Examining the Exam

A journey into one of Tucson's new medical-marijuana clinics

When Arizona voters passed the Medical Marijuana Act, I was a happy camper.

Finally, after the better part of two decades here, I would be living in a state with some sense about something. Finally, the nation's eyes were on us for something good, not for our wacky Legislature or goofy governor.

I decided to wait for the dust to settle before I got a card. Then, when the Tucson Weekly posted this writing gig, I decided to embark on the pot-clinic route to certification. I wanted to see what the street-corner-sign-waving was all about, to get a peek inside the circus tent for potential publication.

Before I tell you this story, you should know that I'm not accusing anyone of violating any laws or medical standards or regulations or oaths or creeds. I am not accusing anyone of anything; I am telling you a story. Your mileage may vary, so to speak.

Anyway, when I started Googling, I quickly found USA Cannabis Physicians Group (www.eMedicalMarijuanaCard.com). It has a Tucson clinic.

"If the physician does not approve you, you do not have to pay any fees," the website says. How could I lose? I called (888) MY-420-MD for an appointment.

I started to get concerned when I saw the sign on the clinic, at 3816 E. Fifth St. It was a sheet of paper, straight from the printer, hanging from the glass by a single piece of tape. There was no brass plaque with the doctor's name, and not even a cheap plastic sign from OfficeMax.

This was going to be interesting.

I walked into the waiting room. "Interesting" is one way to put it. The aged, well-worn furniture didn't match. There was no music. It seemed stuffy and droll. I told the scrubs-clad receptionist my name; she handed me a questionnaire and took my credit card. Cha-ching. The bill was $143.

"The doctor will see you in a few minutes," she said. She didn't smile.

While I was waiting, I heard a snippet of tense conversation between the receptionist and the doctor.

"If we don't, then we'll have to do a refund," the receptionist said. She sounded a little pissed. Great.

After a few minutes, the nurse called me for my exam. It turned out to be just like any medical exam—except it didn't seem medical in any way whatsoever.

Usually, when you wait for the doctor, there are interesting, colorful diagrams on the walls: How Your Colon Works. Your Spine Revealed. Where Fat Comes From.

Here, the walls were bare. The exam table had a hole for my face, not stirrups. There were no potential roach-clip hemostats to consider stealing.

The nurse came in.

To her credit, she did have a stethoscope—a real one, not the pink, plastic kind my daughter had when she was little. The nurse wrapped the cuff around my arm and listened very carefully, as if she were actually taking my blood pressure. I think she did.

I went back to the waiting room, and after a few minutes, I went in to see the doctor.

I sat down as he glanced through my questionnaire, making a few notes on it while he asked about the severity and frequency of my pain. He looked out the window at the parking lot.

"Do you like your motorcycle?" he asked in a thick Slavic accent. "I just came here from New York, and I was thinking about getting one. Is it a good place to ride a motorcycle?"

"Yes. Tucson is a perfect place to ride a motorcycle," I said, wrinkling my brow. He seemed more interested in my motorcycle than my health.

He wasn't even looking at me. He was talking to my questionnaire.

"This isn't enough. I need to see your medical records," he said dispassionately, glancing up at me.

He directed me to the front desk, where the tattooed receptionist/nurse gave me a form she would fax to my doctor. She assured me she would send it out that day, and I left.

As I was enjoying my ride home in the Arizona sunshine, I realized the doctor hadn't even told me his name.

Next week: How to get a pot card, Part 2.