The normal life: Searching for cannabis in California

Changes coming to Israeli policy aim to bring medical cannabis to the local pharmacy instead of to standalone shops.

December 21, 2017 17:38
4 minute read.
A CROW fies past as CALIFORNIA ‘WE gather at a look-out point on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jer

CALIFORNIA ‘WEED NUN’ Christine Meeusen (right), and India Delgado, who goes by the name Sister Eevee, smoke a joint at Sisters of the Valley near Merced, California. (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCY NICHOLSON)


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Driving past the Buds and Roses storefront on Los Angeles’s Ventura Boulevard, you’d be forgiven for surmising this must be a fan shop dedicated to all things Axl Rose. The friendly but firm armed guard out front, however, suggests that what’s behind the locked door might be somewhat more circumspect.

Which it is: Buds and Roses is one of hundreds of medical cannabis dispensaries now dotting the California landscape, all in plain view and entirely legal. On a recent trip to the US, I decided to pay a visit. I had a legitimate medical need: to determine if any of the vast array of tinctures, vapes, pills and edibles on display could help me with my chronic insomnia.

When I walked out of the store an hour later and several hundred dollars lighter, I had also gained firsthand insight into how different California’s medical cannabis business is from Israel’s, and how those differences will be even more glaring in the near future.

To gain entry into a California cannabis dispensary, you first need a medical cannabis card. It’s shockingly easy to get one. You simply go online to a website such as HelloMD, enter your credit card details, and a doctor promptly calls you back.

“How can I help you?” the voice on the line said.

“Well, I suffer from insomnia and I wanted to try...”

“You’re approved,” the doctor cut me off.

“Wait, don’t you want to hear about what I’ve tried in the past and any medical history?” “Nope, you’re all set up,” the doctor continued, clearly eager to move on to the next call. “I’ve already sent you an email with your certificate. Anything else today?” he added, as though he were selling me a pair of pants at Gap.

It was frustrating but also liberating, especially compared to Israel, where, while it’s possible to get a medical cannabis license, you have to jump through so many hoops that too often patients just give up. And insomnia is not even on the approved list yet.

Once my card arrived in the mail, I drove to Buds and Roses, where I was ushered into a windowless back room filled with what looked like clear glass jewelry stands – except that they were filled not with diamonds but with all kinds of cannabis.

I explained to Jen, my “budtender,” what I needed.

“Insomnia responds best to a formulation with a higher amount of the cannabinoid THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis) than CBD,” Jen explained.

“Really? That’s a surprise,” I told Jen. In my previous research, I’d learned that the more benign CBD, which addresses autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, is key to curing sleep problems. But who was I to argue with a certified budtender?

Jen recommended a hi-tech disposable vape pen that automatically shuts off after delivering a precise 2.5-mg. dose. It was named one of Time magazine’s top innovations in 2016.

“Is this your first time here?”  Jen asked as she was taking my money.

“Yes,” I answered, a bit hesitantly.

“Great, then you get a free gift!” she crowed, motioning me to a case full of edibles. Did I want the chocolate with hints of blueberry or a granola bar?

That night, I tried the vape. I quickly felt something – but it wasn’t sleepiness. I was nauseous and my stomach hurt. The next night was even worse: I was up until 3 a.m. pacing, praying for the pain to pass.

Maybe so much THC was not the right mix for me.

By now we’d left Los Angeles for Berkeley. I easily found another dispensary where Rick, my new budtender, suggested I try a more balanced 1:1 THC to CBD tincture.

“Is it your first time here?” Rick asked.

“Yes,” I responded, this time more confidently. Out came the edible goodies.

The tincture didn’t make me sick, but it didn’t get me to sleep the way I’d hoped either.

But it doesn’t really matter. This was more an experiment, an exercise in data collection. All that legal medical cannabis is in California. I’m now back in Israel, where there are no dispensaries next to the espresso bar on Emek Refaim Street.

Nor will there probably ever be.

Israel is going down a very different path. Changes coming to Israeli policy aim to bring medical cannabis to the local pharmacy instead of to standalone shops.

Over the summer, 81 doctors completed an official medical cannabis course offered by the Health Ministry in order to be able to prescribe pot for specific ailments.

The different approach is not surprising: Unlike California, where, come January 2018, cannabis will be available for sale to anyone – no plastic card required – there are no plans for legalizing recreational use in Israel. So the focus has been on utilizing traditional medical infrastructure.

On our last night in California, we were invited to a launch party, celebrating the imminent legalization of cannabis, sponsored by Atlas Edibles, a company founded by members of the Orthodox synagogue my wife and I used to attend when we lived in Berkeley.

An unlikely pairing? Not really. There’s already a new Jewish tradition emerging in the US called Chai Havdalah (chai is pronounced “high”), where participants greet the new week by smoking pot and eating cannabis-infused cookies.

Me, I just want to get some sleep. And it would be really helpful if I didn’t have to fly all the way to California to do it.

The writer’s new book, Totaled: The Billion- Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is about cars, not cannabis. It’s available on Amazon and other online booksellers.

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