A dying patient’s request for medical cannabis

Last August, I was called to help a man with his dying wishes.  He had three.  The first was to go to Zen Hospice in San Francisco for his final days.  The second was that a Tibetan Llama accompany him with prayers and chanting for the last part of his journey, and the third was for medical cannabis so that he could reduce his reliance on prescribed opiates and die with a “clear mind.”

In the four days left, I was only able to grant his third wish. 

And though I’ve been with many people in the last part of their lives, it was the first time someone had asked for cannabis.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to do, how to get it, or where to even find a dispensary.  Most of what I knew I only gleaned from newspapers and magazines.  Being a part of the establishment had mummified me from alternative realities. 

First, I asked his doctor who told me, “I have no problem with it,” but declined to write a letter of recommendation because. I then asked the hospice what to do, and they referred me to a doctor who would write a letter, but since this man was bedbound and unable to be present, the letter had to be written as mine … since, I would be picking up the medication.

 I wondered what risks would I be exposed to in purchasing, transporting and finally, giving the medication to the care provider?  I had no idea.  My gut told me that surely, no one would arrest someone bringing medicine in act of mercy ... .but, I wasn’t really confident.

 When I visited the marijuana prescribing physician, he couldn’t recommend a dispensary, so I asked someone in the waiting room.  He told me that the best “edibles” in town were at one place, and if I wanted a good selection of tinctures, I could go to another.  I had no idea what he was talking about … after all, a joint is a joint…right?

 I knew nothing of protocol, rules, or what to expect inside a dispensary.  When I entered, a young man behind a desk asked to see my letter, and checked my driver’s license.  I was then allowed into a room where, behind a counter, stood three people, ready to serve me. 

Tea?  Cookies?  Cream?  Smoke?  Tincture?  What form would I like?  What strength?  What purpose? 

I was asked lots of questions, but mostly I was overwhelmed.  I had no idea what to buy, or what the difference was between potencies and names.  Finally, I left with a small brown bag filled with suckers, two brownies, lozenges and a tincture.  They threw in a small baggie of smoke … just in case, he might want to smoke it.

 My car reeked of pot.  And, I was a little nervous that if I got pulled over for any reason, I could be in real trouble.

When I got to the board and care home, I handed everything over to a worker.  He took it without comment, and I left.

I don’t know whether any of the cannabis was given to the man, he died two days later.  I have no idea whether he died with a “clear mind,” or whether he stayed on the opiates to the end.  I wasn’t there.

But, since then, I’ve been asking a lot of questions to others in the care giving professions about their experiences with cannabis, and everyone is hungry for more information.

The Sonoma Section on Aging, which is a membership organization of people who work in the senior care industry, is sponsoring a panel on Medical Cannabis on Wednesday, June 20, from 9-11 a.m. at the Scottish Rite Temple, 600 Acacia Lane (at Highway 12) in Santa Rosa.  Panel participants include, Richard Lenson, M.D., Mitcho Thompson of Peace in Medicine, Sarah Shrader of Americans for Safe Access and attorney E.D. Lerman

 This event is open to professionals in the senior care industry, and the public....

Yvonne Baginski is program director for the Sonoma Section on Aging and publisher of Born To Age, the Sonoma/Marin Senior Care Directory.

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