Friday, February 10, 2017

No Holds Barred: Medical Marijuana Mojo

THE SCORE: We've come a long way from the back alley hand-off.
by Blair Sabol; Photographs by Patrick Halbe

Confession: I am not a marijuana user. Even though I grew up an uber hippie in NYC and wrote about “the scene” in the 1970s for The Village Voice, I was never a pothead. But it seemed everyone around me was.

I remember interviewing Jerry Garcia briefly and he handed me a giant blunt. I turned my head, faked a massive hit, and returned it to him. He insisted I keep it and frankly I didn’t know what to do with it the rest of the day. I should have had him sign it!

My experience with marijuana was always the same. I got paranoid — all pain was intensified, and I would end up passing out. Coming-to later, I wondered who had been in my kitchen — as my icebox had been raided and all the goodies were gone. I always felt out of it a day later, and soon realized it was not my drug of choice. But all my friends did so well rolling doobies and bonging their way through the years. Maybe I was jealous.

I couldn’t even stand the skunk smell of weed, and being a germophobe, the thought of “passing the joint” in a circle, and the incessant coughing were just too much. I quickly found my way to martinis and pharmaceuticals.

But over the last 10 years I have been very respectful of the move to legalize marijuana.  5 years ago I remember passing a dispensary in Los Angeles (I couldn’t go in). I stood outside this ominous looking storefront; it had that illegal abortion clinic feel. At best it resembled an old shoe repair shop. I looked through the door and saw folding tables with assorted Tupperware bowls of weed and slovenly, yet cheerful looking “growers,” sporting baseball caps. It looked like a terrible farmers market. At the time, I was grateful I didn’t need a license.

But everyone around me lately began getting medical marijuana licenses. Not just my aging pothead pals who wanted a place to score. People began to tell me how vaping cannabis cured their arthritic hands and backs. Certain tinctures helped with depression and migraines and chemo nausea. The raves were mounting. I couldn’t ignore the groundswell with all the therapeutic results. Plus, my own medicine cabinet was blowing up with pain, anti-anxiety and sleep meds. I started to think marijuana might be a great alternative to Ambien, Zoloft, Xanax, and even Zantac. Certainly it would be less damaging to the liver and kidneys — even though everything nowadays gets the typical bad press warnings of stroke and Alzheimer’s.
Ambien and Zoloft and Xanax! Oh my!
Actually, the cannabis (no one calls it “pot” anymore) positive press was overwhelming. The marketing was getting more appealing and specific with various kinds of “energy boosting, focusing, and sexual enhancing” brands — along with sleep and pain management (the biggest medical issue today).
Medical Marijuana Media.
There is a new factor in the conversation about marijuana, the emphasis on CBD (cannabidiol) over THC (tetrahydracannabinol). THC is the famously mind-altering (pass out) part of marijuana. CBD however, is not mind-altering. THC may help with sleep, nausea and loss of appetite (plus a handful of other potentially beneficial advantages for sufferers of glaucoma, Alzheimer’s and M.S. amongst others); CBD has shown to be helpful as an anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant as well as managing anxiety, heart disease, and Chron’s disease. CBD has become THE game changer in the rise of the cannabis biz. CBD is more effective when taken with a low percentage of THC to activate it, but you no longer have to end up blitzed like “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski.”
The science around CBD is growing as a preventative for brain injuries (NFL players concussions), as well as showing to be beneficial in the treatment of seizures, cancer, PTSD and cardiovascular disease.

Recently my curiosity was peaked when my dear friend Marguerite Genovese had dinner with me. She raved about cannabis foot patches for sleep. What is interesting about Genovese is that I knew her as a nail tech 20 years ago, as my Starbuck’s Barista for the last few years, and now she is a super teller at Harvest Dispensary. She has had all the right trend jobs at the right time. She assured me that dispensaries were “no longer pathetic pit-stops for potheads who need to get high — a new medical need has arrived.”

Medical Marijuana was becoming a real healing alternative and a retail successful business venture. As of November, 28 states have legalized Medical Marijuana and 60% of Americans now support its legalization. Cannabis dispensaries are taking on the fine wine/cigar stores (Beverly Hills Cannabis Club now sells its high end marijuana for $700 an ounce). Dispensaries might give the alcohol scene competition — booze sales have leveled off or decreased over the last two years. In 2015 — the legal marijuana market in the US reached $5.7 billion. By 2020 it is projected to be a $22 billion dollar business. This is going way beyond bongs and gummy bears. I decided to jump in. I also wanted to see the inside of these dispensaries, which were fast becoming a “luxury retail scene.”

It is a process to get a Medical Marijuana license. My private practice doctor was hesitant about my “need” for anything other than ibuprofen. He told me he didn’t have the license to be a marijuana practitioner. So he released my records to a “marijuana doctor” at the Arizona Medical Marijuana Certification Center. That took a month. 
The Medical Certification Center, ironically located in a strip mall between a bar and an AA meeting hall.
In front of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Certification Center.
When I went to the Medical Marijuana Certification Center in early November, it was crowded. Everyone I know is currently applying for the $150 license. Why not? It’s worth a try! Finally, after a mountain of forms to fill out, I had an appointment with Dr. Nicole Kellum who listened to my heart as I complained of my hip and back pain. After a lengthy and informative conversation about the properties of CBD and THC, she strongly recommended low dose CBD products combined with an even lower dose of THC.
Massive paperwork at the Certification Center.
Getting a check-up with Dr. Nicole Kellum at the Certification Center.
Once you “pass” the exam (everyone does), you are on your own. You must become your own “doctor.” Dispensaries cannot, and will not dose you, they can only make suggestions. For this reason, I suggest doing a little homework finding the dispensary that works best for you.

My dispensary tour in Phoenix/Scottsdale was (dare I say) “mind blowing.” Each one is different in price range, clientele, products, and customer service. Across the board, everyone I talked to at each of the different facilities were friendly and cordial, but each have their own style, approach, and product, and even more important, location!
My "green" card.
Bloom dispensary is one of the older outlets. Located in “downtown Phoenix” (way downtown) just up the street from a sex shop — Bloom offers “the highest quality at the lowest cost.” The chain-linked parking lot was a bit scary, and inside the waiting room was packed.
Checking in at Bloom.
There were elderly people with therapy dogs, some tattooed street-savvy working class kids, and uptown ladies clutching Louis Vuitton bags. The wire chairs were all taken. The “Bud Master” (sales person) Aaron was kind but not that helpful — he showed me the wall of pet products (THC for Scratchy and Barky) and of course the typical caramel and jelly edibles.
My buddy Arturo (a cannabis connoisseur) with Aaron, the Bud Master at Bloom.
Aaron recommending the best treats. Bloom Budmaster Supreme, Joshua Meyer.
I felt like I wanted to leave once we got to the bud jars. You can get an Indica (heavy handed) strain of Blueberry Malania, or a Sativa (a more “up” experience) strain of Super Gentle Princess for $25 an 1/8th. I loved the names (Ghost Train Haze, Moby Dick, Sweet God). But the experience left me in a blur and vaguely nauseated. There was no “customer service” since the majority of Bloom patients know exactly what they want.
Bloom's impressive display of various treats.
Bloom's selection of THC sports gels and salves.
Top Selling Buds at Bloom.
Medical Marijuana options for pets.
Post purchase, with Bud Connoisseur Arturo Encinas.
Onto Tru Med, another downtown dispensary that has been “upgraded.” A wonderful outside security guard named Michael Call checked me in along with my pal Arturo Encinas who has been a dispensary connoisseur for 4 years. Tru Med is his “club.” Decent daily deals, and great knowledgeable people to help. Tru Med is owned by an oncology nurse and her family. It is very user friendly and the day I was there, two 80-year-old ladies in wheel chairs were getting “interviewed” by the dispensary server for pain edibles and drops. I was shown the concentrated wall of “shatters,” “crumbles” “clear” and disposable vapes. This is a new world.
Tru Med security Michael Call guards the door.
Check-in at Tru Med.
Arturo bought his usual Indica (strong) Presidential blend (in honor of Trump’s inaugural) and I got a small jar of CBD salve for $45. The smell was awful, but I wanted to try it (I still can’t tell if it really works, or if Ben Gay is better).

At most dispensaries, there are daily 10% off specials — “edible Monday,” “CBD Tuesday,” “Waxy Wednesday,” “and Free Gram Friday” (with every ounce purchased). There is a Senior Citizen Day as well, and everywhere offered a purchase punch card for a discount or freebie after 10 purchases. These are becoming more than just dispensaries, they are bordering on “private clubs.” You can spend the afternoon at some. Others you get your “bag” and leave in minutes. Your purchases are kept on record and you can become an acknowledged and honored regular.
Cannabis Menu at Tru Med.
Arturo's choice at Tru Med, in honor of the Presidential Election.
Best selling Bud at Tru Med.
Oral dosing dispenser for THC syrups and tinctures. Lowest dose available in THC oil.
For the health conscious at Tru Med, a gluten-free brownie. Hemp doggy biscuits at Tru Med.
Arturo checking out at Tru Med.
Another dear friend (I needed help in my dispensary journey) Nancy Mastrilli had breast cancer 4 years ago, and became a fan of the “higher end” dispensaries. She took me to Level Up in Scottsdale, which looked like a pricey lawyers office.  The interior consisted of minimalist back lit walls with bowls of bud; “Granddaddy Purple” for sleep, “Harlequin” for arthritis, “Purple Kush” for migraines.
Nancy Mastrilli at executive/upscale dispensary Level Up.
There was a cool sleekness to Level Up. It was near the Scottsdale Executive Airport, and most of the customers looked like upscale private jet pilots. Voices were kept low, tellers were dressed in black. It was sophisticated and chic, but the edible counter was no different than Bloom. Level Up is about BUDS ... not accessories!
Wall display of buds at Level Up.
Bud display case at Level Up.
Level Up Cannabis Menu.
Level Up edibles.
They did get Snoop Dog to make an appearance (he is a big cannabis advocate and owns his own company — Leafs By Snoop). Rumor had it they paid him $30,000 for an hour of blunt signing and a “smoking good time.” The line of patients was down the steps and around the block. The dispensary appearance got him more press than his “Puff Puff Pass Tour” performance that night at a local theatre.
Snoop with his own line of buds.
After a while, I realized I still had not found MY “marijuana club.” That is until I landed at Harvest in North Scottsdale. Harvest Inc. owns 2 dispensaries in Arizona and the company is working its way across America to become the CVS of cannabis! Coming soon to a city near you!

Harvest Scottsdale is part of the exploding luxury dispensary movement. The building was originally a bank — there was a “greeter/doorman” and wonderful check in people in the lobby. The “on-the-floor-help” are called “Patient Advisors.”
Nancy Mastrilli with Greeter/Doorman at Harvest.
Harvest friendly check-in.
Harvest Bud Wall and Menu.
Elegantly designed interior at harvest displaying various products.
Harvest’s interior is as elegant as Barneys and as varied as Sephora — buds displayed tastefully on a beautifully lit wall. Vape pens and accessories and pastilles and exotic macaroons displayed in elegant glass cases. It had the feel of an art gallery or a spa lobby. There were cushioned benches to sit and talk and examine products.

Harvest patient advisor Alana Hill.
Alana Jill — patient advisor, dressed in pearls and an Armani Jacket took me by the hand and I suddenly fell down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole of CBD and THC products.

Years ago Alana was involved with Ralph Lauren Menswear as a designer in New York, and Levi Strauss in Asia as well. Her background is fashion but her passion is food and medical marijuana “healing.”

She suggested I go “low and slow” and recommended a small tin of THC (5 mg) chocolate covered blueberries for sleep, a tincture of Bio Med CBD 1:1 THC for pain, and another CBD salve for my aching joints. I was disappointed I didn’t get to buy out the whole store! Most people do on their first visit. I almost bought a gram of “Gods Gift” buds just for potpourri, it smelled so good!

Alana kept me focused on my “issues” since I was not a smoker (no vapes or pens for me). I did try the drops — 1 drop under my tongue. It did get rid of a pre-bedtime headache, but I need to experiment much much more. I still felt a funny twinge of brain fog the next morning, and the THC was a low dose! You have to start somewhere, and go from there. “Pot Luck” is what we are hoping for, but it is really all a matter of trial and error.
Harvests high-end Cannabis vaping accessories.
Cannabis vaping options at Harvest.
"Shatter" (also known as "dabs") — highly concentrated form of THC — at Harvest.
"Dabs on Display" at Harvest.
Harvest's "Dream Steam" pens.
Harvest's display of CBD tinctures.
The next day I met Harvest Inc. CEO — 43-year-old lawyer Steve White. It’s a good thing he is a lawyer/owner since the legal aspects of owning and running a dispensary, when you consider taxing, licensing, permits and regulation, is immense and all encompassing. He is on the Harvest case 24/7. He has been in the business since 2010, and the other owners are a construction engineer and another lawyer.
Harvest Inc. CEO Steve White
“We are taking the criminal aspect out of this whole industry. It will take time, but I believe legalized medical marijuana can gain acceptance more easily than recreational. Medical marijuana is the way in.” The Harvest business strategy — hire great people, focus on the patients experience and streamlined process, beautiful presentation, and intelligent supportive information, is making solid progress of establishing the legitimacy of this business.

Along with daily “deals” at Harvest, there is a doctor who comes once a month to give intro lectures and other programs for chronic pain and breast cancer support. White runs a tight ship with weekly staff meetings and constant patient feedback.
Harvest "teller" Marguerite Genovese checking stock.
Premium Bud on display at Harvest.
“We don’t need guards here, we want a very special and personal shopping experience ... and everyone who works here from greeter to teller is involved in the wellness of the patient.” It certainly felt that way. I trusted everyone I spoke with, and was completely comfortable with the entire experience. Interior designer Sherry Engle of Engle Designs did a beautiful job designing the natural serene decor. I left “stoned” on the “good vibes.”

Harvest grows their own cannabis (many dispensaries do — some depend on local growers) in nearby Bellemont outdoor/greenhouse facility in Camp Verde, Arizona. White is on his way exploring Nevada, Illinois and Pennsylvania for the next big ventures. “We aren’t worried about recreational competing with us. We provide an 'experience' and a much safer product with stringent quality control.” 
My "goodie bag" from the experience at Harvest.
Harvest is a far cry from the days of scoring behind a dumpster on Ave. A — which is where I began in 1967.

All I kept thinking about while checking out with Marguerite at Harvest is “You’ve come a long way, baby.” And we’re not talking Virginia Slims cigarettes!
My most likely first option.
The other major Medical Marijuana spinoff is the Viceland Television Network. There are two very popular shows — Bong Appétit and Weed Etiquette. These shows are the “Anthony Bourdain” of cannabis. On Weed Etiquette, friendly informative Krishna Andavolu reports weekly on the science, social, and economics scene. His “Gridiron Ganja” segment on Eugene Monroe’s (The Offensive Lineman for the Baltimore Ravens) decision to quit professional football over potential concussion issues was brilliant and poignant. 
Krishna Andavolu.
I learned from Krishna that CBD could help PREVENT (not just treat) brain seizure. He insisted that the NFL needs to get over its judgment of cannabis as a Level 1 Narcotic and a dangerous illegal substance. The subject of the danger of concussions was becoming more and more prevalent in the last few years when my brother and father were around.

Meanwhile, Bong Appétit host Abdullah Saeed takes us through the making of popular “Bots” — high THC hard candy, and then goes on a luxury limo tour in Colorado from cannabis growers to dispensaries to a finale of a pricey private cannabis meal. He even covered a Shabbat meal, complete with cannabis lox and cannabis Matzo balls. Oy Vey!

Chef/Cannabis Activist Payton Curry.
All that is fun and games, but Payton Curry might have THE cannabis message of the future. Curry is a graduate of the Culinary Institute at Hyde Park. He served his time as a dishwasher working his way up, eventually ending up at The Martini House in Napa as well as managing some of the top kitchens on the West Coast. “I like to think hospitality is the religion of giving back.” He became the successful owner and Chef of Scottsdale’s Braut Haus Restaurant.

But after going through his own experience as a self proclaimed “raging alcoholic,” he found recovery through his own “grass roots” cure of whole organic foods and cannabis leaves. He has found his own formula of THC and CBD with all the nutrients needed for good health with NO stoney after effects.

His passion is helping epileptic kids suffering from seizures; he calls it “weediatrics.” His cannabis leaf juicing has proven successful in helping “getting Moms off Zoloft, Vets off PTSD meds, and athletes with head injuries.”

He is his own scientist and apothecary and he believes the biggest cannabis healing will come paired with true food, “not just brownies and candy.” He has a vast knowledge of the science behind his ideas.
Payton Curry's selection of Cannabis Condiments.
His line of “edibles” is called Flourish and it is carried in almost every dispensary in Arizona. But he is looking to open his own line of dispensaries cross country with the same luxurious displays and interiors but with nurses and doctors on site to help, guide and educate. “I don’t want to be supported by the Big Pharma guys, food is the future of the cannabis health movement. I would love Big Food to get involved, like Nabisco.”

By the way, Curry is not a Vegan — he just believes in healthy food “and cannabis leaves provide more nutritional health than kale or wheat grass.” At the moment he is going coast-to-coast giving luxury cannabis dinners and juicing demonstrations. He is fast becoming a cannabis star and he is on a mission. He even pays the full cost of cannabis treatment for every epileptic child he works with.
One of Payton Curry's most popular creations.
Mostly, Curry impressed me with his theory for Hospice treatment; “no person should die on opioids. It is a terrible death.” With his therapy, “dying people have an actual appetite, and can be comfortable without the painful side effects of opioid pain “management.” They are happy to their last breath.” Curry offers oils and tinctures, and if asked, he knows his business, and will help with dosing recommendations. His cannabis raw honey is always sold out. He also makes pastilles, which are not the same as the typical gummies or candy “which are usually made out of regular candy that has been sprayed with THC.” His are made with animal fat for stability (not corn syrup or sugar) and real fruit with 2 mg of THC. “All my food products activate faster in your mouth, and you don’t end up with a head trip and the munchies.”

Obviously medical marijuana is no longer about scoring baggies of bud. It is the fastest growing industry in the U.S. (stock market listings and all) and a luxury business at that! But “cannabis chic” and “ganjapreneurship” can only score big if it actually cures, which remains to be seen.

It appears, though, to be on its way.
Payton Curry of Flourish's pièce de résistance — his natural Pastilles — a perfect balance of THC and CBD.