describes as fraudulent "prescription mill" doctors. He's equally angry at marijuana providers who make no effort to discriminate between medical and recreational marijuana users. The way Green sees it, such fraudulent abuse of California's medical marijuana law undermines legitimate patients' access to the drug. "I'm concerned that it will turn into the next massage parlor. Everybody knows "massage parlor' means "hand job.' Everybody will know "pot club' means "drug dealer.' The other clubs are cannibalizing a certain kind of homeless, addictive streetperson. I mean, there's not the cornucopia of documentation that pot is good for schizophrenia as there is for AIDS," Green says. "I would hate to think I'm making a living on the backs of the sick and dying." As it turns out, the explanation of "medical marijuana" disseminated by San Francisco hipsters -- that it's really a noble effort by libertarian types to overturn all marijuana laws, so hipsters can use weed recreationally -- is an explanation that causes some patients to bristle. They are angered by the idea that some doctors might be retailing prescriptions for "medical conditions" for which there's no evidence that marijuana is an appropriate treatment. Darice McKay, director of the cannabis club Marin RX, says this kind of medical fraud is bad for business. "I believe the medical marijuana movement should divorce itself from recreational use, because that muddies the water and makes it look like that was what we were in it for all along," she says. Terry Moore, a 46-year-old glaucoma patient, says she resents the prescription-peddling M.D.'s. "That seems to be some pretty crooked shit. What do you mean? You can pay a doctor to get a goddamned prescription? I have glaucoma, so I went to my doctor, and he gave me a prescription," says Moore, who explains that she was put off by the stoner atmosphere fostered by some of the city's medical marijuana clubs. Grant Magner, a 49-year-old Marin AIDS sufferer, believes phony medical marijuana patients are defrauding California voters, who passed Proposition 215 based on the idea that they were providing compassion for legitimate medical patients. "That's legalized marijuana sales, but that's not Prop. 215," says Magner. "Measure 215 was supposed to provide medical marijuana under the care of your primary care doctor. I have blood tests three times a year, sometimes four. My doctor is constantly aware of my health, and marijuana plays a part in that regimen. Marijuana was never my drug of choice as a young man. I'm 49, and marijuana was never a favorite of mine. However, at this point in my life it allows me to have an appetite, it allows me to cope with the day in, day out drone of living with HIV. "That was what the purpose of 215 was -- for someone such as myself suffering from a debilitating illness. But it wasn't so that you walk up and hand some guy $200." I called the CHAMP (Californians Helping Alleviate Medical Problems) Harm Reduction Center on Church Street in San Francisco, reputed to be one of the city's more stringent pot clubs, and asked if it accepts paperwork from doctors who have reputations as "prescription mills." "We take a letter from anybody. If the doctor is able and that doctor is current, that's all we need," said a woman who didn't want to be identified. Whether a doctor is issuing the paperwork fraudulently is "not our business," the CHAMP employee said. Which makes a certain kind of sense. McKay says she sells "excess" marijuana she grows in an unmentioned Northern California county to cannabis clubs, which reputedly pay $3,500 per pound for pot and charge their clients twice that. A typical cannabis club member buys $100 worth of pot per month; the Marin Medical Marijuana Alliance, whose director, Lynnette Shaw, is leading the drive to recall Marin County District Attorney Paula Kamena, claims 900 members. Simple multiplication totes up a potential monthly income of $90,000. That's a lot of money. And if there were ever a medicine proven effective in inducing lying and hypocrisy, it's money. There is a strain of thought, amply represented in the correspondence I received, that says to properly and fully object to the hypocrisy of America's war on drugs, it's necessary to become an apologist for illegal drug pushers and drug users. But the fact is, they're all part of the same filthy, cynical, downright evil system. I'm against the hypocrisy that underlies most of California's medical marijuana industry, but I'm for legalizing, regulating, and taxing drugs, and then using the resulting revenue for on-demand treatment of addicts and on-demand jobs programs for nonviolent dealers. I could even persuade myself to like the notion of giving addicts free fixes, so there's no profit in it for pushers. I believe the War on Drugs allows us to rationalize sending professional assassination teams into countries such as Colombia to execute civilians. It provides us cynical cover for spending billions to militarize the areas around U.S.-company-controlled oil fields in Colombia and elsewhere. I think the War on Drugs provides an excuse to sell things like peasant-killing Cobra attack helicopters to Mexico, when Mexico has no need for such weapons. This war also provided, until recently, a powerful podium to the most disingenuous man in government, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a man so skillfully mealy-mouthed I've gone away from two face-to-face interviews with him with the sense that his earthshakingly evil lies were merely prosaic. Last week's column took no position on these issues. That column spoke to a group of cynical, money-grubbing dissemblers who are trying to depose Marin DA Paula Kamena, one of the Bay Area's more progressive public servants, as she tries to weave a conscientious path through contradictions in narcotics law. The potheads didn't seem to understand this at all. Now isn't that a burn?

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