Marijuana goes mainstream - Page 3

Take a tour of the Bay Area's best cannabis clubs, which are proving that prohibition is the problem, not pot

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The busy clinic charges around $130 for an initial visit and patients walk away with a legal recommendation, which is all state law requires to legally use marijuana (the clinic recommended also buying a $100 state ID card or a $40 card from the Patient ID Center in Oakland, but I didn't need them to enter any of the clubs I visited).

The long forms patients fill out even suggest anxiety as an affliction that pot can help, but the clinic also asks patients to sign a waiver to obtain detailed medical records supporting the recommendation. When Barth learned that I have a shoulder separation for which I underwent an MRI a few years ago, she requested those records and added "shoulder pain" to my "anxiety" affliction.

"My goal is not just to give people a recommendation. I look at how I can help or support the person beyond just giving them a recommendation," Barth told me, illustrating her point by showing me two packs of cigarettes from patients whom she said she convinced to quit smoking.

Her vibe combines the healer and the old hippie, someone who sees a plethora of uses for marijuana and generally thinks society would be better off if everyone would just have a puff and chill out. The clubs also don't draw distinctions based on their customers' reasons for smoking.

"There is a distinct difference between medical use and recreational use," Olive said, telling stories about amazing turnarounds he's seen in patients with AIDS, cancer, and other debilitating diseases, contrasting that with people who just like to get high before watching a funny movie, which he said is also fine.

But Olive said there's an important and often under-appreciated third category of marijuana use: therapeutic. "They use cannabis to cope, to unwind, to relax, to sleep better, or to think through problems in a different way," Olive said.

This third category of user, which I officially fall into, seems to be the majority people I encountered in the local clubs. And while it may be easy for cannabis' critics to dismiss such patients as taking advantage of laws and a system meant to help sick people, Olive says they play an important role.

"They make it easier for the cannabis clubs to give it away to the people who really need it," Olive said, referring the practice by most clubs of giving away free weed to low-income or very sick patients, which is supported by the profits made on sales.

The Vapor Room is widely regarded as having one of the best compassionate giving programs, and Olive estimated that the operation gives away about a pound per week through local hospice programs and by giving away edibles and bags of cannabis vapor at the club.

Some of the profits are also used to offer free massage, yoga, chiropractic, and other classes to their members, a system being taken to new heights by Harborside Health Center in Oakland, which has fairly high prices but uses that revenue to offer an extensive list of free services and laboratory analysis of the pot it sells, identifying both contaminants (such as molds or pesticides) and the level of THC, the compound that gets you high.

Olive said there's also a positive psychological impact of legitimizing the use of marijuana: "It no longer feels like you're doing a bad thing that you have to be sneaky about."

As I created my list of the clubs I planned to review, I found abundant online resources such as www.sanfranciscocannabisclubs.com and www.weedtracker.com. But an even better indicator of how mainstream this industry has become were the extensive listings and reviews on Yelp.com.

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