It took me only 90 seconds to convince a doctor to recommend me for a medical marijuana prescription—something that I neither wanted, nor needed—for symptoms I didn’t have and couldn’t prove.
But I don’t know if I was really convincing anybody. The doctor had probably made up his mind before I even walked in the door.
I’ve been opposed to marijuana use since I learned about it in second-grade drug talks, and that includes most “medical” applications.
Because, let’s face it, most medical marijuana users are more interested in getting high than they are in treating their symptoms (if they actually have the symptoms to begin with).
Although I know some patients seem to genuinely benefit from medical cannabis (such as epileptic toddlers on “60 Minutes”), the airways are rife with stories about how easy it is to obtain a marijuana license.
And those stories made me wonder: how easy would it be for me to get one?
So as a social experiment, I set out to answer my question. To be clear, I haven’t used and don’t plan on using marijuana—ever.
Aside from initial permission for this experiment, my parents played no part in the process. Even if my parents were not consenting, the process would have run smoothly from start to finish.
Here’s what happened.
Unsure of where to start, I entered “best place to get medical marijuana license sacramento” into Google Search.
I was hoping to find a Yahoo Answers page with recommendations for physicians who are “liberal” with their medical cannabis recommendations.
Instead I found medical marijuana clinics—physicians who specialize in handing out these licenses.
After a quick Yelp search, I decided on a medical marijuana evaluation center off of Howe Avenue.
I knew I needed to fabricate a medical excuse, but thought insomnia and headaches would be too weak, even if I do suffer from these on a minor level. So I settled on a condition I once had, so that I would have medical records to prove it.
Early last summer, I experienced a rash-less burning sensation on my upper back. My pediatrician thought it might be shingles, but the test came back negative.
But my doctor was baffled and had no explanation. He recommended chiropractic treatment, sports massages and stretching, which did actually relieve the pain.
This would make the perfect excuse: marijuana for pain relief.
At this point I started to get nervous. Was I—someone who used to be the biggest goody-goody, teachers’ pet and rule-Nazi on the planet—about to lie my way to a license for pot? I cringed, imagining all of the judgmental faces I would receive from the adult patients in the waiting room, from the nurses and from the doctor.
Consequently, even though the center welcomes walk-ins, I decided to schedule an appointment for 3 p.m. on a Saturday to seem less suspicious and more official. The night before, I planned my speech and prepared answers to questions the doctor might ask.
The evaluation center website told me to bring any relevant medical records to the appointment. So shortly before the appointment, I picked up a copy of my records pertaining to the burning sensation.
To my surprise, my pediatrician’s office is located across the street from the evaluation center. How convenient!
I arrived 10 minutes early. The off-white paneled building had cobwebs filled with dust that stained the paint. The parking lot was uneven and heavily cracked. A beat-up black Toyota truck was parked alongside a pristine red Mercedes.
Sitting in my car for five minutes, I rehearsed my story one more time and practiced my lying face.
I had it down: “Yes, I’ve had this awful burning sensation on my back for almost a year now, and it just won’t go away (lie)! I’m taking ibuprofen three times a week to keep the pain down (lie), and I’m looking for a better pain relief alternative. I can’t even sleep on my back anymore because it’s too sensitive (lie). I’m concerned that the ibuprofen will take a toll on my liver. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for months (lie), and I go to yoga twice a week (lie) to keep the pain at bay, but, if anything, it has become worse!”
I took a few deep breaths to muster my courage. “I’m not a criminal; I’m just acting,” I reminded myself, heading for the door.
After turning the sticky doorknob, I walked into the waiting room, where I saw a large man with long, greasy salt-and-pepper hair, an old lady, and a boy with a shaved head and large gauges who looked my age.
I silently rejoiced that I wasn’t the only teen there.
The white walls were decorated with reproductions of Monaco Grand Prix posters from the ‘50s. And a second waiting room had a TV playing, but no one was watching. Instead, the patients stared unhappily out the window.
[pullquote align=”left”]I had suspected this would all be easy—to get the license. But I didn’t think the nursing staff would be rooting for me.[/pullquote] The nurse wasn’t at her desk, so I took a clipboard with paperwork.
I filled out my address and contact information, along with my current health conditions.
I said truthfully I also suffer from insomnia, headaches and joint pain to make my case for marijuana stronger.
I also put down that I have asthma, which I do. I wasn’t sure how this would affect the appointment. I’m no expert, but smoking probably isn’t the best thing for an asthmatic.
A young nurse—probably in her twenties—came in and saw that I was filling out the paperwork.
“Name?” she said.
I told her, adding that I had an appointment.
That surprised her. As more patients came in and out of the office while I filled out paperwork, it became clear that almost no one made appointments.
Many of the patients who arrived while I waited seemed to know the nurses. I guess they were return customers, as marijuana licenses must be renewed annually with a reexamination.
“Eyyy! Whatchoo, doin’?” The nurse said enthusiastically to a young woman who just arrived. “Nothin’? Chillin’?”
The old lady hobbled into the exam room when it was her turn.
After signing a sheet acknowledging possible dangers of marijuana, I handed the paperwork to the nurse.
“Are you in high school?” she asked.
“Oh, no. Seriously?” The way she asked me this question sounded as if she was planning on asking me on a date if I wasn’t.
“Is that a problem?” I asked.
“Yeah, dude. We aren’t supposed to serve high schoolers,” she said.
Great. There went my story.
But after a long pause she said, “I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t ask you that question. If (the doctor) asks, just say ‘Oh, yeah, my parents told me to get this.’ Or if you feel like it, just—you know—don’t tell him the truth.”
I laughed out of shock. Was my nurse advising me to lie to the doctor so I could get pot?
And she seemed to really care, as if she felt bad for wasting my time. It was her goal, it seemed, to get me out of the office with a marijuana license.
I had suspected this would all be easy—to get the license. But I didn’t think the nursing staff would be rooting for me.
The old lady came out of the exam room.
“That’s not a real person in there,” she whispered in an excited tone to the waiting patients.
I had no idea what she was talking about and assumed either dementia or drugs were having an effect on her.
After 30 minutes of waiting, it was my turn (filling out paperwork took a while). But the nurse was apologetic for my wait, nonetheless.
“Sorry it took so long,” she said. “Do not get mad at me, okay?”
She took me into a separate room to ask me some preliminary questions.
But first she attached a Velcro wristband with a screen to my wrist. It began to beep with my heartbeat.
Oh, crap. Was this some sort of primitive lie detector?
My heart raced.
Taking off the band, she said, “Let me write down your blood pressure.”
Phew. As she jotted down my blood pressure, which had to be high based on my heart rate, she asked “Ummm… have you, like, drunk a lot of coffee or energy drinks today?”
“Uhhh… yes,” I lied. I had drunk only one cup of coffee in the early morning.[pullquote align=”right”]I wouldn’t do edibles if you’re new to pot,’ she said. ‘I mean edibles (mess) me up. Like one brownie and I’m out.[/pullquote]
She went through a list of questions to verify my medical history. When she got to “Are you in high school?”, we both laughed and she reiterated her instructions to avoid this topic, or lie my way through it.
“Yeah, this doctor is really strict about who he gives the licenses to.”
Then she asked if I’d ever used cannabis.
“No,” I said (truth).
“No, you can tell me; I don’t care.” She leaned in and winked as she said that.
“I’ve never used pot.”
“Like, never ever?”
“No, I’ve been around people smoking pot, but I’ve never used it myself,” I said, firmly this time.
“Oh… okay. So are you going to smoke it?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said, gesturing towards my lungs with a concerned expression. “I was thinking edibles (ingestible forms of marijuana).”
“I wouldn’t do edibles if you’re new to pot,” she said. “I mean edibles (mess) me up. Like one brownie and I’m out.”
That cracked me up, and she stared at me as if I was an idiot.
“You should use a vapor pen,” she continued. “Vape pens don’t have smoke and it’s super smooth. Like no burning at all.”
“Oh, I guess,” I said. “Yeah, sure.”
What she told me next shocked me more than anything.
“So we use a method called Telemedicine.”
She then explained that Telemedicine is basically a normal doctor’s appointment, except the doctor isn’t on site, so the patient talks with the doctor over Skype or FaceTime.
Yes, this doctor does his evaluations over video chat. Suddenly the old lady’s comment made a lot of sense.
After sending my information to the doctor, wherever he was, the nurse led me into the exam room. A computer on a desk was set up facing a chair.
I sat down, and the nurse left without telling me what to do.
For five minutes I stared at the computer screen. I started to wonder if I needed to do anything, because nothing was happening.
So I clicked on the minimized window for Skype. In the instant message portion, the doctor had sent my computer the message, “ready 1.”
I was in Exam Room 1.
I guessed that this was an invitation to call him.
My call was quickly declined, and a message from the doctor appeared via instant message: “NOT YOUR TURN.”
A second nurse rushed in. She must have been monitoring the Skype sessions. I was so embarrassed.
“I’m sorry!” I said. “I thought he wanted me to call.”
“Oh that’s okay,” the nurse responded understandingly, but frantically.
She typed in an instant message, “sorry that was pt.”
I don’t know what “pt” stood for. I thought it might be “patient,” but I’m pretty sure it was the nurse’s initials, as if she was covering for my mistake.
The doctor responded, “I figured.”[pullquote align=”right”]But after a long pause she said, ‘I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t ask you that question. If (the doctor) asks, just say “Oh, yeah, my parents told me to get this.” Or if you feel like it, just— you know— don’t tell him the truth.[/pullquote]
The nurse left the room after minimizing Skype and telling me not to touch anything.
So I sat on my hands and waited for several minutes more.
Suddenly an older man with thin gray hair showed up on the computer. He looked as though he was in an office.
I greeted him as politely as possible to make up for the premature call.
He seemed eager to cut to the chase, but also bored with his routine.
“How is medical cannabis going to help your condition?”
I started my rehearsed response.
“Yes, I’ve had this awful burning sensation on my back for almost a year now, and it just won’t go away! I’m taking ibuprofen three times a week—”
“No, what are you going to use it for?” he asked impatiently.
“Oh,” I said, flustered. “Pain relief?”
There was no way I was going to get this license.
“And you haven’t ever used marijuana?” he asked.
“Are you surrounded by people who can teach you how to use it?”
“Ummm… well,” I responded, “No, but I’m interested in using it safely, I guess.”
I let out a nervous laugh, realizing how stupid my response sounded.
I was a teen, with no idea how to smoke pot, with no one to show me, and with little reason to use it.
“Okay, well, here’s how you do it,” he said. “You start with one puff. If the pain goes away, then you’re done. If not, then go to two (puffs) and so on. Okay? Edibles are difficult to dose, so I don’t recommend them for beginners.
“And you have medical documents to show that you have the burning sensation,” he asked.
“Okay, you’re good,” he said.
I thanked him, and before he said his final goodbye, he recommended marijuana strains that have at least 10 percent cannabidiol (CBD) to best treat my pain.
I took a few seconds to laugh to myself in the exam room, before going back to the front desk.
The first nurse, the one who was “rooting” for me, asked, “Did it work?”
“Yeah,” I said. “He didn’t even ask if I was in high school!”
Genuinely happy, she printed out the necessary paperwork, complete with a fax of the doctor’s signature.
But I had no intention of using the license, and wanted to verify that no future boss (or college) could use a trip to a medical marijuana doctor against me.
“So after this appointment,” I said, “I’m unsure I actually want to use pot. I feel too inexperienced. Say I wanted to just forget this whole appointment…? This isn’t trackable, right—like if I apply for a job?”
She assured me that it wasn’t, adding that if I wanted to terminate my license, I could do so in person whenever I felt like it, which I did the following week.
The appointment and recommendation cost me $60, which I paid in cash to lessen the risk of being traceable.
The nurse volunteered that she technically isn’t allowed to recommend a marijuana dispensary (just like a normal doctor’s office can’t recommend a pharmacy).
But in a hushed tone, she told me about a good shop that is “hella close” to the evaluation center.
On my way out, she noted that if I drive with marijuana, I should put it in the trunk because if a cop smelled it, I could be arrested for a DUI.
She also mentioned that I shouldn’t smoke in my car.
“Or just carry Febreze,” she added, “and you should be fine.”