If you are visiting Los Angeles, a walk along the Venice boardwalk is a must. Pastel-hued houses, the sun dipping into the ocean, Muscle Beach and souvenir shops is how the world imagines the Venice boardwalk to be. Whether you are paying much attention or not, you will also notice a high concentration of marijuana dispensaries, pharmacy-looking storefronts that often advertise the services of a doctor in the back or on an upper floor.
If you are a California resident, and over 21, you can walk into a doctor’s office, claim to suffer from migraines, back ache, insomnia or any other chronic condition, and you will leave with a little card that, for one year, will give you the right to smoke, vape or chew the cannabis of your choice. If you are a cancer patient, and marijuana helps you with chemotherapy-induced nausea or pain, your oncologist will have no problem recommending you smoke or, better still, eat dope.
And let me pause here for a second. I am not a big fan of dope. My only successful attempt at smoking took place in Jamaica, with sofagirl, when some American filmmakers had scored ganja from their local crew and were kind to partake with us. She and I, sitting along the shore, had mild visions and the giggles. My few other attempts induced an unwelcome torpor and sometimes anger – I never liked it much. Last year, following the suggestion of a much respected girlfriend who loves chocolate marijuana, I experimented again with tragicomical results: nausea, loss of balance and paranoia that sent me quickly into bed, in an effort to sleep this nightmare off. A word to the uninitiated: If you are planning to eat a candy bar or a brownie, you will need a lot less than you think. A lot less – even less than the stated guidelines on the package.
I had personally put the whole marijuana business to rest, vowing never to consume it again. I suppose if a referendum were put on the ballot to completely legalize marijuana (like Colorado), I would probably vote for it but I can’t say the subject occupies much of my waking time. But a reader happened to send in an article a few days ago, from the New Zealand Herald, with a story he thought might interest us.
Helen Kelly, a longtime labor leader who never smoked a day in her life, drew an extremely short straw and, one night in the hospital ER where she had gone fearing she was suffering from a heart attack, was told she had terminal lung cancer that had spread. At this point, she probably has a few more months to live, which she has been spending campaigning on behalf of medical cannabis.
Ms. Kelly asked the Ministry of Health for approval to take cannabis oil products imported from San Francisco. Her request was denied. Friends and strangers have been helping out, dropping off cannabis at her house, in various forms, that she can incorporate into cookies or inhale through a vape pen. But it doesn’t come cheap and, above all, it is illegal.
Why is this issue so important to her? If you are a patient in the last stages of cancer, the pain is severe. Short of morphine, there is not much else that works and cannabis helps immensely with sleep and pain control. It’s a no brainer.
Here is where I see a pattern. New Zealand is currently governed by a centre right party, led by Prime Minister John Key. I presume the Minister for Health is also a conservative. And here is the thing about conservatism I have a hard time wrapping my head around: while they advocate for less government intervention in most public spheres, when it comes to our health, they are extreme busybodies. In the United States, they worry a tad too much about women’s wombs and their rights to reproduce; they will negate the right to die a dignified death to terminal patients; they are against the legalization of marijuana and are now legislating where we are supposed to pee.
Often, the collective wisdom is far ahead of our leaders. In New Zealand, polls show a whopping 72% majority favors the use of medical cannabis. In the US, a majority of the population is in favor of gay marriage. But vocal and powerful minorities lobby against the prevailing consensus.
It’s enough to make anyone despair of a dehumanized political process at the center of which is not the individual but a stultified morality dressed up as a cause. If those who occupy positions of power could only look at people and see them as human beings, doing the right thing wouldn’t be so difficult.