There isn't much agreement over who uses medical marijuana, and why. There's dispute over even the nomenclature: cannabis users refer to themselves as "patients," as do some state and local laws; some in law enforcement and in the August halls of government, officials dole out far less-accommodating terms.
We remember well the captain of a certain Bay Area police force tell us, on record, that he had no issue with old and dying folks using marijuana "if it's the law." However, the only people he saw outside the town's lone dispensary, long since shut-down, fit a very different demographic.
"They're all young and healthy," he complained, going further to say that they fit the appearance more of the crime-prone urban male than a "seriously ill Californian," for whom Proposition 215 allows the legal use of marijuana. Indeed, most medical marijuana users are youngish, employed, and white, according to a study conducted by a University of California Santa Cruz professor last year.
Harborside Health Center CEO Stephen DeAngelo disagrees. The people who
will be forced to try and find pot on the street if the federal
government is forced to shut down are folks you'd see on an evening BART
ride home from work -- if the BART ride is mostly older men and women,
half of whom are of color.
Take a look at their video they use as evidence:
"I'm 64," one says. "I'm 61," says another. Not quite young healthy blunt-rollers.
A study in Colorado, where medical marijuana users must register with the state and must also declare their condition, revealed that most cannabis use relieves people of chronic pain. Here, the patients' illnesses run the gamut: arthritis, lung cancer, pain.
This is typical of the patient crowd in Harborside Health Center at any given day, DeAngelo told SF Weekly on Wednesday. About 20 percent of Harborside's 108,000 patients are seniors, he said, and racially, it's about one would expect at any kind of East Bay establishment.
"Some have evident medical conditions, some have not so evident medical conditions," said DeAngelo, who noted that younger Harborside customers volunteered to be in the video, too, but failed to show up for the taping (the jokes, they write themselves).
Harborside, recall, is the latest and biggest target of U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag's war on state-legal medical marijuana; the feds have shut down over a dozen dispensaries in the Bay Area since Oct. 7, 2011.
The nation's biggest dispensary, which has locations in Oakland as well as San Jose, is under federal pressure to close because of its size, Haag said last month.
The oft-repeated warning is that if state-legal, city-licensed, taxpaying dispensaries shut down, those in need of the drug will go to the streets, lining the pockets of gang and cartel members rather than the city general fund (HHC is Oakland's second-biggest taxpayer).
But if Harborside closes, the situation is even worse, DeAngelo said: Folks like the grandparents in the video will simply go without.
People as young as five years old and as old as 90 visit these dispensaries because of the wide variety of medicine available. Not simply different tasting or smelling strains, but a topical rub that's non psychoactive, or a cannabis-based sleep aid.
Even if these people did try to buy pot on the street -- which is itself unlikely, DeAngelo said --- there's no way a street dealer or even five or so patients growing pot together can provide that kind of care.
"The crazy allegation is that because of our size, we're doing something wrong," DeAngelo said. "It's crazy because by virtue of our size, we're able to do things like develop special formulations. Nobody on the street can replicate that -- most other dispensaries can't replicate that."
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