How normal is marijuana? The story of a card carrying pothead

Most places, day-to-day conversations do not include any mention of marijuana – not even in jest, since possession is a crime in all states. Weed continues to be demonized and I’m not sure I should even be writing about the topic.

Marijuana is classified by the US government as a narcotic. It has been demonized since the 1940s.

Marijuana is classified by the US government as a narcotic. It has been demonized since the 1940s.

In Colorado, that’s not the case since the voters exercised its “state right” and legalized use of marijuana as recreational vice.

Move over gambling, booze and prescription uppers and downers.

Needless to say pot is still classified as a narcotic by the US government and if Colorado weed is transported across state lines it is a federal offense under the commerce clause. The DEA has backed off Colorado and Washington, but likely won’t mess with the small fish, but focus on mass quantities that leave the state from approved weed farms. I’d say those out of state markets sould be reserved for the bad guys and international drug cartels.

In Colorado, legal weed started out as a medicinal and health issue and crept into the mainstream with Amendment 64 passing by a wide margin in 2012. That was a presidential election year with a relatively high voter turnout, so to speak.

I wondered about the age breakdown and was able to find in Arizona, the largest group of men and women with medical marijuana cards are aged 51 – 80 (approximately 24,000). Compare that to the 13,000 Arizonans aged 16 to 30.

In Colorado, medical marijuana sales outpaces recreational marijuana sales. Out of town tourists sustain the recreational weed market, according to the Colorado Marijuana Market Demand study.

I was location scouting with a camera guy from San Francisco who was curious. He wondered if cannabis use was restricted to hookah bar – type places like in Amsterdam. I explained that it is more like stopping by the liquor store and buying a six pack to take home after work. Around Boulder smoking of any kind in public isn’t allowed, but here are vapor wands that are smokeless and weed oil cartridges sell for around $30 and the vapor wands for under $20.

Some of you may know that I was pretty sick in 2013 starting with shingles in June and ending with a weird form of pneumonia in December that landed me in the hospital for six weeks, physical rehab for two weeks and home rehab for another six weeks into 2014.

I've been taking a variety of acupuncture treatments for post herpetic neuralgia pain, including the more drastic 3-stim treatment.

I’ve been taking a variety of acupuncture treatments for post herpetic neuralgia pain, including the more drastic 3-stim treatment.

Just before the Bolder Boulder in 2014, I started acupuncture treatments at the Southwest Acupuncture College clinic in Gunbarrel for my lungs and shingles. I initially went to my regular acupuncturist. He first treated me for gout many years ago. I tried him out again and wasn’t satisfied with his treatment and tried the SWAC. By the way, I did finish the Bolder Boulder in 2014 on supplemental oxygen, but only needed a swig to make it up the Folsom hill that enters the stadium. This year, I hope to run part of it.

I’ve been going for acupuncture once a week since then getting a variety of treatments recently for the aftermath of shingles – Post Herpetic Neuralgia. I attribute my lungs clearing up to acupuncture. In fact, I went to see my pulmonologist a couple weeks ago and was released by him. He’s taking my miraculous recovery case to present at some sort of lung symposium. Maybe I’ll have a disease named after me.

Meanwhile, the PHN has improved, but still painful and I decided to try cannabis sort of as a last resort. I’m not a marijuana neophyte, having grown up in the ’60s and gone to college in the ’70s. The open weed carry here would result in a criminal record anywhere else.

When I was still in physical rehab, I was trying to regain weight and was prescribed a drug called mirtazapine (Remeron) which is the synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) the hallucinogenic alkaloid produced by marijuana plants. It is an antidepressant and appetite stimulant. I took it in the evening to induce the “munchies” before dinner. It got me to eat more but not buzzed up.

CNN medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta produced a series about the anecdotal benefits of cannabis for certain chronic medical conditions, like epilepsy.

CNN medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta produced a series about the anecdotal benefits of cannabis for certain chronic medical conditions, like epilepsy.

There was a series of programs on CNN produced by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, MD. He started out his research wanting to discredit the medicinal value of weed, but he soon changed his mind after he saw how some patients with nervous system maladies improved – mostly convulsive conditions – after treatments with cannabidiol (CBD) which is a non-hallucenigenic alkaloid produced by the marijuana plant.

These days, a person doesn’t need a medical marijuana card, so I stopped by a couple weed stores and picked a bottle of CBD lotion and CBD plant material. The lotion was $20 for a 2 oz bottle and the shake weed was $10 / gram. Both were effective externally and internally. For the recreational user, price wise, weed is competitive with alcohol.

I asked about a medical doctor who does the medical marijuana evaluations and settled on Dr. Joe Cohen, MD. He has a clinic called Holos Health in southeast Boulder. When I walked in, there was a steady stream of people. I was the youngest one there among the other seniors using walkers and wheelchairs.

I went to Dr. Joe Cohen of Holos for my medical evaluation. The interview took about 15 minutes and cost $75 with a referral discount.

I went to Dr. Joe Cohen of Holos Health for my medical evaluation. The interview took about 15 minutes and cost $75 with a referral discount.

When Amendment 64 was being pitched, I’m thinking that there were a lot of mainstream people who thought that this was going to isolate a niche of pot users stereotyped as young, dreadlocks sporting, tie dyed T-shirt wearing rebels. Turns out, the market is much wider and deeper than imagined and includes a bunch of Baby Boomer old people like me who don’t have an aversion to pot.

The rack price copay for the medical evaluation is $85 and $75 with a $10 discount because I was referred by a dispensary. Renewals are $65. I don’t think a doc has to be an MD. One guy i read about is a DO – an optometrist. I imagine podiatrists can also evaluate. One of my acupuncture doctors may write my prescription next year. For now, Holos Health is a good fit for me.

The interview with Dr. Cohen lasted about 15 minutes and it was based on my conversation with him about my PHN pain and my risk for glaucoma (i’m 20/400 in my left eye and have to get a glaucoma test every six months by my ophthalmologist).

I imagine there were a lot of bogus health claims made when medical marijuana was all that was allowed. The state of Colorado is cracking down on this and there will be additional requirements. My primary care physician doesn’t do marijuana evaluations. There really isn’t any way to figure out pain, other than it exists. It will be interesting to see how the state will change the rules for evaluations.

Will they evaluate patients more rigorously like my primary care doc would? He’ll probably keep me for 30 minutes, take my blood pressure, weigh me, then have a nurse practitioner ask where it hurts and charge me double.

I qualified for a medical marijuana card based on post herpetic neuralgia and glaucoma risk. I recently went in for my peripheral vision test that I take every six months.

I qualified for a medical marijuana card based on post herpetic neuralgia and glaucoma risk. I recently went in for my peripheral vision test that I take every six months.

Once I was evaluated, my paperwork was processed and ready to be mailed. It was turn key – self addressed stamped envelope, copies of the evaluation.

A US Postal Service certified mail receipt and a copy of the doctor’s evaluation served as my temporary ID until the card was issued by the state of Colorado. That day in early April, I went to a medical dispensary and found that the prices were around 50 percent less than in the retail store.

This business is highly regulated – more so than the alcohol business

It’s more like a casino.

There are cameras watching every transaction – I don’t know who’s watching, though.  I had a product return for a faulty creme dispenser. This is how the return transaction went down. Stores can’t accept back product. I had to keep the bad one and buy the replacement for a penny.  The “pit boss” had to come out and monitor the sale and bagging of both the faulty product and the replacement.

Everything is in plain view, everything is sold in child-resistant containers. At the end of each day, inventory is taken to be sure it matches up with the computer printout.

It’s a total cash business – employees paid in cash, taxes paid in cash, vendors paid in cash.

“High Profits” is a reality TV show on CNN about the ups and downs of the weed business in Breckenridge. It’s an all cash business.

There’s a CNN reality program called “High Profits” that tracks a retail weed store in Breckenridge. The first day, the business took in $100,000 – of which 25% is sales tax returned to the town of Breckenridge.

Johnny Depp in

Johnny Depp in “Blow” in a room of cash from the early cocaine trade.

There’s a scene in that Johnny Depp movie “Blow” about the early cocaine trade. A room is filled with cash, which reminded me of the room of cash the two weed store owners were immersed within.

Chris Rock has a line about comments you won’t hear from a drug dealer. One is, “Oh no! I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this money!”

Around Halloween, all the TV stations had scary stories about what if kids get pot infused candy in their treat bags? It was a fresh angle to the once obligatory razor blades in apples story. Besides, no pothead is going to give out candy worth a dollar a piece to a kid as a prank. Seems there’s a bigger problem of kids eating Tide detergent packets, according to the TV news.

In NFL speak, it’s less probable than so, that an under aged kid would be allowed to enter one of these stores. If minors do get access to “candy” it’s either from their parents or a pusher. Years ago when I was in the tobacco use prevention business, at the Walnut Street RTD station, I remember seeing a guy who was the tobacco pusher. He gave out cigarettes to the middle school kids.

I don’t know this for sure, but once they became hooked on nicotine, he used that as the gateway to get them to buy other stuff from him. Law enforcement should keep an eye on places where kids gather without supervising adults around. Tobacco companies continue to target the low-self esteem market – children and adults – and the same holds true for getting kids to use weed.

This is the medical marijuana card issued by the state of Colorado. The business is very regulated which is reassuring.

This is the medical marijuana card issued by the state of Colorado. The business is very regulated which is reassuring.

So my medical marijuana card arrived at the end of April. The Colorado Department of Health has a sense of humor – the issue date is April 20, 2015.

I haven’t used it much, the product selection is very narrow, since the same few companies supply all the dispensaries with what I buy, the lotions and patches. Marijuana and hemp can provide quite a bit of value added business and product opportunities from farm to shelf – kind of like Spruce Confections in Boulder makes all the ruby scones around town.

As a survivor of the western / traditional medical industrial complex, I learned that chronic conditions are tough to diagnose and treat. Similarly, eastern / nontraditional treatments varies based on each patient and is hit and miss, too.

If THC can be synthesized in the laboratory, it should be possible to make pharmaceutical grade CBD. There is research happening in England and what those labs are making, I don’t know. The current labs in Colorado are able to extract the alkaloids, but not accurately. I’m surprised the tobacco and pharmaceutical companies haven’t jumped into this business.

For recreational weed, the exact percentages of this or that isn’t important, other than to inform the customer of the strength. I noticed that the microbreweries rank their beers by alcohol content.

Who would have thought that once maligned marijuana use would be legal. What about the iPhone 6? Phones were small and not big. I saw someone holding one to their ear the other day – it reminded me of those huge Motorola gray brick phones from the 1980s. The culture is moving forward to the past and legal weed is the new NORML.

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