When Elias Zaldivar was an 18-year-old college freshman and decided he was in the market for marijuana, he knew just how to get it, and it didn’t involve canvassing the corridors of his campus in search of that stoned-out dude who sold pot from his dorm room. Instead, he went straight to a doctor.
On a busy Hollywood street, Zaldivar quickly located a clinic specializing in medicinal pot referrals. He video-conferenced with a doctor from the waiting room and, following their 10-minute chat, a receptionist handed him an official-looking letter with an embossed gold seal that allowed him to buy medical marijuana at any California dispensary.
Zaldivar, now a 21-year-old mixed martial arts coach, has renewed his medical marijuana recommendation each year since, always using the same health claim. He still chuckles while recalling what he explained to the doctor to get him to issue him that first prescription: “I told him I had anxiety.”
In the two decades since California became the first state to allow cannabis for medicinal use, it’s been an open secret that pretty much anyone who wants marijuana at just about any time can find a doctor who will recommend it for almost any reason.
Technically, the doctor doesn’t provide a prescription but a “letter of recommendation,” because it’s illegal for a physician to prescribe a substance banned by the federal government, no matter what state law says.
Once that recommendation is secured, a person can also apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card that, although not required, is more convenient to carry to a dispensary and, in the eyes of some holders, gets them taken more seriously as people who need pot to stay healthy.
Although some doctors who take the examination process seriously charge far more, the fees at most of the in-and-out-the-door-in-10-minutes