Pubdate: Wed, 16 Nov 2005
Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser (CA)
Column: Cannabinotes
Copyright: 2005 Anderson Valley Advertiser
Author: Fred Gardner
Related: Blog of Dr. Tom O'Connell
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


"all he believes are his eyes, And his eyes just tell him lies..." -Bob Dylan

The corporate media has created a totally false impression about the 
extent to which California's medical marijuana law has been 
implemented. They use a simple trick: show "how easy it is to get a 
card" and ignore the fact that relatively few people have done so, 
due to countervailing pressures. This Spring, Oakland's KTVU did a 
pseudo-expose along these lines, and in the ensuing months a reporter 
from every other station in the Bay Area has gone "undercover" into a 
doctor's office, described a medical problem (real or faked), gotten 
a letter of approval and then a card, taken it to a dispensary, and 
obtained marijuana.

This week the assignment fell to Mike Sugerman of KCBS "Eyewitness News."

An Anchor Person provided the intro: "We have repeatedly heard about 
the debate about medical marijuana.

Under state law it is legal, but only sick people, under a doctor's 
supervision, are supposed to be able to get it. So you'd think 
getting a medical marijuana card would be rather difficult..." Cut to 
Sugerman, who is middle-aged, wiry, balding, wears glasses, getting 
out of bed and being droll: 3Back aches, joints hurt, I don't know 
why. Maybe it's my bed. I could buy a new mattress.

Maybe it's my shoes.

I could get a new insole.

I could smoke some pot... (walking into an office building) I went to 
one of those places in Oakland. Paid a hundred and fifty dollars.

A nurse practitioner talked to me about my aches.

I got the okay... (showing his newly obtained card) The doctor's 
order allows me to get one of these: a cannabis buyer's card which 
allow you to purchase marijuana at any pot club in the state of California..."

Sugerman interviewed a presumably valid patient -a man of 70 who has 
a serious heart condition- and a young man outside a dispensary who 
presumably had taken advantage of the law by obtaining "weed, 
brownies, all that stuff." The young man's manner was streetwise and 
macho, but the content of his rap was medical: "...To relax your body 
after a long, hard day at work. And all those chronic pains.  I been 
in the construction field for three years.  So, you know, I mean, I 
got a sore body."

Next Sugerman talked with "Dr. Thomas O'Connell [who] preaches almost 
any conditions can be helped with pot." Cut to O'Connell saying, "I 
don't turn anyone down... I haven't really encountered anybody I 
thought was hurt by pot." Sugerman adds: "That puts him at odds with 
the federal government, which still considers marijuana dangerous and illegal.

And other research which shows that marijuana can have adverse 
effects on the brain, heart, and respiratory system..."

Tracking shot of Sugerman and a middle-class woman walking down Fair 
Oaks Street with a schoolyard in the background. She's complaining 
about her neighborhood being overrun by people buying marijuana at a 
nearby club. Sugerman concludes: "As for me, I decided not to try the 
marijuana I could now legally buy.  Despite what others say, my 
personal doctor says pot is a vasoconstrictor and can raise my 
already high blood pressure.

Maybe I'll just try those shoe inserts.  See if they can help my back."

According to Dr. O'Connell Sugerman recorded but didn't use "a 
careful Statement of my position on medical use... What I actually 
said was that I had yet to encounter anyone using it chronically in 
the pattern disclosed as typical by my applicant profile who would 
have been better off if forced to give it up. Also, that none of the 
many alternative drugs most had tried during their adolescence was 
either as safe or effective.

I also said that many who had been prescribed pharmaceutical 
alternatives for the same symptoms had given them up, but that I was 
very careful not to advise applicants to do so because I wasn't 
following or treating them as patients."

By all estimates, fewer than 200,000 Californians have obtained 
approval to use cannabis medicinally in the nine years since it 
became legal -in a state where millions might benefit if they felt 
free to try. That's the real story -the disimplementation of Prop 
215. More than five million adult Californians voted for Prop 215 in 
the privacy of a voting booth (an antiquated image, alas). All but a 
few are too embarrassed or too scared to ask their own doctor for a 
recommendation. The real story is the doctors' fear and lack of 
education re cannabis, resulting in only a small fraction of their 
patients getting to use it legally.

The Sheriff's "Joke"

"Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer has a doctor's letter stating 
on-the-job stress should qualify him to buy marijuana for medical 
needs," begins a recent article by Karen Holzmeister of the Oakland 
Tribune. Tod Mikuriya, MD, read the lead and thought Plummer deserved 
credit for a groundbreaking gesture.  Then he read on: "As a joke, 
Plummer's physician wrote the note, which the sheriff showed to 
members of the district attorney's office.

They agreed the letter would be Plummer's ticket to getting a card 
that would open doors at any of the six cannabis dispensaries in 
unincorporated areas."

You don't have to be a psychiatrist to know that things people say 
"as a joke" can reveal below-the-surface concerns.

Being sheriff of a mostly urban county in an era of social breakdown 
is a stressful job, indeed. Either Plummer's doctor didn't think the 
request was a total joke, or s/he made an ethical stretch in signing 
a letter approving his use of cannabis. According to the Tribune, 
"After touring all the clinics [in Alameda County's unincorporated 
areas], Plummer said he can't see himself queuing up alongside 
patients who appear to be 'unsavory people' and 'young men under 30 
who look like people you would arrest a lot."

It's understandable that the subset of Californians who have sought a 
doctor's approval to medicate with cannabis includes a high 
percentage of the young, brave, macho, and poor. Middle-aged, 
middle-class people are more likely to have jobs, families, interests 
to protect.

Many become "risk averse," too embarrassed to ask their regular 
physician to approve cannabis use, and afraid that going to a 
specialist might result in negative consequences with an employer, an 
insurance company, a family court judge, etc. Not to mention the government.

Nine years after the passage of Prop 215, law enforcement's ongoing 
opposition has led to this: a middle-aged professional can't find a 
dispensary where he'd feel comfortable stopping by after work to see 
what strains are recommended for stress.

What the sheriff sees as a diminution of his power to control the 
citizenry, the doctor sees as a positive.  Mikuriya says, "Whatever 
other benefits a doctor may help a patient obtain by approving their 
cannabis use, the conferring of legitimacy is a benefit of the utmost 
importance for their well-being." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake