This is the second part of a three-part series on medical marijuana. Read the first part here in which the writer is diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
I love my family doctor. She takes every health concern seriously and has been my constant companion on this long and frustrating journey. She is comprehensive and compassionate. But when I handed her the forms from the centre, she went a little pale. This was definitely outside her comfort zone. Fibromyalgia (along with AIDS/HIV, arthritis, cancer, Crohn's disease, and a number of other conditions) was considered category 1 -- a condition for which marijuana treatment has proven to be beneficial. Category 1 required only a signed letter of diagnosis from her, not an endorsement (Category 2 would have required my doctor to state that she believed marijuana would help me).
She said she would have to check with the medical board to ensure she was allowed to sign them and would get back to me. At my next appointment, two weeks later, she handed them back to me, signed. I think she was secretly relieved. I had been her own little medical mystery for three years, and this offered something that would alleviate my pain. My completed forms in hand, I faxed them to the compassion centre. And waited.
After about a week, I received a phone call from the centre. The lovely, middle-aged lady on the other end of the line asked me to come in for what she called an intake session. I was told to arrive alone, with photo ID and cash if I intended to make a purchase. When I asked how much to bring, she hesitated a moment. "Well, it's up to you," she said. "But a hundred should be more than enough for your first visit." I was also told not to disclose the address -- which is only given out over the phone -- to anyone. The centre, I learned, uses a post office box in Chester, Ont., for mail and anyone dropping me off at the centre would have to stay outside an eight-block radius.
We made an appointment for a few days from then. It was just like talking to the receptionist at my doctor's, or my hair salon, for that matter. I was still a tad apprehensive but at the same time, curious and cautiously optimistic. I had already discussed the idea with my sisters, who were supportive and interested in how it would turn out. They were almost as anxious for me to find relief as I was. I didn't quite have the nerve to tell my parents. I still haven't. (Sorry, Dad!)
When I arrived at the address at the appointed time, I was a little taken aback. I had walked by this nondescript house on this quiet, residential street any number of times, without having a clue as to what went on inside. As I later learned, that's the Compassion Centre's goal: to blend in as much as possible. If the wrong types of people knew what was inside that building, it could invite all kinds of trouble. As per my instructions, I walked in the front door, stood on the X, pressed the intercom and looked into the security camera. They'd told me to ask for someone named David. The inner door buzzed open and I was in.
David, my orientation guide, was in his mid-20s and extremely friendly. He took my picture for my ID card and gave me some more forms to read and sign. The most important of these was the code of conduct, which all made perfect sense. Don't tell anyone where we are, don't bring anyone with you, don't smoke within certain boundaries. I was definitely getting the idea that secrecy was paramount.
But then I saw a big bold square of text in the right margin: "Please be reminded that this centre is not authorized, nor legal in any way." Pardon? Illegal? What about the legal medical marijuana program? Why didn't my doctor mention anything? All of a sudden, I realized I was basically becoming entangled with a very organized and clean drug-dealing operation. I hadn't understood what I was getting into at all.
My heart started to palpitate as all the possible doomsday scenarios bounced around in my head: The cops could barge in at any time, I could be arrested, my dad could find out! I almost made a run for the door, but then David returned and I lost my chance. I took a deep breath and followed him to a conference room.
For the last installment in this series, click here. This article originally appeared in the Grid.