It turns out I'm one of those young men with severe pain. I've been seeing a chiropractor for much of the past year for muscle spasms in my back, and I can say without a doubt that I'm not pretending to spend nights writhing in pain or walking around like Quasimodo just to score some reefer. On the other hand, I'm a much less appropriate candidate than someone battling cancer or suffering from muscular dystrophy. But that's not for me to decide. That's why I start calling around to find out about scoring a medical marijuana card.

I begin with the marijuana-focused doctor referral services. These operations have sprung up on the premise that many patients' primary caregivers are reluctant to consider pot as medicine. My first call is to the relatively long-established THC Foundation, a three-year-old Wheat Ridge operation that's part of a multi-state non-profit chain. My medical condition could warrant medical marijuana, says a THC Foundation representative — though she adds that they're not about to provide me one with just my records from the chiropractor. "A chiropractor is not technically an M.D.," she says. "We really need something from your physician."

So I ring up the THC Foundation's main competition: CannaMed in Denver. I'm a bit surprised to find out the place is still operating. A week earlier, FBI agents had raided the operation — not because of the pot, but because they suspected it was associated with an $80 million nationwide fraud scheme. The feds did confiscate CannaMed's patient records, but attorney Charlie Crosse says no one at CannaMed was arrested or charged with crimes. "I am informed by the FBI that CannaMed is not a part of its case," he says. It turns out CannaMed was quickly up and running again.

"Sure, we take chiropractic records," the CannaMed representative tells me on the phone. It'll set me back $200 for the CannaMed doctor's visit, plus a $90 registration fee to the state, he says — or he can offer me a special deal for $50.

"$50?" I ask, incredulous.

The catch is that I have to let CannaMed choose my caregiver, the person who can grow up to six marijuana plants on my behalf, for one year. And during that time, I can't grow medicine myself. "Can I switch my caregiver before then?" I ask.

"If you pay us $290," he replies.

I'd heard about this process. Amendment 20 allows each medical marijuana patient to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or six marijuana plants at a time. Since these patients can alternatively assign these "pot rights" to a designated caregiver, the patients themselves have become a sort of key commodity in the blossoming industry.

Dispensaries and marijuana growers are trying to become the designated caregivers for as many patients as possible so they can increase the number of plants they're allowed to grow. Some dispensaries are offering incentives to those who will sign over their caregivership. CannaMed, I'd been told, was offering this $50 "low-income" option because marijuana cultivators are sponsoring these patients in exchange for obtaining their pot rights — though there's little guarantee that these growers were acting in a true caregiver role for these patients.

CannaMed referred all questions to its lawyer, Crosse, who says he doesn't get into operational issues. "I don't understand about the two price structures, and I am not informed, so I can't comment on that issue," he says.

As attractive as CannaMed's price tag sounds, I decide it's not worth signing away my pot rights. So instead I turn to the back pages of Westword, which has become a major marketing venue for medical marijuana businesses. Many dispensaries listed there advertise on-site doctors, though it's a risky move. Amendment 20 instituted a referral-based state registry so that doctors wouldn't be prescribing or helping patients obtain marijuana, since that practice could put them at risk of losing the Drug Enforcement Administration-issued license that lets them prescribe narcotics.

"It is my belief that having a doctor in a medical marijuana dispensary is too close to helping a patient get marijuana," says Brian Vicente, executive director of the drug-policy reform organization Sensible Colorado, who consults with several dispensaries. "I think they are at risk of losing their license."

Putting legal questions about these in-house doctors aside, I choose the operation with the biggest ad. The person who answers the phone explains that the dispensary works with a couple different doctors. Some won't take chiropractic records, although the one who comes in on Wednesdays does — for a $110 fee, plus $90 to the state.

I make an appointment for the following Wednesday.


Kevin, a marijuana cultivator, is proud of his $10,000 indoor state-of-the-art weed-growing operation, what with its hydro-organic flood tables attached to automated pumping systems and high-pressure sodium lights and perfectly calibrated carbon dioxide regulators. Just don't expect him to show it to you.

His growhouse, somewhere in southern Colorado, is protected by a security guard and movement sensors in the driveway; cameras beam footage to an off-site server. Since he's moving his operation — something he does every six months or so — he's not inclined to give a tour. Kevin, who didn't want to use his last name, may be amenable to visitors at that time, but only if they wear a blindfold and a pillowcase over their heads on the way there.

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