Just what the doctor ordered

Ian Akerson and Tyler Cole

In a room filled with the scents of diesel fuel and fresh pine sit large glass cases reminscent of a fine jewerly store. Each one showcases different strains, edibles or other items containing marijuana. Outside, the world functions while unaware of the unmarked building with black windows known as a Cannabis club.

Patients who legitimately need marijuana for medical reasons may have ailments including, but not limited to, anorexia, glaucoma, AIDS, persistent muscle spasms, severe nausea, seizures, and insomnia.

“I was having trouble sleeping, and someone suggested I try marijuana as a treatment,” Sean Bugna, 20, of Costa Mesa said.Bugna has had his license for two years, at a cost of $150 a year. He uses the clubs as a safe and legal way of getting his medication after being diagnosed with insomnia and gastro-intestinal problems in 2005.

“Before I started using marijuana I could never fall asleep,” Bugna said, “But now it’s not an issue if I smoke a little before bed.”

In the two years he has had a license, Bugna has been to the majority of Orange County clinics and said they really need to change their practices.

“The atmosphere is all business. They seem to care less about their patients and more about the money they spend,” he said.”The marijuana on the streets is nine times out of 10 from the clinics, why not have the growers run the clinics.”

Mike*, 20, undecided, was prescribed marijuana for a herniated disc he sustained while working at Costco in 2005. He has been to almost all the clubs throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties.

“You walk in and there’s a dry erase board, like a menu listing everything from the marijuana strands to hash all priced out and everything,” Mike said. “Then you walk over to the glass cases to place your order. You can scope the nugs, smell them, and test to see if they’re good.”

Two clubs he recommends are Humble House Collective in Lake Forest and United Medical Caregivers Clinic off Fairfax in Los Angeles.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Mike said, “because it’s the best weed out there, and you can buy it legal. Pretty sweet.”Mike also said the Humble House Collective is the best because it has the best selection and gives out free samples.

The doctor that prescribed the marijuana to Mike was Dr. Philip A. Denney.

Most of Denney’s career has been spent in the workers compensation field where his duties included evaluating the claims of employees injured on the job, a profession that he said helped him build an instinct on the legitimacy of patient needs, something he believes is important in the medicinal marijuana field.

Denney has been involved with the field since around 2003 supporting medicinal marijuana for numerous reasons.

“Because of the wide range of conditions [marijuana] treats, and it’s incredibly high safety profile cannabis in appropriate patients is often superior then prescription medication due to the side effect profile and its efficiency.” Denney said, “Unequivocally, in terms of the range of condition it treats, it’s more useful than any medication that I have ever encountered.”

In 1850 cannabis was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia as a treatment for neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism and opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, snake bite, gout, any disease that induced convulsions, tonsillitis, insanity, extreme menstrual bleeding, and uterine hemorrhaging.

Tracey Neria, 46, Capistrano Beach, a medical marijuana user and nurse at Dr. Denney’s office in Lake Forest believes the public perception is wrong when it comes to medical marijuana.

“The outside perception of this is that it is a bunch of sixteen year olds with skateboards and backpacks, but it really isn’t,” Neria said. “The whole area is kind of afraid of it. I think until someone close to them is affected to the point they need it, they won’t change their views. It’s really crazy.”

Neria took prescription medicine before medical marijuana became legal, and believes the difference is astounding.

“[Marijuana] came out of the ground. I think it was made to be used.”

Recreational user Kyle Rufo,18, music composition, feels medical marijuana has lost its focus and dispensaries are slowly becoming less like pharmacies and more like connoisseur clubs, with more and more users being recreational users rather than medical patients.

“I think there is still a bit of both in the system, but the number of people truly needing medical marijuana are fleeting,” Rufo said. “While the number of people just getting it for the euphoric feeling, and hallucinations are over powering, it’s part of the appeal.”

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 criminalized marijuana use and distribution in the United States and mandated taxes on legitimate cannabis growers. The act was later repealed because it was found to be unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment. However, the Boggs Act of 1952 and Narcotics Control Act of 1956 still established marijuana as an illegal substance.

The first legal medicinal use of marijuana after criminalization occurred in 1975 when Robert Randall sued the United States government after being arrested for cultivating marijuana to treat his glaucoma.

He won the suit, and the judge ordered the Federal Drug Adminstration to set up a marijuana farm at the University of Mississippi. The program, Investigative New Drug or I.N.D., produced marijuana for a hand full of patients until 1992 when President George Bush shut down the program after an influx of applications came in from AIDS patients.

Though I.N.D. was shut down the roots had been planted. In 1978 New Mexico became the first state to implicate measures concerning controlled prescription of marijuana for medical use. California jumped to the forefront of the medical marijuana issue when voters passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, the first of its kind.

Propostion 215, under the Act protected a physician’s right to prescribe and recommend marijuana to a patient, also protecting the patient’s right to cultivate or possess marijuana for medical use upon the written or oral recommendation of a physician.

The problem with Prop 215 lied in the fact that without state mandates or controls on the amount of possession or cultivation, it was a black market free-for-all. A person could be found with 20 pounds of processed marijuana and a farm of 200 mature plants, and under the protection of Prop 215 claim medicinal purposes. This problem forced the states hand, resulting in the introduction of California Senate Bill 420 in 2003.

It was an amendment to the original Compassionate Use Act of 1996 clarifying the definition of a caregiver, what ailments warranted qualified patients, and stated every county health department must provide applications for identification cards and maintain a registry. It also set guidelines for possession and/or cultivation quantities of eight ounces of processed marijuana and no more then six mature or 12 immature plants, while also giving a doctor the right to increase the amount for patients of higher needs.

Along with giving counties the duty of providing applications and maintaining the registry, they are also given the right to enact different guidelines regarding the limits of possession and cultivation. For example, Sonoma County has changed their prescribed guideline to three pounds of processed marijuana and 99 mature plants.

This loophole alarms the Drug Enforcement Agency, better known as the D.E.A.

“The D.E.A. and its local and state counterparts routinely report that large scale drug traffickers hide behind and provoke Prop 215 even when there is no evidence of any medical claim,” says the agency’s official website.

The issue with trafficking is the separate counties ability to contradict the state mandated allotment of processed and cultivated marijuana.With such a variance it is easy for a trafficker to hide in counties with higher allotments.

In a county with higher limits such as Sonoma, it’s like a drunk trying to find a beer at Oktoberfest for the traffickers. An average mature plant yields anywhere from an ounce to a quarter pound, even if the plants only yielded an ounce per plant, the resulting crop would be 99 ounces, 51 ounces over the proscribed 48 for possession, an amount worth approximatley $26,600 on the street. Running 3-month cycles allows 4 cycles a year (a cycle is the growth period of the plant), resulting in a single year total of $106,400 untaxed. And this estimate is using the minimum yield per plant.

According to a D.E.A. spokesperson the federal government states that there is no such thing as medical marijuana only marijuana which would suggest that the D.E.A. will prosecute medical users the same as a common user.