We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Roll It Up or Put it Out: An Insider to the World of Medical Marijuana

Marijuana is smoking up some controversy...
By: Anthony Breakspear

Before checking out a restaurant or bar, one should always check yelp for user reviews, specials and menu’s, but where do you check to see what dispensaries have the best cannabis products? Weedmaps.com is the full service, “yelp” of the cannabis world. Users like 420allday, comment on the quality of the bud, products offered and overall experiences. In Orange County alone, there are dozens of legal medical marijuana dispensaries and clinics, some that will deliver to your home at anytime of the day. Most them don’t appear to be anything other than a doctor’s office, and are usually submerged with the rest of the businesses in the area. Medical marijuana has become so normalized, that there are public advertisements and even a website.
Business or Organized Drug Dealing
A business is defined as an organization designed to provide goods, services, or both to consumers. In the midst of visiting a couple of dispensaries in Orange County, including one a mere five miles away from the UC Irvine campus in Costa Mesa, does not prepare one’s imagination for the array of products, marijuana or edibles that are sold. A local marijuana dispensary owner described all the various products they offer, Mr. Doe; whom wants to remain anonymous,  states, “we have an array of edibles, which are foods that are made with our hash oil; in addition we offer premade marijuana butter, oil, honey and peanut butter for everyday use. We also offer beverages, such as THC cola, slurpies, slushies, etc. One thing that many other dispensaries don’t carry, that we have a direct source with is the topical medicine we offer; which are made by CANABEE; they include lip balm, pain eraser cream, notox and an anti inflammatory. Every person uses there medicine for different ways, so we try and accommodate as best as possible.” In addition to all the extra options, most dispensaries carry over fifteen different strands of cannabis. Differentiated as an Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid; each one offering a different effect and remedy for holistic purposes. The Indica strain is used for body pain, lack of appetite or relaxation; where the Sativa is used for head pain, lack of concentration or depression, leaving the hybrid as a cross between the two effects. Further explanation of the different strains, effects and availability in your neighborhood can also be found on weedmaps.com. After learning about just a couple of effects each of the different strains of cannabis had on its consumer, the stereotype of the average “stoner” is one to reconsider.
The actual business of being a cannabis collective is just as regulated and real as any other business in today’s economy. After the interview with Mr. Doe, it is evident that as a business there is a need for marketing, a focus on customer service and even competition. Given that there are more than a dozen marijuana dispensaries in Costa Mesa/ Newport Beach it is difficult to attract new customers. After spending time in a local dispensary, it is evident that marketing and even public commercials are needed to entice the dozens of new prescription holders that sprout everyday. Many critiques call these collectives organized drug dealing and have even gone as far as to sue the city for letting them conduct business; as seen in Lake Forest. When in reality these collective serve there customers with a product, that for many are just as important per say as any other prescription.                                                                                                    

Patients or Drug Users

Patients that visit marijuana dispensaries on a daily basis are not your typical “stoner,” but rather patrons that need their medication. On 420 (April 20, 2011), a sacred holiday for many marijuana user; many dispensaries had events that had food, beverages, free products; emulating a party. After speaking with a couple of the attendees of the event it was obvious not all were your grungy, young, “potheads.”  The first patient was an older woman that has been a patient for over five years. She was diagnosed with M.S. seven years ago, which confined her to a wheelchair, and consistent pain. A once very conservative and law abiding citizen, Diane had fallen victim to buying illegal prescription drugs off the street because the pain from her M.S. had become so unbearable. Today, she is a full functioning and a positive person whose pain is lessened by her marijuana use. She stated that without her medication, she would seriously contemplate committing suicide.  Another user was an older man, who later explained that he was a veteran of the Vietnam War.  The man said “without marijuana I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the beauty in life, I use it as an alternative to all the prescription drugs that my doctor prescribes to me.” The veteran, Mr. Muraski, continued to explain that after the war he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress disorder, which left him depressed, anxious and uneasy for over twenty years. After receiving his medical marijuana recommendation, he felt more alive and finds the little things in life the most enjoyable. As a 67 year old, Mr. Muraski is an active surfer, scuba diver and golfer; all of which he says wouldn’t be possible without cannabis.
At many of the dispensaries in California, they offer free medication to patients who are undergoing chemotherapy, have HIV/AIDS, and stage four Cancer patients; as well as veterans or senior citizens. The concentration is on helping people, not making money like many prescription drug companies. 

An Edible a Day, Keeps the Doctors Away

The most significant con to marijuana is the negative health effect it has when smoked, and how that affects the lungs and respiratory tract. Today, there are alternative methods to smoking cannabis out of a bong per say. Vaporizers are used to slowly burn herbs and spices while emitting a vapor that is inhaled through the body; just as effective for smoking cannabis. There has been intense research done on marijuana and its medical benefits. The former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelen Elders has praised the benefits of cannabis, and has even been quoted, “it's time for politicians and bureaucrats to get out of the way of good medicine and solid research.” There has been concrete evidence that cannabis has had a positive effect in alleviating pain and discomfort for many, especially in patients who have HIV/AIDS, cancer, individuals with mental disorders, and Multiple Scoliosis; all very mentally and physically painful diseases. After struggling to speak with many doctors and nurses, it was explicit that given the federal laws prohibiting the use of Marijuana they were unable to speak to me. Some doctors have spoke out about the positive effects of Marijuana and have made that there concentration. Dr. Fredrick Butler II, of Santa Ana THC Clinic, has been recommending medical marijuana for hundred of patients in the Orange County area. When walking into the clinic, one would expect to just walk in and walk out with there recommendations in a matter of minutes, yet the reality is some patients do get turned down. When entering the “doctor’s office” there is a large projection screen with a Skype login. Shortly after filling out your paperwork and faxing it over to a mysterious number, a doctor appears on the screen and at that point you are led to believe that it is a recording, until the doctor addresses you by name and with your current medical record you had just faxed. After an evaluation and questionnaire, the doctor concludes whether you are in need of medical marijuana and for how long.
Many of the soon to be patients at the clinic, were taking prescription drugs like Oxycotton, Zolfot, Ambien, etc all very serious and dangerous drugs when taken in excess. The reality is that many patients are throwing away many of their prescription drugs and choosing an alternative and natural way of medicating themselves. Many users don’t even smoke marijuana; there are edibles that offer the same medicating effect, THC strips are placed on the tongue and absorbed through the blood, even beverages with medication in them. The negative relationship between medication and the public should sprout from the chemicals and dangerous side effects that are evident in most of the prescription drugs that doctors are handing out to many patients. In today’s society, there is a pill for everything, but many don’t acknowledge the unnatural and damaging effects they have on their bodies. The truth is, no one has overdosed on cannabis; granted when smoked in excess there is an impairment on the body that in falling asleep, but it is not nearly as dangerous as death from overdosing usually ends on a simple Excedrin. 

Marijuana for Everybody?

The largest political focus on the legalization of marijuana in California was started with Proposition 19 which appeared on the 2010 election ballet. Marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 with Prop 215; which legalized the use and possession of marijuana, as well as allows for growing and distribution for medicinal purposes. Although, still federally illegal, marijuana has become a growing commodity for California, as well as the other 15 states that have also legalized it Imagining a state where smoking marijuana in the streets, buying it at supermarkets and even selling it without any legal repercussions was almost a reality with a 43/52% split on the ballot. After asking many of the patients and dispensary owners why they thought it had not passed, I was shocked to find out that many of them had voted no. Mr. Doe, he stated, “…one really has to read what the prop would be imposing. Yes, we are all for the legalization of marijuana to all persons, whether or not they had a prescription, but the prop was extended to large businesses. Not a bad thing, if you want marijuana to end up like cigarettes, with little natural resources, and filled with chemicals. The prop failed to support collectives and it pushed for the illustration of money that marijuana would produce; from where, big businesses. I went to a conference held by Richard Lee, the main activist for the Prop, and it felt like he was trying to sell marijuana to the highest bidder. He has company representation from big businesses like Camel and Marlboro whom were stirring up ideas to mainstream marijuana, and of course make it less expensive. So I voted no on Prop 19, not because I don’t want to go out of business, but because I don’t want marijuana to become what tobacco became; a killer. The crop has so much to offer, that passing Prop 19 would destroy and make into a commodity.”
On the other end, many are supporters of Prop 19, stating it would reduce inmate occupancy in our already crowded jails, provide resources such as hemp, that could reduce deforestation, and most notably it has been said that with tax revenue from marijuana the state of California would gross billions of dollars a year. With the total debt of California reaching a record high of almost $27 billion, which has led to an increase in tuition for public schools, hundreds of lay-offs, and increase in our everyday sales tax; the taxation of marijuana seems most productive in reducing our debt. Many advocates of Prop 19, have included notable Police Officers, Government Officials and even teachers; arguing that it will do more than provide money for the state; its predicted that more than 100,000 jobs would become available, making one step closer to bridging the gap of unemployment in California

2 Hour Interview with John Doe- OC Marijuana Dispensary Owner
4 Hour Observational Research in Dispensaries around Orange County
1 Hour Interview/Observational Research in THC Clinic in Santa Ana, CA


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