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Gone to Pot

The medical marijuana charade.

Oct 11, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 04 • By MATT LABASH
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Arielle, the cute receptionist/office manager who takes people’s $595 for our condensed five-day course (the school also offers six-week, weekend, and even online plans), will freely tell you that she’ll soon grow plants for herself as a patient, which is necessary because, “My sheet says [I have] severe and chronic migraines, along with severe nausea and vomiting, and then, um, menstrual cramps. .  .  . My mom’s getting into it, too!” Mother and daughter hope to make edibles (pot brownies, cannabutter, the works). 

In an adjoining room, the 45 or so students line up to buy their textbook: Jorge Cervantes’s Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible, which covers all things weed-related, from aeroponics to zinc deficiency. Medical pot, however, is not for sale, and nobody’s allowed to smoke in the open. There is, however, a sealed-off “medicine room” in the back, where students who already have their cards can medicate themselves during breaks. One can smell a musky vegetative fragrance emanating from behind the whiteboards in the one classroom that serves the school. Open the walls up, and there are also three mylar-lined grow-rooms, with carbon-scrubbers, inline fans, metal halide and sodium lights, all of which help grow the medicine, which bears names like White Cheddar and McFrosty.

As I enter the classroom, I look for a place to plug in my laptop. The nearest outlet is in a locked room, which the school’s sales manager, who wears colorful Bonnaroo T-shirts and calls himself Cliff (nearly everyone I talk to uses fake names), opens for me. Cliff points to the outlet, near some dried bud on a shelf. “Just watch the medicine,” he cautions.

Silver-haired Cliff was a high-flying mortgage banker before the market collapsed. His ex-wife thinks his new job is a joke. “I tell her when she pays my bills, she can tell me how to earn my money,” he growls. Cliff’s a patient too—he smokes for pain he suffers from having once broken a hip. I ask him if he really smokes for his hip, or for fun. “For my hip, of course,” he says, permitting a grin. His injury must not be too debilitating. He’s playing in a baseball game that evening, but won’t smoke beforehand, because, “I don’t want any excuse if I mis-hit.” Still, he says, “It relieves chronic pain, doesn’t get rid of it—but takes your mind off it for a couple hours.” 

So does bourbon, I tell him. Not only can it make you forget your pain, both outer and inner, but some scientists even say it has cancer-killing antioxidants. Still, we don’t pretend it’s medicine. 

“I love drinkin’,” Cliff admits. But citing a referendum that was slated to be on the ballot in November and has since been killed, which would’ve permitted all residents of Detroit to legally possess an ounce of marijuana for personal use, he adds, “We just need to decriminalize it.” 

Sure, I say, jabbing. Because that’s exactly what a city with 15 percent unemployment that’s as chronically crime-ridden and dysfunctional as Detroit needs: more drugs. But legalization and decriminalization aren’t really where the action is at the moment—medicalizing marijuana is. I tell Cliff that what I’m most struck by is how the medical marijuana movement has euphemized the old glossary. “Users” are now “patients.” “Dealers” are “caregivers.” And the dope itself? “Medicine!” says Cliff, going for the assist. “There’s no more weed. I correct everybody now. Because that’s part of getting rid of the stigma. It’s medicine.”

Cliff has a lot of company in seeing it that way. In California, for instance, pot is a $17 billion-a-year industry (the state’s most lucrative crop), and could become much bigger if Prop. 19 passes in November, legalizing limited possession and growth for all individuals, and allowing for taxation. Even now there are an estimated quarter of a million medical marijuana users in the state. And the top reason for which it’s being prescribed isn’t cancer or AIDS—which are cited habitually by advocates of medicinal pot—but “chronic pain” (40 percent).

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