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CASEY: I got paid to shop for weed

CASEY: I got paid to shop for weed

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Monday, Donna and I celebrated 35 years of milk, honey and extraordinary marital bliss — and every long-hitched couple knows exactly what I mean. But our wedding anniversary wasn’t the only recent red-letter day in the Casey household. Saturday was another.

That afternoon, the U.S. Postal Service delivered my medical marijuana card from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. Yippee! The arrival meant it’s now legal for me to buy wacky tobacky in the Old Dominion.

If you’ve been following this toke-by-toke saga, getting that card was no small hassle. First, I had to get a prescription from a licensed health professional. My own physicians here in Roanoke declined, with some uncomfortable chuckles.

But there’s always more than one way to roll a doobie, right? A friend in Blacksburg helped me find a more broadminded teledoc in Northern Virginia. And on Aug. 9, that croaker emailed me a Certification for the Use of Cannabis Products — following a two-minute phone consultation that cost only $135.

The document allowed me to apply with the Board of Pharmacy as a “registered patient.” (Application fee: $50). The board had all the docs it needed by Aug. 12.

The BOP cautions that registered patients should allow up to 30 business days for their applications to be evaluated. That’s because the agency is overwhelmed with weed applications right now. The “business days” fine print stretched the waiting period out until Sept. 24. But they approved it after 23 business days, on Sept. 15.

The buzzkill was, the BOP said I could expect to wait up to 21 additional business days for delivery — or until Oct. 15. For whatever reason, mine arrived 13 calendar days earlier. And that left my Blacksburg buddy envious. He was green as a sativa bud, because he applied before me and he’s still doesn’t have his card.

Anyway, Tuesday was the big shopping day in Salem, which is the location of the Roanoke Valley’s only (so far) medical marijuana dispensary.

It’s called RISE Salem. It’s directly across West Main Street from the office of The Salem Times-Register, which must be quite a convenience for its journalists. (By the way, RISE allows one unlicensed adult to accompany license holders on shopping forays.)

I invited my Blacksburg friend, but he had an important business meeting with an electrical contractor that morning. So instead, another pal came along on the adventure. His name is Gary Hunt and he’s a character.

You may recall a tale I told long ago about Hunt’s first pet, growing up as the son of an Army sergeant in post-World War II Europe. The dog was a German shepherd. Its previous owner, Hunt swears, was chap named Adolf Hitler. (It’s a long story.)

Anyway, he’s a resolute teetotaler — an occasional bottle of Coca-Cola is the most mind-altering substance that ever crosses Hunt’s lips. He’s not wholly inexperienced with the Devil’s Lettuce, mind you. But the last time Gary partook of pot, Richard Nixon was president.

That made him an ideal designated driver — just in case my zeal for journalistic research got the best of me in the RISE parking lot after I’d left the store with the goodies.

The security setup at RISE is interesting. The front door opens into a tiny foyer, which sports another set of locked glass doors one must pass through to get into the store’s lobby. It’s kind of like the airlocks you see on space ships in science-fiction movies.

On the foyer’s right, there’s a small window. Inside it was a masked clerk sitting at a computer. From behind that mask, he looked impressed by my QAnon hat.

He photographed the teledoc’s certification, along with my driver’s license and medical marijuana card, and entered a bunch of information into the computer. Then he pressed a button that released the electronic lock on the lobby door.

Hunt and I were in!

“I never thought I’d live to see the day of legal marijuana stores in Virginia,” Hunt quipped.

We entered a modernly appointed room I’d guess was 35-feet or so square. If it reminds you of a lobby at a Bank of Floyd branch, that’s no coincidence. That’s what the place used to be, before Virginia’s medical marijuana barons took it over.

On RISE’s current “medical marijuana menu” are eight different varieties of bud, in black plastic containers with locking lids. The current “sale” price for 3.5 grams is $55.25. The regular price is $65.

They also sell pre-rolled marijuana joints for $19 each, plus various-sized marijuana vape cartridges ($45-$80), a “concentrate” that looks like hashish for $90 a gram, and tinctures at $70 for 30 milliliters. Their cheapest THC-infused gummies were $50 for a 10-pack.

For truly adventurous clientele, they also sell THC suppositories. I didn’t bother to check out the price.

Every product containing THC is behind the counters, and you won’t get your grubby hands on it until you’ve forked over your money — cash only. From this we can conclude that RISE is probably the most shoplifter-proof retail store in Western Virginia.

We left with 3.5 grams of “Jack Frost,” a sativa strain; 3.5 grams of “Crescendo,” an indica-sativa hybrid; and one 10-pack of gummies. Those items totalled out at $160 — and as medicine, they’re tax-free.

I also bought six premade cones manufactured in India from French cigarette paper for $2.11, including sales tax.

RISE also sells more expensive marijuana-use implements, such as electronic vaping gizmos. Those strike me kind of as 21st-century versions of the 1980s bongs with which I’m more familiar. They range up to $420, no kidding.

One of the clerks behind the counter told me she used to work as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens, but she burned out at the drugstore chain. I reckon working at RISE is much more chill, or chilly, or chillier (as you can see, I’m still trying to get up to speed on modern pot slang).

The “sale” price of buds at RISE — $442 per ounce, with zilch quantity discounts — can be a little off-putting. Especially compared to some California outlets.

One that I found online was for a company called LA Wonderland. Its price on pre-rolled joints is 3 for $10. In California, ounces of weed, at roughly the same potency RISE sells, are priced as low as $90. But you can’t mail-order weed from other states. That’s still illegal.

I broached the price issue to the Virginia Medical Cannabis Coalition, the pro medical-pot lobbying group. Its spokesman asked not to be identified by name.

Virginia’s medical pot program, he argued, is just getting off the ground, while California legalized medical weed many years ago, and even later, retail sales of recreational weed. (Rec weed is coming to Virginia, but that may take as many as three years.)

Virginia’s medical program is also the most heavily regulated in the nation, he added. And, Virginia has been selling the flower for only 25 days; and all of it product must be grown indoors — unlike California, where outdoor grows are everywhere. So it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

And I guess all the above explains why, after spending my hard-earned money on the doctor’s note, plus the application fee, plus the weed and gummies and cones, all I’ve got to show for my $347.11 investment is 7 grams of flower and 10 gummies.

All my friends are giggling, “Yeah, but the paper will reimburse you, correct?”

I suppose if I pitched a fit about it, the bosses might. But then, they’d be within their rights to demand I turn the product over the company. And alas … not all of that remains.

Either way, the newspaper paid me salary to shop for pot.

Who else can make that claim?

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter:

@dancaseysblog.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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