Oliver Heath gets his smoke on:
I assumed a medical marijauna prescription was difficult to get in LA, a token gesture to avoid the bad press of incarcerating the cancer ward that had no impact on the availability of weed for everyone else. When a friend that worked in a dispensary told me it was much looser than this in the wild west, I figured she was exaggerating. I was wrong.
LA is rife with pot. From a distance you can’t tell if you’re smelling ‘skunk’ or skunks anymore. It’s everywhere. There are billboards advertising doctors who specialise in marijuana medicine; it’s gotten to the point where the competition is so fierce that there are policies of price matching for consultations. Capitalism is a strange beast -you can go to a hospital in LA, wind up with a bandaid on your finger and a bill for $600, but you can get a pot prescription for less than $40. The long list of things it can be prescribed for range from Cancer and AIDS to Anxiety and Insomnia. The dispensaries you buy your medicine from vary from heavily barricaded medical white to places that have a yuppie chill vibe like day spas.
Smoking bongs in my teens, I realised that being spaced out drooling on the couch wasn’t a good time, and gave it up. I’ve since wondered if my negative reaction might have had as much to do with dosage as anything else. I read a while back that in some countries there was pressure to reclassify chronic as class A, as it now has 27x the concentration in THC as the 70s bush weed that the hippies smoked. All I can remember of varieties was that there was bud/not bud, getting catnipped, and the stuff it was widely considered bikers had sprayed with bug spray and peppered with amphetamines. My curiosity was tempted when my friend mentioned that, beyond these categories based on strength and the honesty of your hookup, there were different sub-species; Indicas and Sativas, hybrids bred from the two, at a limitless variety of strengths and flavours. I began to wonder if I could get prescribed weed.
I was assured that there were doctors on the street at Venice beach that handed out prescriptions like they were stripper club flyers but this seemed like a likely way to wind up with issues with the law. Anyway I was in LA not Bangkok and unless it’s a taco I don’t want the street vendor experience. I sought the advice of a couple that would surely be in the know, one a bartending babe the other a musician about to go on a 38-stop USA tour. In unison they insisted I go see the “sexy doctor!”
“The sexy doctor?”
“The sexy doctor from the billboards”.
The doctor’s waiting room was red and draped in velvet, behind gilt caged windows two babes took care of reception. I was handed a clipboard to fill in my medical history. There was a snack vending machine, Mission Impossible 3 playing on repeat, and a sign advertising a 420 love match service. My friend insisted that this was a cover for a dealer referring service, I disagreed: 1) because all the weed you want can be bought from shops, 2) call me romantic but stoners deserve love too... and don’t get off the couch as much as they should and 3) the doc had an Indian name and online dating is crazy popular in India.
“Oliver Heath” was called, and I walked around the corner to be greeted by the doctor herself. I hope my jaw didn’t drop, she’s was alarmingly good looking, even for LA. She led me into a small consultation room that had a combination of furniture and wallpaper that could only be described as boudoir. I’d normally feel like a pervert for writing about how a doctor looked but seriously the whole thing was visual overload. As far as I can remember she was wearing some kind of dress that, for a less elegant woman, might have been evening-wear and a white lab coat. I say as far as I can remember because I was lost in her eyes. Aesthetics aside, the interview was entirely professional. I was asked my medical history, the ailment I was seeking treatment for, and the contact details for my regular GP. At its conclusion I felt like I was on set at LAs ‘other video industry’ when she asked “is there anything else I can help you with?” In response I simply giggled. Not my most manly moment. She probably thought I was stoned.
I went to the counter and told them I also wanted the optional patient ID card to “assist with law enforcement issues,” and paid my $60. The prescription itself looked like a merit certificate from special needs school - complete with gold seal. The weed card had my photo on it, a patient number, and my doctor’s details. The card doesn’t carry any official legal weight itself but the idea is that they have the info to call your doctor and confirm your prescription. But strangest of all, even larger than my photo was a photo of the Dr What-a-Babe. I’ll have to get her to autograph it for me next time.
From what I’ve gathered the prescription empowers you to grow a limited number of your own plants. When you go into a pot shop you’re essentially empowering a co-op to grow on your behalf, but beyond that technicality it's like any other retail experience. LA is full of weed shops. Most with white walls and green medical crosses that become quickly as recognisable as golden arches, a strange mix of a heavily barricaded pawn shop and a chemist. I wasn’t keen on the violent institutional vibe of these stores... the security cages scream crimescene and with the liberal Californian gun laws that’s a risk I’d rather avoid. There had to be something deluxe. I heard that a shop in WeHo was the place.
In contrast to the sterile barricaded paranoia of the run-of-the-mill co-ops, this place had that day spa vibe. Glad someone remembered what Cali is all about. After a quick new client interview where I provided my credentials I was given a sticker to identify me as a new customer and handed a menu. I sat waiting to be ushered into the backroom overwhelmed by the scores of choices before me.
When it was my turn, the weed shop dude was very helpful. He explained that the positive vibe inside the co-op was important and echoed my thoughts about the other shops - maybe they are weed Shangri-La inside but it’s nice to go somewhere that looks welcoming. He pointed out that while pot shops are the target of robberies, so are gas stations and jewellery stores and they still have windows. Maybe it’s a stigma/privacy thing for some but I don’t care about that, and this place is nice, still batshit-you’re-buying-weed-in-a-shop bizarre, but nice.
The menu was no help, but that was my fault - it takes me five minutes to select a brand of toilet paper in my local supermarket. I told the dude that I like that mellow 70s bush but he didn’t seem amused. He said “we have the strong medicine here.” I said I like mellow smoke. He happily played weed Willy Wonka and showed me a variety of Indica, Sativa, Hybrids covered in crystals, edibles, hash, lollipops and sodas, practically singing the virtues of each. He looked at me like I was missing the point when I asked if there was any herbal chop to mull it up with. I left with grams of God’s Gift Indica, Pineapple Kush Sativa, some O.G. hash and a vegan chocolate pyramid. I stayed clear of the hybrid because I was already confused enough, and was hoping that I’d get a gauge of what all this different stuff was like. He put it into a brown paper bag along with a glass medicine jar, and a glass pipe that looked more like it was for crack.
I stopped by a service station for some snacks and sat down at home to begin my experiment in earnest. I had guessed that I would like the Sativa upper weed the more than the Indica downer stuff, the hash most of all and the chocolate varying on strength. I’ve found edibles in the past to either be chill like a Nimbin cookie or heinous like a friend’s mum’s home made mountain brownie that left me worried that I’d forget to beat my heart.
To my surprise I liked the the Indica downer weed better. The Sativa upper stuff brought on the horrible skin itching and morbid thoughts that’s been another contributing factor to my dislike of weed. The hash didn’t get enough attention because after I discovered a friends Volcano Vaporizer I was huffing weed bags like nobody's business. Totally managed my insomnia and pains with my natural medicine. Like a boss.
Vaporizers use dry heat to extract the THC from the weed without burning it and being the deluxe model rather than a hookah like pipe the volcano has a bag. At up to $1000 it’d want to be pretty sick, and it is. It’s a totally different weed experience, I don’t smoke tobacco so it was a welcome difference for me. Highly recommend. On a side note, the current version of catnipping someone is selling already ‘vaped’ weed. My glass ‘crack pipe’ was useless but I got a small ceramic one that looked like a cigarette and was a popular discrete way to take your medicine in LA. The chocolate was fun for a while but ultimately left me stupid and feeling like I was wrapped in cotton wool, couldn’t wait for it to end. The feeling finally passed when I had a dump so I guess you absorb it all the way down your digestive tract.
So what did I end up thinking about it all? In effect, it’s legal in LA and that seems civilised to me. It’s still not something I’d personally seek out, but it’s good that others can. I met many people that smoke regularly and were hard working, law-abiding citizens and it’s good that they weren’t criminalised, stigmatised, or funding violent criminal organisations. The medical applications aside (look up glaucoma treatment and/or appetite stimulation if you’re interested), I don’t see how recreationally it’s any worse than alcohol. Some would try and argue that it’s better, especially with vaped weed taking the smoking factor out. You can point to cases of THC use triggering pre-existing mental conditions, or heavy misuse being demotivational but it’s undeniable alcoholism has all those kinds of problems and more. We need to be able to moderate our own use.
LA seemed much more peaceful to me than it was in the 90s with all of its gangs and riots. I couldn’t help but wonder if the aggression had gone up in smoke, all the Gs turning their AKs into gangster bongs and their 9s into pipes. Hard to do a drive-by when you’re balls deep in a scooby-doo marathon. I also wonder if I might have gotten this article finished quicker if I hadn’t smoked so much weed.
Words and pictures by Oliver Heath.