On Oct. 11, Alternative Care Clinics ( ACC ), a San Diego-based medical group, opened an office on Enterprise Circle.
The clinic looks like any other medical office except for a statue of Buddha sitting on a shelf in the back of the waiting room. Magazines on alternative healing sit around the reception area.
The doctors who work with ACC aren’t your typical doctors who want to shove pills down your throat,” said Jonathan Arbel, ACC’s director of operations, as he poured himself a cup of tea. “They try to find a more holistic approach.”
The clinic, which operates by appointment only, offers evaluations to explore whether a medical marijuana treatment plan is right for their patients.
The clinic requires its patients to bring in a Californian identification and all medical documentation showing marijuana could benefit them. The doctor goes over the documents and decides whether the patient qualifies.
The patient and doctor then work out what the clinic calls a “treatment plan” and the doctor writes a letter of recommendation in place of a prescription.
The types of conditions that qualify a patient for the use of medical marijuana include cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis and migraines, according to an ACC information packet.
According to Arbel, the term “prescription” does not apply to medical marijuana.
ACC issues a card to their patients as evidence they have a letter of recommendation. The card is designed to assure police the holder has a legal right to possess marijuana.
The card states a phone number police may call to reach ACC’s automated 24-hour confirmation service.
Using this service, a police officer would be able to confirm whether the card holder is a legitimate medical marijuana patient.
California law allows a patient to grow at least six mature cannabis plants – or 12 immature plants – and possess at least eight ounces of dried marijuana, according to an ACC information packet.
ACC goes to court frequently to defend its clients, Arbel said.
We take that responsibility seriously,” he said. “It’s amazing how a letter from a doctor can stop somebody from doing some serious jail time.”
In addition, the clinic educates the patient about the laws regarding marijuana’s medical uses.
The clinic does not sell marijuana or keep any at the office, Arbel said.
Smoking is barred in the clinic as it is in other medical offices, said Arbel. He leaned on his desk and smiled as he talked about what he thinks many people’s assumptions are about ACC clinics.
He speculated some may visualize a smoking den with beaded curtains and lava lamps.
His doctors never encourage a patient to smoke, he said. They encourage patients to use either edible pills or a vaporizer.
He lifted up a vaporizer from next to his desk. It was a stainless steel cone with a loose plastic bag attached to the top.
The user places the marijuana on the top of the cone and puts the bag over it, Arbel explained as he mimicked with his hands.
The vaporizer heats the plant until the THC – marijuana’s active ingredient – evaporates into the plastic bag. The patient then inhales the vapor from the bag.
In fact, said Arbel, the clinic has little to do with the consumption of medical marijuana outside of developing the treatment plan. The clinic is barred by law from even telling the patients where they can get marijuana.
I just recommend the patient Google the words ‘medical marijuana dispensaries,’” Arbel said.
Legal status of cannabis
In 1996, California voters approved an initiative exempting medical marijuana users from criminal liability for possessing and cultivating marijuana, according to department of justice documents.
In 2003, the state legislature enacted additional legislation to ensure police refrained from arresting or otherwise harassing medical marijuana users.
There’s been a lot of mishandling of the patient population,” Arbel said.
On Dec. 1, Americans for Safe Access, an organization dedicated to promoting access to marijuana for medical uses, sent out an e-mail announcing a victory for medical marijuana patients in Southern California.
On Nov. 28, the e-mail stated, a California state court ruled Federal law has no effect on California’s law making marijuana legal for medical use. The decision took the right away from police to arrest medical marijuana users.
On Dec. 1, the US Supreme Court reinforced that decision by refusing to hear an appeal that would undo the California court’s decision.
This ruling came as a blow to San Diego County and San Bernardino County authorities. The two counties had been involved in numerous court battles over the legality of medical marijuana.
In several court cases, county authorities argued the state law was illegal and contradicted federal law. So far, the counties’ arguments have failed to convince each judge to hear their case.
To the medical marijuana-using community, this was a big victory, said Arbel.
This cleared the air and said all state officials are not to enforce federal laws. They’re to enforce state laws,” he said.
For more information on Alternative Care Clinics, visit www.accsocal.com or call ( 866 ) 420-7215.