Before you Roll: 7 Tips for the Cannacurious

Ganjiste is a new column that investigates cannabis culture and lifestyle from the inside.

Are you curious about cannabis? Maybe you’re a former toker, who gave it up after college. Maybe you tried it once at a party and swore never to touch the stuff again. Maybe you’ve never tried marijuana (and don’t want to), but you’re interested in what all the ruckus is about.

Hey, it’s okay to be cannacurious!

You’re not alone in wanting to know what using cannabis in California is all about. We’re surrounded by the largest marijuana growing region in the world, so it’s natural to have some questions like…

How do you get a medical recommendation?, What is inside a dispensary?, Should I try edibles? and What are the downsides?

Whether you’re planning to get a medical card, wait for recreational weed, or just watch from the sidelines here are a few answers to those, ahem, burning questions.

1. Is weed different now, compared to in the 60s and 70s?
This ain’t your daddy’s brick weed. Now, you get lovely little nugs, vape pens, edibles, and a whole lot more in fancy packages. Seeds and stems just aren’t gonna happen at a legit dispensary. A lot of marijuana is now grown for high THC levels, terpene profiles (smell/taste) and the number of strains are dizzying. Prepare to have your mind, and your wallet blown. You’ll pay anywhere from $30-$60 (or more) for 1/8 ounce of flowers.

2. Can I just go buy it?
Cannabis is legal in California, but unless you have a medical marijuana card, you can’t buy it at a dispensary or anywhere else, legally. Medical marijuana recommendations are required until 2018 when the city/state/county governments have figured out all the rules of recreational usage. Possibly longer. You must also be at least 21.

3. Do you have to have a serious medical condition to get a medical marijuana card in California?
The official answer is yes. For many people, using cannabis helps to alleviate chronic ailments from migraines and back pain to glaucoma and PTSD. For others, cannabis helps with stress and anxiety. There are officially 12 medical conditions to qualify patients in California.
– Anxiety
– Arthritis
– Cancer
– Chemotherapy side effects
– Chronic Pain
– Fibronmyalgia
– Glaucoma
– Migraine Headaches
– Multiple Sclerosis
– Radiation Therapy Side Effects
– Any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that substantially limits the ability of the person to conduct one or more major life activities (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) or, if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the patient’s safety or physical or mental health
Obviously there are other conditions/symptoms that fall into the broader category of “chronic and persistent medical symptoms”, and are considered by some medical professionals to be legitimate reasons for a card.

4.  So, do I ask my regular doctor?
Depends. If you have one of the 12 qualifying conditions, and your physician believes that medical marijuana can help you, they are able to give you a recommendation. Keep in mind that many general practitioners won’t prescribe due to federal laws against it.

There are also specialized doctors experienced in giving medical marijuana recommendations and the legalities and illegalities therein. In fact, a whole industry has sprung up around giving Californians access to medical cards, and like any businesses, there are varying degrees of professionalism. Our best advice is to go online and look for a doctor or clinic that feels like a good match. Some doctors will see patients via Skype or give online evaluations, though for a first-timer it’s probably a good plan to bring in your medical records and have an onsite patient evaluation. Most will give you a recommendation the same day. Your visit and medical recommendation will cost anywhere from $40 to $100.

Another option is to get a state-issued medical marijuana card. This is a bit more complicated and requires you to fill out applications that are filed with the county health department. You will be asked for a doctor’s recommendation (the doctor must provide their medical license number) that explains your need for medical marijuana, proof that you live in the county, an application fee of $94 and a government-issued ID. You can be denied. Of the estimated 1 million people with medical marijuana recommendations in California, only about 85,000 have state-issued IDs.

Protesters spoke on the steps of the Sonoma County Courthouse on Thursday morning against the raid and closure of cannabis oil labs by Santa Rosa police and the DEA. (JOHN BURGESS/The Press Democrat)

5. I’m kinda nervous. Can I get in trouble for doing this?
Like we said, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, and the Trump administration has indicated that they may seek to challenge some states’ marijuana laws, though patients aren’t their targets. California, which has had medical marijuana since 1996, still has gray areas of what exactly is legal and what isn’t, most of which will hopefully be resolved in the coming months as we move toward recreational legalization. A medical recommendation does afford some protections, but it’s not a get out of jail free card. Asking a doctor if they can prescribe you cannabis is not illegal.

6. I don’t really have any medical conditions, I just want to smoke weed. So what should I do?
Wait for recreational marijuana in 2018. There are certainly ways to cheat the system, and some do, but the spirit of medical cards are to provide relief for critically or chronically-ill patients. Is an inability to sleep or occasional back pain a medical condition? That’s up to you and your doctor to discuss.

7. Okay, got the card, am I totally legal?
You should be able to go to any dispensary in the state. Before you can enter, each dispensary will look at your recommendation for authenticity and probably scan your driver’s license. They are not supposed to keep personal information. You can still, however, be arrested or face legal prosecution for a variety of reasons, from DUI to possession, especially under federal jurisdiction.

…tomorrow, we’ll continue with “What’s a dispensary?”, “What should I try first?” as well as getting ready to roll and the real downsides of using marijuana.