This is an open journal I am keeping as my mother faces a terminal illness. Part 1 can be found here.
In my life, I’ve smoked pot maybe 10 times. The last time was in 1987. That means that there are 30-year-olds out there who were not yet alive the last time I had a personal experience with pot. So I haven’t exactly been well informed about marijuana usage in recent years.
Despite my near complete lack of knowledge, when my mother decided to try chemotherapy to potentially extend her life after a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, I talked to her about whether she wanted to investigate medical marijuana. I knew she would. For years, when I was a young adult, my mother (only semi-jokingly) would tell my brother and me that the only thing she wanted for Christmas was a joint. She had never tried marijuana and wanted to know what the fuss was about.
Of course, neither of us could bring ourselves to start our mom on the road to reefer madness, so year after year, she would turn her Christmas stocking inside out, hoping that a joint would appear at the bottom ― only to be bitterly disappointed. (Years later, she told the story about her uncooperative children to a couple of young women who worked with her at a bookstore in San Francisco. On her birthday, they surprised her with a joint and a pot brownie. She was thrilled with her gifts. But when she tried them, she was thoroughly unimpressed. So that was the totality of my mom’s previous marijuana experience.)
Since she was open to medical marijuana, I realized that I’d better get familiar with the current state of marijuana — just in case. We live in the Bay Area, so I know that it’s easy to get medical marijuana cards and purchase cannabis products, but I had no idea where to start. Naturally, I turned to social media for the answers. I went to Facebook, said that my mom was about to start chemotherapy and I needed guidance on how to get a medical marijuana card and where to go to purchase product. I asked people to respond by private message and clicked the “Post” button.
The responses came flooding in. It turns out that I know a LOT of people who are medical marijuana users. Who knew? The consensus was that there was one place in Oakland and another in Berkeley that were good places to get the card. We also got recommendations for a couple of dispensaries.
In the meantime, during a call with her palliative care doctor, my mom asked about medical marijuana. Her doctor works for a big health service organization, so I didn’t expect him to do much more than say yea or nay. After all, even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it’s still illegal under federal law, so a lot of doctors are reluctant to get too deeply involved in marijuana usage among their patients.
Much to my surprise, not only did my mom’s doctor say yes, he gave my mom a letter that could be used instead of a medical marijuana card, recommended a dispensary in Oakland, and told her that she should try something called CBD oil.
I turned to Google to find out what CBD oil is. CBD stands for Cannabidiol. Marijuana reportedly has two active ingredients — CBD and THC. THC is the compound that has psychoactive properties — meaning that it’s what gives users the “high.” CBD does not have the psychoactive properties, but it’s allegedly useful for medical purposes. I also learned from Google and my friends that medical marijuana comes in all sorts of products. There’s the traditional smokeable form, there’s the kind that can be vaped, there are edibles, ingestible oils, topical salves and probably others that I’m forgetting.
The next morning, doctor’s letter in hand, Mom and I headed to the recommended dispensary. It’s a low warehouse in one of the nicer industrial/commercial areas in Oakland — right across the street from the waterfront, some fairly nice restaurants and a marina. My daughter went to middle school about three blocks away, and it’s on a route that I use fairly regularly to drive home, so I have driven past it probably 500 times over the years, but I never realized it was there.
We pulled into the large parking lot — which was nearly full at 11 a.m. on a weekday. I immediately noticed several burly guys who were clearly security. As we approached the entrance, we were stopped by one of the guards who asked if it was our first time there. When we said that it was, he gave us a short but stern lecture about the rules for admission. Initially, he told us that only those with cannabis cards/physician letters could enter, so we thought I might not be able to go in. I knew that if I couldn’t go in, Mom wouldn’t go in, so I thought we might never even pass through the front door. But he then clarified that I could enter to get a “caregiver’s” card that would allow me to enter with my mom and even pick up products she had purchased online, but I would not be allowed to buy anything myself. (Yes, you can drive a truck through the loopholes in that process.)
After finishing his lecture, the guard escorted us to the front door. We were met with a blast of the unmistakable smell of marijuana. We were instructed to enter the check-in room, go through a metal detector and sit on a bench just to the right of the metal detector. Someone would be with us shortly.
I walked through the metal detector carrying my small backpack and my mom’s large purse — and set off all the alarms. My mom followed, carrying her oxygen concentrator and did the same. Security didn’t seem to care that we had set off the metal detector. They just waved us through. I guess they figured that a middle aged woman and her elderly oxygen-dependent mother didn’t pose much of a security threat. Also, neither of us look like we can run very fast, so I guess they figured we couldn’t get far if were were up to no good.
We sat on the bench in the foyer as instructed while frenetic activity went on around us. Perhaps “frenetic” is too strong a word, given that it’s a pot dispensary. Anyway, sitting on the bench next to the office reminded me of waiting outside the principal’s office in grade school. Not that I would know anything about that.
About a minute after we sat down, a nice young woman came out to tell us more about the facility and help us with the necessary paperwork. We showed her Mom’s letter and gave her both of our driver’s licenses. As we filled out the paperwork, she returned to her office to call my mom’s doctor to verify that the letter we had was authentic. After we filled out the paperwork, she returned with a form showing that my mother was authorized to purchase cannabis and I was authorized to assist her as her caretaker.
She then escorted us around the corner to what I can only describe as the “showroom.” It was sunny and bright, with bleached wood floors and a large display case running down the middle. If the cannabis was replaced with a bunch of jeans and t-shirts, it could easily pass as a GAP store.
At the far end of the showroom were live cannabis plants — which may solve the problem of what to put in the planters on either side of my back door. Just to the right was a consultation desk. We briefly waited in line there until a cannabis consultant/barista came to help us. We told him about Mom’s condition. (My mom is disarmingly blunt about her condition. “Hi, my name is ____. And I’m dying of lung cancer.”) We got a response akin to “Dude! Bummer!” from the cannabarista.
But the cannabarista was super nice and very helpful. We told him what Mom’s doctor had recommended, and he walked us through various products and options and talked about calibrating dosage. He spent about 10 minutes walking us through the options. Finally, we decided on a small vial of high CBD/very low THC oil, and some topical balm. Also Mom would get a first timer free gift of cannabis lozenges!
We were then escorted to the end of a very long line to pay and collect the product. My mom is quite clearly ailing, so they offered to bring my mom a chair — which she declined. Like I said, these guys are ridiculously nice.
I also have to say that these people are freaking marketing geniuses. The checkout line passes by glass covered display cases where you can see samples of all the products they sell. The final glass display case is the edibles. They have a ridiculous selection of edibles. Cannabis cookies! Cannabis brownies! Cannabis truffles! Cannabis chocolate bars! Cannabis caramel corn and cheese corn — which my mom and I agreed were disasters waiting to happen. I mean, who can eat just five kernels of popcorn?
Nevertheless, the marketing worked on my mom, and we added an $18 dark chocolate bar to our list after I lectured my mom about chocolate dosage and the higher THC levels in the chocolate bar. Not that I know anything about it, but I’m also not an idiot.
Forty-five minutes and $55 later, we walked out of the dispensary with a small vial of CBD oil, an even smaller container of topical salve, free lozenges and a ridiculous chocolate bar.
Later that night, when mom was feeling some pain, she decided she would try the oil. I open the vial; the smell was NASTY! She took a tiny dose under the tongue and announced that it tasted like dog shit. Not that my mom eats dog shit, but you get the picture. It didn’t seem to do anything, so next time, we’ll try a slightly higher dosage and mix the oil with something pleasant-tasting. (I’ve now heard that cranberry juice is a good mixer.) She used the balm the next morning after her shower and liked it.
The chocolate bar remains unopened.
P.S. Recreational marijuana becomes legal in California in just a few months. I wonder if I can buy stock in this place.
Page Barnes is a daughter, a mom, a lawyer, and founder of The Haven, a humor publication. This article is part of an open journal she is writing as her mother faces a terminal illness. Part 1 can be found here.