Patch Blog: Are Medical Marijuana 'Patients' Recreational Users?

A lot of people say medical marijuana patients are just abusing the system to have fun—but here's what the evidence says.

I’d like to question an assertion often made by those who favor a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries: That most of our patients are actually not ill and that they’re just recreational smokers abusing the system.

I’ve heard the claim that as many as 95 percent of medical marijuana patients aren’t really sick. The problem with these statements is that not a single one is ever backed up by any hard data—because there isn’t any.

The only serious study ever done of patients—by UC Santa Cruz recently—revealed that half of the sample studied had been taking prescriptions drugs for health problems and had either found them ineffective or hated the side-effects. But people in this sample learned that marijuana might alleviate their symptoms, prompting them to switch over to marijuana and find relief. Another 30 percent said they’d heard about the negative impact of prescription drugs on their health, which was why they used cannabis and found it effective.

The other thing that is striking about people who say medical marijuana patients aren’t really sick is that it’s pretty obvious that these people haven’t talked with a cross section of the patients. Because I’m not a marijuana user, there was a time when I really didn’t know whether most patients were legitimate, so without revealing that I was considering working for a patient association, I talked to a number of its members and heard a lot of heartfelt stories.

But, say the critics, medical marijuana patients are mostly in their 20s and 30s—and they sure look healthy. Actually, a lot of young people today suffer from clinical depression, severe anxiety and insomnia, which should be no big surprise, given that their parents are divorced and that they have a huge student loan debt, not to mention no job prospects, failed personal relationships, severe loneliness—their very world seems on the verge of apocalypse.

Society says taking prescription drugs for these problems is OK—so why not medical marijuana?

Yes, we don’t like the physicians who hand out recommendations for cannabis very liberally because it taints the image of our community. But the worst that happens is someone gets high—instead of well.

I think it’s kind of silly to believe that recreational users would go to the trouble of getting a physician recommendation and join a patient association—after all, weed has always been very easily available in L.A.

But if you believe that most medical marijuana patients are merely recreational, then you’re saying that a ban won’t work because the patients are just going go back to the bad old days of having to buy on the street illegally.

Let’s not dramatically drive crime statistics higher because we were rushed into a ban by a City Attorney whose primary goal is to get this done so he doesn’t have to deal with the lawsuits that he instigated by turning the City’s original ordinance into a de facto ban at the eleventh hour.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Trevor February 04, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Threats are not ever appropriate Mr. Larsen.
Michael Larsen February 04, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Trevor February 04, 2012 at 07:15 PM
The phrasing of your previous comment make it appear as if you were putting them both under an investigation.
Scott Smith February 04, 2012 at 11:41 PM
I don't use marijuana myself--I'm waiting for the supporters of a ban to address the facts that this is a disastrous remedy worse than the problem.
Peter Choi February 05, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Many elderly patients do take marijuana for medicinal purposes. Often downsized to an apartment in their senior years, they do not have the ability to grow their own and certainly can not be expected to buy dime bags illegally on the street. Councilmember Huizar has yet to explain how these true patients, most in need of this medicine, are supposed to cope for the next 2... 3... indefinite years. Marijuana is as necessary to these elderly as a bathroom. One does not remove your bathroom without ensuring you will have a running toilet within a very short time. Would the Councilmember tear out his bathroom without concrete plans for its replacement?
Michael Larsen February 05, 2012 at 06:00 AM
Mr. Choi, you are clearly a concerned and compassionate man especially when it comes to the seriously ill elderly who use marijuana medicinally. Perhaps you can volunteer your time for these elderly patients, become a qualified primary caregiver and grow this needed marijuana; or start a true collective where members join together to grow and provide it for it's members, each contributing what they are able. There are lot of things you can do to help elderly or disabled patients continue to have safe and dignified access. Are you willing?
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 01:56 PM
The simple fact is that there are not enough caregivers--and most people aren't going to be able to grow their own. But let's pretend the banners are right and everyone can--most marijuana is currently grown outside LA, so to supply patient needs upwards of a million plants will have to be brought into every neighborhood. Mr Larsen's threat to investigate me is hollow: I'm already a public figure as a journalist with no secrets (I don't use marijuana). But it's typical of the banners--the Council has tried to sneak the ban through the legislative comment with as little public comment as possible because they know it won't survive vigorous public debate.
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 01:59 PM
I've spoken to ex-aides of Huizar who tell me they never had big problems with the dispensaries--he's blowing this out of proportion for political purposes. There are all kinds of laws on the books which could be enforced to clean up public nuisances or criminality. A ban will result in the exact opposite of what it intends--more crime and complaints in every neighborhood. See The Dirty Dozen Myths About Medical Marijuana Dispensaries at www.Unionmmp.org.
Michael Larsen February 05, 2012 at 04:21 PM
I'd love to see where you get your information about exactly how many patients there are in LA; how many caregivers are available (or not, and why), and why it is that most people aren't able to grow a plant. Where are these stats Mr. Smith? I understand that you don't use marijuana (of course), and you are just a professional publicist/lobbyist doing your job for a multi-billion dollar industry, but surely you have hard facts to support your assertion that it's just too hard for people to get together and grow a plant. Finally, I didn't threaten to investigate you. (You flatter me to imply that I have that power.) I was referring to Mr. Ryder's demand for an investigation into why people are spreading misinformation and lies in our community, and I suggested that your assertions be included in that evaluation. At the very least Mr. Smith, you can let everyone know here whether you are being compensated in any way for the "work" you are doing here in our community on behalf of the multi-billion dollar pot industry.
Michael Larsen February 05, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Furthermore, there is no rule that says, patient collectives have to grow in the City of LA. We certainly don't grow all the tomatoes that are consumed here. The point of the collective envisioned by Prop 215 and SB420 is that of a closed loop system without profit. Patients contribute to the grow, however they are able, and the marijuana is distributed among those members - no storefront, no advertising, no neon green crosses, no menus with prices, no free joints with new membership. I fully support this kind of model. As a professional journalist and lobbyist, you were well aware of the 2 public committee meetings on this issue as well as the upcoming full council public meeting. There has been, and will be plenty of opportunity for public input on this motion. I encourage anyone who is tired of this industry's shenanigans to come to the next City Council Meeting and demand some accountability on behalf of our neighborhoods.
Michael Larsen February 05, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Mr. Smith, I'm glad you brought up the "laws on the books" that can be used to solve this problem. The Devonshire Division of LAPD has been using those laws very effectively in Council District 12, and I agree with you that it's time their work extends to the rest of the City. http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2012/01/chatsworth_marijuana_herbal_medicine_care_bust_lapd.php
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I make $48,000 a year for 50 hrs a week at a patient association--I'm a volunteer for the Union. I'm probably the second-highest paid out of a staff of 70 that serves 5000 patients and we sometimes have trouble meeting payroll. I could make a lot more money elsewhere, but I'm highly offended by the misstatements of fact by the banners. Trutanich has a long, well-documented history of misstating case law--we wrote his office a 17-page letter detailing examples. The answer your questions and assetions: 1) The number of patients is an estimate based on 350 patient associations we believe exist, down from 850 that Chief Beck estimated 3 years ago. We're one of the larger ones, but it hard to cover overhead with less than 500, so 250,000 is reasonable. 2) Where did I ever say anything bad about Eagle Rock that needs investigation? I've talked to residents and Huizar's former staff, who don't agree with the hysteria you're trying to whip up. 3) If the City Attorney and Devonshire Division are correct that no cash "sales" are allowed and that justified the raid and they say all dispensaries are operating illegally, why aren't there citywide raids? First, it's wrong to say the MMP doesn't allow cash within a closed circuit of supply--I don't know these particular cases, but if the CA has the evidence, why they haven't they closed down all the Eagle Rock. I'll respond to the rest in another Reply.
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 05:01 PM
4) Public Safety refused to allow public comment "because we don't have a quorum"--even though they've allowed comments before in that situation. Huizar claimed there that if they didn't ban, there would soon be 4000 dispensaries--why don't you ask him how he came up with that figure. Jane Usher of the CA claimed banning was legal--neglecting to mention that the high court might rule against it. The Planning Commission gave the CA hours to talk, went into closed session so his people could reveal the reason they're rushing to ban (to short-circuit due process on the original law suits by Feb. 9) and then at the end of the day when we have our 2 min. to talk, the commissioners didn't raise a single criticism we made before voting unanimously to back the ban. Then PLUM waived its right to even have a hearing so that the process can be rushed forward. If you were on our side of the table, you'd be screaming abuse of process. 5) You obviously haven't tried to grow marijuana--it's extremely difficult in LA's climate and if you grow it inside, your electric bills will triple. Caregivers will have the same problem and you can't go immediately from having patient associations meet most patient needs to leaving individuals to their own devices and hoping a lot of caregivers will volunteer.
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 05:02 PM
6) Our attorneys are advising us that under the ban, they will try to stop delivery of marijuana from outside the location. We already operate in a closed loop, but get most of our marijuana from outside the county, as most others do. We've also developed Agsite.org which can provide law enforcement with tools to make sure associations are complying with the law.
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Incidentally, Mr Larsen, the people we know in this industry--and our collective has been around since 2006--are actually largely in agreement with you on the need for strict regulation. We've proposed a very tough regulatory motion called Ban With Abeyance, which has plenty of teeth, but doesn't have the downsides of the "gentle ban" I referred to in my other post. GLACA, the other patient association organization, also has a good regulatory propose--it tweaks the current ordinance so that it is easy to implement and won't be subject to a lot of litigation. I really don't think you actually know enough of the collective owners well to assert that we're all a bunch of gangsters and, dang it, too bad the city doesn't have to legal tools to shut us all down. No doubt there are some like that, especially the pirate shops, and we'd love the City Attorney to do something about them. For example, one Council staffer told us that they got a call that there were high school students lined up outside a dispensary. There are a number of ways this could have been misreported, such as teenagers hanging with college students waiting to go in or an event inside that did not involve marijuana (we host holistic health seminars for the general public). If high schoolers were going in to buy marijuana, the police should have been there in 5 min. Same thing for smoking outside or secondary sales to minors: we enforce the law at liquor stores, why not dispensaries? It looks to us intentional.
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Now that I've pointed out I'm not highly-paid, let me also address the assertion I'm a "lobbyist," with all the baggage that carries. I am a consultant to 3 organizations to help them with general business issues because my background is business journalism and I've owned/managed a dozen small companies. Until a couple of months ago, I mostly was consumed with helping the collective--very little time was spent on either the Union nor AgSite. When Huizar announced the ban, we realized we needed to communicate our point of view--we didn't have the money for a lobbyist, so I just started prioritizing responses to the well-financed and well-staffed City Attorney's office and the Council members who have all the political connections they need to help pass a ban. I have no experience in the area of lobbying Council, incidentally, and the Union hadn't done much since the original ordinance passed two years ago, except a couple of press releases. We have to debate whether to send these out on a free service few media see or spend $400 for a wire service--big money for us. So your view of me as a lobbyist for this "multi-billion dollar industry" is about as accurate as most of what Huizar says. We aren't really on different sides of what this industry needs in terms of regulation; we just think the "gentle ban" would be a disaster for patients and the city. If it does pass, I have better-paying jobs I can move do (none of them involve lobbying because I'm not qualified to do that).
Michael Larsen February 05, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Of course, as a paid operator of a pot shop (who doesn't smoke pot), you are aware that there ARE NO rules for pot shops like there are for liquor stores. That is exactly the problem that we have been trying to solve in Eagle Rock. You know that there is no age restriction for pot recommendation (just as there isn't for other medications), so as long as those teenagers have a card (and many do), there is nothing to enforce. There is also no law against smoking marijuana outside. Again, nothing to enforce. Sales of any kind are illegal though, and that is why Devonshire has been so successful in the Valley. I'm glad we can agree that the laws should be vigorously enforced, and I look forward to working with Northeast LAPD and Mr. Huizar to see that our common goals are met.
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 06:16 PM
There are public nuisance abatement laws that can be enforced around any business--neighbors have complained about traffic, loitering, trash, etc. The complaints were about high school students who might not have cards and secondary sales outside--these could be checked. As for smoking outside, if neighbors complain, security can order them to move on. There are also laws governing criminality that can be used. Apparently, you have evidence that the Devonshire dispensaries were violating something--if you have evidence that the ones in Eagle Rock are, why haven't they been closed. As for the original ordinance, we backed the first version--then Trutanich turned it into a de facto ban at the 11th hour, which is why there was litigation. The ban you're back would be a worse cure than the disease. Maybe you should take me on a tour of the offending places and we can talk to the managers face to face and find out exactly what the problems are and what might be done.
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 06:31 PM
I think banners conflate two issues when they complain about young people using medical marijuana. They're assuming, as Huizar does, that these couldn't actually have something treatable (I dealt with that in my first blog post--the other on the downsides of the ban hasn't had any attention). Of course, kids will buy pot regardless of whether dispensaries offer it--or they'll take prescription drugs. But the issue of whether there is adequate diagnosis is a matter for regulation by either the city or the state medical board. Remember, marijuana cards aren't acquired by prescription--it's just a physician recommendation, so less regulated. But everyone I know in the MM industry is offended by doctors who give these out too freely--we know this makes us look bad and some recommendations from docs we feel abuse the system we refuse. This is an area where both sides can agree needs reform.
Michael Larsen February 05, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Yes, Mr. Smith, I'm sure the California Marijuana Industry is "offended" at the number of customers it has and has been working diligently to force the state to crack down on pot doctors who give recommendations for anything from backache to weight loss. I often see stories of outrage in the media coming from your industry and the demands for a tighter regulation of these "doctors".
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I know more people in the industry than you do, so I have some idea of their sentiments--you're making judgments as an outsider. I also have spoken with more patients than you and I think most are sincere--after all, these can get recreational weed anywhere anytime. But yes, our industry has been lax in self-regulation, so why don't your friends in city council and the legislature try to crack down on these doctors, rather than second-guessing their recommendations?
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Since I've given you a huge number of things to respond to and an entire blog you haven't commented on, I'm going to try to refrain from answering every comment from you until you've caught up, then I'll group them together. I honestly don't think our goals are that far apart--I can speak for those I know in the industry who would like to see things tightly regulated because that provides orderly business, instead of threats of raids and bans and giant legal bills (which have put many good patient associations out of business--it's the pirates who do well in a chaotic environment). But the ban is the wrong solution--it's trying to smash a fly with a sledgehammer without understanding the collateral damage that will result. If we can get the city council to look at other options, we'll have reasonable regulation and little litigation. Then I'd be happy to work with you and other neighborhood councils to mitigate future problems--the Union wants to make sure complaints don't get to a crisis point again, which endangers patient access.
Michael Larsen February 05, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Double check your other blog. I think you'll find some important information. We do agree that strict and enforceable regulation is the key here. And I'm glad to hear you admit that you are part of an "industry" that is doing "business". At least you are being honest about the true nature of this issue. Making money is the goal of industry and business, and without strong regulations (as we learned in 2008) people and communities get hurt.
Scott Smith February 05, 2012 at 09:25 PM
I consult for not-for-profit businesses--most people I know in the industry aren't in it entirely to make money because there is a huge amount of personal financial and legal risk that comes with it. Most are true believers. And few are making loads of money--the patient association I work for operates as the law envisioned and we want to promote this business model and help other associations be compliant. But, frankly, as in any industry, there are a lot of amateurs when it comes to management and many manage themselves out of business.
Michael Larsen February 05, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Compliant with what? The only laws in Calfornia that I'm aware of which relate to dispensary operation are the 600ft from schools rule and the new law giving cities the right to regulate as they see fit, including a ban.
Scott Smith February 07, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Barry was asking me if you and I had talked about your opinion of what was going on in ER, especially which were the really legit dispensaries. I forgot to give you my phone 310-254-4051. Call me anytime after 6 am to deal with my New York editors in the job that pays the alimony. We just discovered something important about the ban that we expect to be announcing tomorrow.
Peter Choi February 07, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Mr. Larsen, you have neatly sidestepped the central question of where senior citizens are supposed to get their medicinal marijuana if the clinics are shut down for an extended indefinite period of time. That said, I have no further interest in your transparent sarcasm and cold cynicism to the less fortunate in our community. Have a nice day.
Michael Larsen February 07, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Mr. Choi, my comments where not intended to be sarcastic or cynical at all. It's interesting that you read them that way. It might say something about your real concerns here. The elderly and infirm who choose to use marijuana medicinally can get it from the sources that are allowed by California law. That is they can grow it, have a qualified caregiver grow it for them or join a collective and participate in collective cultivation of the drug. What they cannot do is buy it, and what they should do is make sure they know exactly how it is grown and handled for their own safety. That is the law in California, like it or not. That said, they will continue to be exposed to the risk of federal prosecution for participating in any of this activity. I hope that answers your question. If not, there is plenty of information on the internet regarding this subject.
Rob Schraff February 07, 2012 at 04:58 AM
And, seeing as Mr. Larsen has already called in the Feds on medical marijuana patients and dispensaries, there can be no doubt that he would be the first to turn granny in. So, really, Mr. Larsen's position is no medical marijuana for any patients, anywhere, any time - despite his repeated slick assurances that he just wants "reasonable regulation." And Mr. Larsen, if the clinics are all already illegal (and you are so certain that you know the result of future state court and legislative action as yet unknown to the rest of us!) why aren't the LAPD doing their job and simply closing them down? And why do we need Mr Huizar's motion banning all clinics if they are already banned? Something is tied up in knots here, Mr. Larsen, and I think it's your logic. Anyway, with this worldview, and your fascination with drinking, swearing and "illicit" sex, perhaps you would - with all due respect to your many contributions to Northeast Los Angeles - be happier if you moved back to Texas or Utah?
Patrick Duff February 22, 2012 at 05:11 AM
Mr. Larsen, since you are such an expert in marijuana laws can you tell what the word "affordable" means in Prop 215? It's to bad that you aren't honest and say what your real intentions are. To wipe Mr. Huizar's ass with your nose.


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