The first is about the trip I took to visit the Harbourside Health Centre; a medical cannabis dispensary in Oakland CA. Also known as the most amount of weed I've ever seen in one place at one time.
Through my contacts at the UK arm of Students For a Sensible Drug Policy, I was lucky enough to have a tour arranged for me of one of the country's 'model' pot clubs. And to be honest it blew my mind.
Once you get over the security on the door and at the gate, and the fact that on the site at any one time, the club holds over 150 lb of graded, sorted and tested cannabis, you can start to appreciate what the club is doing for its members.
"Harborside Health Center is dedicated to healing the pain that stems from these destructive attitudes and feelings by providing a sensible alternative to the hysteria surrounding cannabis and by honoring you as a progressive and courageous force of change." Their website makes a clear case for the medical use of cannabis, and the need for members of the club to act as ambassadors for the cause. In fact, if any of the club members volunteer at the centre; writing letters, researching new developments across the world etc., they are rewarded for their activism with 1g of 'medicine'. Drugs in exchange for activism; maybe not a model that we could replicate in the UK!
My tourguide was excellent and outlined all of the different free services that the club offered to its members; hypnotherapy, chiropractic services, naturopathy, yoga, reiki along with Grow Classes to teach you how to grow the best, purest and cleanest medicine and finally Substance Use & Misuse Clinical Services - for patients who feel they have a substance misuse or dependence issue and who want to expand their knowledge and skills to help reduce harm from behaviors.
The one thing that struck me the most was that whilst the medicinal benefits of cannabis are documented, tested and still under debate, there are still a massive number of people who smoke cannabis recreationally. The club is very careful to always refer to the cannabis as 'medicine' and its members as 'patients', but there is no recognition of the number of people who ride the system in order to receive legal treatment. Despite me not having my documentation from a doctor (which you need to join the club), not being a Californian resident, and not being in the city for very long, my tourguide still asked me if I wanted to join the club! A massive contradiction in approaches some might say.
The need for cannabis to be legalised for medicinal use is something I have believed needs to be seriously explored for a long time, however, whilst we continue to bury our heads in the sand about the recreational side of things, I fear we undermine the medicinal argument.