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Medical Marijuana: It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

Josh Griggs, co-owner of Ute City Medicinals, Aspen’s third and latest medical marijuana dispensary, runs up the stairs and shakes my hand. “Sorry we’re a little late,” he says, with a chuckle: “It’s just the nature of our business!”

Griggs and his partner, Brett Nelson, are long-time locals who needed a change of work pace. They casually tossed around their business plan all summer, then decided to get serious about it this fall. Ute City Medicinals is on Main Street and confidential inquiries can be sent to: utecitymedicinals@gmail.com. The two are enthusiastic about their budding new venture; the play on words is endless and so, too, is the potential for valley-wide business, seemingly enough for all three of Aspen’s new dispensaries to thrive.

Aspen is home to Ute City Medicinals, L.E.A.F. and Cooper Street Apothecary, all of whom have been receiving a lot of press lately. Patient rosters are on the rise and the local market is growing due to a few key factors, including the Obama administration’s input and the related outcome of a recent state meeting on the matter. Following the discussions, the revised letter of the law has ultimately lifted the limit on the number of patients under the auspices of any one dispensary i.e. caregiver.

Lots of legal speak, several pieces of paper to obtain a patient card, much correspondence from the Office of the State Registrar of Vital Statistics; but what of the nitty gritty details? How does it all work? Who is eligible? Are they really eligible? Are you able to partake for life, once you’re given the green light? What happens at work? Can you be discriminated against? I had a lot of questions and Josh and Brett had some answers.

“We encourage people to email us with any questions, from the get-go; people feel more comfortable that way, it seems more anonymous,” Griggs explains. Yet you’re completely protected under the letter of the law during the application process, whether or not you actually qualify for a card. You do need to give your social security number, but unlike other medical applications, your health insurance provider will never need to know.

Ultimately, a physician writes a “recommendation” for medical marijuana, rather than an actual prescription. The whole matter is outside the realm of the health insurance industry: “Many of our patients don’t even have health insurance,” shares Griggs. Further, while the DEA monitors prescriptions, they do not oversee “recommendations”; so as long as you’re partaking under the letter of the law, there should be no drug busts inside your medicine cabinet. It’s between you, your physician, the State Registry located in Cherry Creek, and your care-giver.

Speaking of the medicine cabinet, the guidelines for medical marijuana use seem to follow those for prescription painkillers, such as Percocet. While you may be legally able to partake, you’re not exempt from any workplace laws that regulate how and where and if you can: if your job says you can’t teach skiing on painkillers, then you can’t traverse Fanny Hill in uniform under the influence of marijuana. And because marijuana physically stays in your system longer than the average Percocet haze, this could pose a problem with going back to work; so, if the nature of your job means that your new medication interferes with job performance, you may need to find another medication - or another job.

If you get pulled over for some reason - like driving 20 miles an hour under the speed limit - and the police discover you’ve simply been taking your medication, there’s still trouble to be had. You have a card so it’s not illegal for you to possess less than 2 oz. in the car or to have paraphernalia floating around; but, it is illegal to be driving under the influence. “It’s a mind-altering substance, albeit a natural one, and it can still affect your judgment,” says Griggs. The law doesn’t want you driving on Percocet, or after drinking; nor does it want you drowning in Gordita sauce while driving away from the drive-thru.

But unlike prescription painkillers, it’s illegal to partake of medical marijuana “in plain view of, or in a place open to, the general public” (0-4-287Article XVIII, Section 5, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment); is this an attempt to curtail that generous, communal pot-smoking spirit which might lead the patient to pass the drug to the guy next to him? Because someone always wants your Percocet, too, so by that logic, best to leave that container home as well.

But the burning question remains: How does one get a golden ticket? Who is truly, legitimately, medically qualified to receive a card?

Those suffering from Glaucoma. Cancer. Who are HIV positive. Have Seizures. Multiple Sclerosis. Serious stuff, all these conditions. Then there are a few more innocuous categories, with the potential to significantly impact the market; especially here in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Severe Pain is a category. My chiropractor once told me: “Pretty much everyone over the age of 30 in Aspen has some sort of degenerative disc disease.” Invariably, this means constant aches and pains: pounding, hucking, wear and tear and excessive use of limbs on slopes, rocks, trails and rivers, resulting in chronic pain traditionally met with clenched jaws, ice packs and copious amounts of ibuprofen. Could medical marijuana help?

And after my own herniated disc, microdiscectomy and subsequent incapacitating spinal headaches, instead of 4 weeks of prescribed Percocet i.e. emotional crying fits for no apparent reason and physically unpleasant effects but no real relief, would I have been better served by medical marijuana?

“Medical marijuana is much more beneficial to your physiology than prescription drugs, which are taxing and toxic to your system,” says Griggs. “And truly, legalizing it in this manner is a step towards collectively telling the government that people are O.K. with the idea of it, in general,” he continues.

Severe nausea is another category. We who suffer from severe PMS each month; would we be eligible? And what of future criteria? Marijuana – when not smoked – acts a broncho-dilator; could a pot brownie help my chronic asthma, and my recurring PMS sweet tooth, all in one?

The answer to all these questions is potentially yes; this is not meant to imply that every knee crack will get you a card, but if a physician determines that your symptoms do indeed fall within the guidelines, then you could indeed qualify. It certainly seems open to diagnostic interpretation. There are currently at least four physicians in the valley writing recommendations for those who qualify, with word of mouth and ads in the paper generating a whole new client base for certain general practitioners.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” says Griggs. “I’m a patient myself, with some severe injuries over the years and I want to help those in need; we’re willing to work with someone who may be in need, regardless of their financial situation…we’re not like a pharmacy, who won’t give you your meds unless you have your co-pay!”

Ute City Medicinals also provides consultations, if patients want to grow their own medicine at home. There are energy efficient, green ways of cultivating the plants; legally, a patient can have up to six plants at once, with only three budding at any given time. And if there’s no clause in your lease that says you can’t have an herb garden well then…as a card carrying member, you’re legit.

Yet Griggs emphasizes the benefits of buying from a local dispensary, vs. Joe Shmo Spiccoli’s mud-room. “A legitimate care-giver is going to have more effective strains. We use great local, organic product, and work with experts in cultivation and bakers who’ve been doing it for awhile,” he continues.

Bakers? Yes. He doesn’t ever recommend smoking marijuana and doesn’t sell smoking paraphernalia at the dispensary. Edible forms, creams administered by massage therapists that give you benefits, without the buzz, and vaporizers for the actual herb, are just some of the smoke-free products available at the storefront. “Vaporizers heat the herb to below combustion point, to give you a light, herbal mist with the essential oils, all without the side effects of the tar,” explains Griggs.

Like the other dispensaries, Ute City Medicinals helps potential patients navigate the whole process, from initial inquiries, through the paperwork and hopefully, on to relief. Above all, Griggs and Nelson are committed to working with their local clientele. “I consider a local to be someone who lives here, and appreciates this place. Really, we can’t even market to tourists, because you need to live in Colorado to even have a card,” says Griggs. Once you get your card, it’s not a life-time guarantee. Each card is good for 12 months, at which point every patient needs to re-qualify, kind of like employee housing; so if you’re really a local, you’re already one step ahead of the game: you’re used to all the paperwork.