Medical Marijuana in California Is a Total Scam (But It's Dope!)

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Inspired by recent (and excellent) work from TheStreet's Debra Borchardt on marijuana -- legal, medical, whatever -- I decided to tell my story.

In November of 2013, I went through the "process" of obtaining a California "Medical" Marijuana card. You actually don't need to have a card to grow or possess pot in the state. You just need the go-ahead from a licensed physician and the paperwork that green light triggers. It's a piece of paper like this ...

The "clinic" that processed my -- I guess it's an application -- suggested I pay a couple extra bucks for an ID card because it would make my life easier if the cops ever questioned me. I don't think I have an official ID card from the State of California. The type described at the California Department of Public Health Web site.

But who cares? It simply doesn't matter. I have a license to get high, legally, in the eyes of the State. That's, no doubt, dope. But it's also a complete and total farce. 

If you are of age and can go along with the wink-wink, nudge-nudge program and sign your name, you can accomplish the same. In fact, if you're willing to pay an additional $25 for "Express Service" at one of the Los Angeles area Doc 420 clinics, run by "trusted" M.D. and calendar girl (!), Sona Patel, you don't even have to wait in line!

Details are inconsequential with respect to weed in California. In fact, the notion of legalizing marijuana in the State of California is really moot. In other words, it is, at least in densely populated Los Angeles and, I think it's safe to assume, San Francisco, far Northern California and other random places such as Santa Cruz already, for all intents and purposes, "legal."

Making it legal -- without quotation marks -- would, for a considerable portion of the population that cares to smoke, change very little.

Here's the deal. And this may or may not be news to you. I'm just relaying my experience and thoughts associated with it.

While I get personal in my articles at TheStreet from time to time, I haven't talked much about anxiety and depression. Simply put, it's something I have dealt with -- sometimes quite well; at other times, not so much -- for a considerable portion of my life. Over the last decade, I have used traditional means to medicate -- therapy, anti-depressants and, here and there, weed.

I'm convinced that my flavor of mental illness cannot be cured; rather the afflicted can only manage it. That's cool with me. I don't mind being depressed. It happens to be, in some form, my natural state. That doesn't mean I'm a mope or perpetual sad sack. I'm just not the guy with a smile on my face all the time. And I'm sure as hell not going to feign one for the crowd.

Anyhow, quite a few of us like to drink alcohol because, at least in part, it makes us feel good. We like the buzz. Or even getting drunk. That's socially acceptable stuff as long as you keep it in check. It's perfectly OK to unwind -- and relieve some tension -- at the end of a hard-earned day with a couple beers or a glass of wine. In my experience, you can say the same about marijuana. 

It's a recreational drug many users fool themselves into advocating as some unique therapeutic fix for emotional distress. In that regard, it's no better than alcohol, unless, of course, being a pothead has less destructive effects than being an alcoholic. But, with that in mind, how could you possibly use marijuana frequently enough for it to have an ongoing therapeutic impact anyway?  

Personally, I rarely smoke weed. I couldn't function properly on a variety of levels if I did. It's not like taking a daily dose of Prozac (something I no longer do). I'm not sure about the constitution of others, but I'm not made up in a such a way that I can smoke routinely and not experience ill physical and mental side effects. The same, of course, can be said for drinking.

If you have to smoke or drink daily -- which, again, just doesn't seem feasible or at all healthy -- to alleviate anxiety and depression, you really need to (annoying buzzword alert) circle back to the issues that triggered this behavior in the first place. For some us, frequent reflection is a necessary part of life that keeps us on our A-game. That keeps us on top of -- and in some form of control over -- our afflictions.

Find me somebody who hasn't dealt with or is dealing with depression and anxiety. I like to tell people that if you're not depressed, you're not paying attention. Weed plays about zero role in helping me manage my depression. Certainly, in the short timeframes while I am high, it helps, but I could do a whole host of other things -- many harmless (go for a bike ride, run, do yoga, have sex), others quite harmful (take other drugs, cut, blow off steam vandalizing property or beating people up) that would help, temporarily, just as much.

All of this to say, it's easy to establish a nexus between your mental health and a need for weed. And that's exactly what large numbers of people who get legal in California do for the express written consent to do nothing other than get high.

But it's all bull crap.

Granted, there are some folks who probably don't fit my illustration. And I will get ripped by lots of people who claim they would be emotional messes without weed. But, frankly, I think you're, on average, fooling yourselves. And you ought to stop.

(This characterization does not apply to folks who use medical marijuana for cancer and such; I have no experience with this -- knock on freaking wood, good Lord willing and the creek don't rise -- so I cannot speak personally to it -- knock on wood again).

The State of California ought to stop the masquerade as well. So should every other state in the nation still participating in the idiotic debate about whether to legalize weed or not. We're just beating around the bush. We're wasting time that could be spent on issues that actually matter.

If somebody wants to smoke weed, why should we expend energy trying to stop them? Whether they do it rationally or irrationally for medical, recreational or some other purpose. The fact that we even "debate" this is the first place is as much of a farce as the current product of the "debate" here in California. 

Because, I don't care where you live. If you want to get weed, you're going to get it. And you're going to smoke it. And, for the most part, if you're smart about it, nobody is going to bother you about it. The Feds look like total bullies when they bust people for smoking weed, as long as there's no illicit activity associated with it (and, I think I can say with confidence, there usually isn't).

So we take these baby steps -- like instituting "medical" marijuana laws and regulations in California -- that, in practice, end up operating as farce. Stop the charade and legalize it. 100% legalization. Stop making people make themselves believe they're getting the license to treat melancholy or stress when they, like so many other alcohol-drinking, porn-watching, vice-succumbing Americans just want to get high once in a while.

The funniest part of the whole process of getting certified as a "medical" marijuana "patient" in California is sitting across the table from the doctor who walks you through the dog and pony show. To make the whole thing more authentic, you should smoke a joint together during the formality of ...

So why would you like to smoke medical marijuana?
Because I have anxiety and depression and I don't want to take traditional meds.
OK. So how long has this been going on? How long have you dealt with anxiety and depression?
Um, as long as I remember.
OK. Well, you sound like you qualify for a license. Marijuana can probably help you with your anxiety and depression.

Then there's small talk. You shake your head vertically through the boilerplate full of warnings and such. You answer yes and no at all the right times. The papers get signed.

And I was off to The Farmacy on Abbot Kinney in Venice. A great little shop where you can browse and buy weed. It's as attractive a retail establishment as your average Apple (AAPL) Store. Nice storefront. Not your typical shady place, standard throughout Southern California, with the green cross displayed over frosted windows. 

But, lo and behold, these guys had to close up. And, according to their Web site, they still haven't been able to reopen.

Because, here again, we're wasting our time as a society, as a culture pushing paper to write regulations as the zeitgeist continues to shift. Just like it has with gay marriage.

Venice has a problem with a shop selling weed (at a premium price, by the way) because it's too close to a children's center, yet it stands by while homeless drunks and gang members trash its popular boardwalk along the beach adjacent to and within view of Santa Monica Pier.

Priorities people.

I'll leave the great investigative work on this to TheStreet's Deb Borchardt. In fact, I would love to see her look into doctors handing out medical marijuana clearances to their "patients" in California as practice. Dr. Patel appears to have built something like a cottage industry out of it, selling everything from the aforementioned calendars and "express service" to her own branded line of vaporizers.

But the moral of my personal story is quite straightforward ... Not only do we have more important issues to deal with as a society and in our cities, but we misdirect and, in this case, flat out waste resources on a set of laws that do nothing more than window dress what's really going on.

If only the State of California was as resourceful (or is it seemingly opportunistic?), as Dr. Patel. That surprise budget surplus we recently announced would be even bigger.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks. Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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