My first impression sitting in the lobby of SoCal Holistic Health, located blocks from the beach in sunny San Diego, was somewhat predictable.
A rainbow-colored sunset mural adorned the walls, along with psychedelic paintings and a rather eclectic array of “patients” waiting their turn to be called inside.
Having an older sibling who migrated out west years prior, I was familiar with the concept of semi-legalized pot shops.
Being lucky enough to appreciate a cannabis-infused edible for my grueling red-eye flights back to New York, it's safe to say I was a legalization proponent long before I entered the modest storefront.
I waited patiently until my name was finally called. I nervously gathered my things, made my way through the double doors and stepped — in the simplest of terms — into paradise.
Admiring the beautifully-displayed jars filled with undoubtedly premium product, I guided myself straight back and through the door designated PRIVATE.
I walked inside, shook hands with a laid-back gentleman who not much older than myself and handed over my professional résumé. “As you can see I have loads of receptionist experience, and my customer service skills are stellar,” I said.
“Yeah, I see that,” he countered with a smirk. “You're from Stony Point?” “That's right,” I said, smiling.
And the rest was history.
In my five months at the Pacific Beach medical marijuana dispensary, I learned more about business and work ethic than I had slaving away at many other mundane jobs, and I made some great friends along the way.
As a members-only nonprofit collective, my coworkers and I were, technically speaking, volunteers who worked off tips and good vibes.
Given the environment, it's no surprise that we all valued our time there immensely. We hustled day in and day out to ensure our survival there.
Turnover was high, of course, and you saw many people come and go. In such a lax work atmosphere, it's easy to understand how the majority of newcomers take advantage early on and lose sight of their true purpose there: genuinely helping others.
Luckily, times are changing and the research now rules ever in Mary Jane's favor.
In fact, a recently-published study established (and this is far from breaking news, people) that marijuana is approximately 114 times less dangerous than America's deadliest drug: alcohol.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control, mortality rates linked to alcohol per year top out at 26,654 times more than that of marijuana, which accounts to zero deaths.
I would be lying if I said every patient to whom I tended had a demonstrated medical need for medical cannabis. That being said, having witnessed first-hand the intricacies of this dynamic and groundbreaking industry, I am thoroughly convinced the benefits outweigh any and all negatives.
From MS to HIV, cancer survivors to those struggling with epilepsy and glaucoma, the use of medical cannabis has made an indisputable difference in the quality of life for countless individuals, some of whom I was lucky enough to personally assist.
In more recent (and depressing) news, thanks to new restrictive zoning regulations passed by the city of San Diego, the beloved collective I once called home is now in the process of being shut down.
By implementing this strict zoning structure, which restricts dispensaries from existing in well-populated, conveniently located areas of the county, lawmakers have successfully disguised their ploy for money as a notion of public safety.
Through the introduction of this ordinance, which declares dispensaries legal once granted a permit (priced at upwards of $100,000) and only allows them to exist in remote, inaccessible locations, legislators are ensuring the industry to become monopolized by those already in bed with local government.
While many claim this motion was instated to “protect” the citizens of San Diego, perhaps someone should remind city officials of our nation's statistically-proven deadliest drug.
Per capita, Pacific Beach has more bars than any other district in the city, not to mention more than six times the legal limit within the state of California.
This undoubtedly contributes to San Diego's number-one ranking for DUIs across the country. I can't help but question: Where are the lawmakers now?
The sad reality of our world is that if you have enough money, you can pretty much get your hands on anything you want.
However, this principle goes against that of numerous patient-driven collectives whose emphasis isn't on profit, but the universal vision of providing compassionate care to those who sincerely need it.
Thankfully for us, we don't scare easily. Keep on keeping on, SoCal. One love.
Citations: Insurance.com, Pacific Beach Residents Rally For Local Control Over Alcohol Licensing, San Diego pot dispensaries are closing down, New Study Shows Marijuana Is 114 Times Safer Than the Deadliest Legal Drug in the U.S.