Imagine the freedom of not having to be so damn sneaky when getting your puff on. This is something some of us have only experienced on our escapades in Amsterdam. Well, progress seems to be on the horizon as marijuana has been legalized in 11 states for medical purposes. In California, for example, it’s legal to consume, grow and carry marijuana if you’ve been recommended by a doctor (“Haaaaacck… all of a sudden, I’m not feeling so well”). But really, according to Jonathan Arbel, owner of Alternative Care Consulting in Southern California, marijuana is used to help the symptoms of everything from tension to Tourettes. ACC helps connect people that want to use marijuana as an alternative to other medicines, and they often find it’s just what they needed. Mass Appeal recently had the pleasure to get up with Jonathan and find out everything you always wanted to know about marijuana but were too high to ask.
Jonathan Arbel: It all started a little over two years ago when I was getting evaluated for medical marijuana. I found the doctor through a friend that said he was seeing a doctor that was really pro-medical marijuana. I was recommended marijuana—and call it ‘recommend,’ not ‘prescribe’—for insomnia, and I also use it for stress relief. So, about half way through getting evaluated, I started a conversation with the doctor. What was so amazing to me is how this was around but nobody knew about it. I got an idea and asked him if I got a small clinic together, would he do a clinic with me, and he said, ‘Sure.’ Before this, I was managing restaurants in San Francisco, so it was really a huge career change.
What we do at ACC is connect patients with doctors that are medical marijuana or cannabis-friendly. First, the patient finds out about one of our clinics—we’re responsible for all of the marketing. We make sure they are a California resident because this is only good in California, as far as what we’re doing. The patient comes in and fills out a medical history form, and then they get evaluated with a doctor. The doctor will go over the pros and cons of using cannabis. He’ll go over some alternative methods of using cannabis as opposed to just smoking; eating it or using a vaporizer, which gives you a higher dose of THC. If the patient qualifies after a review of their medical records, the physician will recommend them cannabis.
Once you’re a legal patient, you’re allowed to consume it, you’re allowed to grow it and carry it. We really recommend that patients pursue the growing aspects—grow a few plants themselves and always stay under the limits set by your county so you don’t get in trouble. For example, in areas like San Diego you can grow up to 24 plants legally indoors and you can carry up to a pound of marijuana on you. What we find is that one, the patients save an extreme amount of money and two, are able to do something that’s productive, creative and really therapeutic.
One of the most amazing things about this job is to watch a transformation occur [after] patients come into the clinic. Most of our patients are already using cannabis, but using it illegally. We see dramatic changes in people’s lives with the liberation of being able to use cannabis legally. We get stories all the time like, ‘I just got pulled over and I had my medicine with me and they let me go and I didn’t get in any trouble.’ The people that are using cannabis illegally are moms, dads, teachers and they are putting themselves out of dangerous situations by being able to use their medicine legally. It’s the first job that I’ve ever had that somebody will come up to me once or twice a month and say, ‘Hey, you really made a difference in my life.’ It’s an amazing thing. One of our patient’s husband suffers from Tourettes and whenever he uses cannabis, the symptoms and the side effects go completely away. He swears up and down that it’s the only thing that helps. And as soon as he stops using cannabis, the Tourettes comes right back.
Right now, cannabis is classified as a narcotic along with heroin. I believe that the classification should really be lowered as far as legalization. Cannabis should be used responsibly like alcohol or any other approved drug. If we’re going to legalize cannabis across the board it should be 21 and older. If you’re going to keep it medical, I would keep it the same—going through a doctor first discussing all the benefit and making sure medical marijuana is right for you. I think that this is a great system and it really works. And you know what, I’ve seen a lot of clinics and a lot of marijuana patients and I’ve never seen any single one of them hurt each other, get violent or crash a car. Marijuana smokers just don’t die from using marijuana.
A lot of people say that marijuana is a gateway drug and it will lead to harder drugs, [but] we see the opposite. We see people coming off harder drugs and then saying, ‘I want to use cannabis instead.’ We get a lot of people who just do not want to take pills anymore. I don’t know if you realize how many people out there are addicted to Vicodin, to Valium, Oxycontin—to all the opiates—and a lot of them are very well aware of it and they know that cannabis is a new alternative. They come in and say, ‘Hey, I want to stop taking these pills and I would rather smoke or eat some cannabis instead.’ We really see changes in these people’s lives, which is a great thing because I guess the federal government would like us to [believe] that all our patients are lying, that this is not really happening. It really makes me happy when someone comes into my clinic and doesn’t have cancer or doesn’t have AIDS or isn’t on their deathbed. It’s our belief that cannabis is so beneficial that it helps with everyday types of pains. It helps with chronic pain, back pain, insomnia, migraine headaches, menstrual cramps. It’s just really amazing.
11 states have voted [in favor of] medical marijuana. In California, for example, a majority of voters voted for Prop. 215, which is what makes us legal. The one thing that’s missing right now is more state support and more federal support for a law that’s been voted in by the voters. The state recognizes medical marijuana but the federal government doesn’t, so there’s a situation now where a lot of voters in California feel their rights have basically been trampled on. San Diego for example, refuses to put out the ID card program, the patient verification cards. At Alternative Care, we distribute our own cards, which are medical marijuana verification cards, but the state refuses to do it on their own. Or at least certain cities refuse to do it. Politically, there could be more regulation, more governing done by the state. Now, they’re just trying to pretend it’s not there.