Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

August 11, 2010
Advocate doctor offers counsel amid rush on cheap pot cards

doctor.jpgNot many people who lined up at competing booths for discount pot recommendations at last weekend's Hempcon 2010 Medical Marijuana Show in San Jose were drawn by the bona fides of any doctor.

So Deborah Malka, a Santa Cruz family medical practitioner and "mental and physical wellness" counselor, didn't attract much attention for her MD from the University of New Mexico or her PhD in molecular biology from Columbia University or even her herbal and holistic training from the Santa Fe University of Natural Medicine.

She couldn't compete with the activity elsewhere. Longer lines formed for cut-rate medical marijuana clinics, customer-friendly "nurses" and one $50 fill-out-a-form-and-get-your-pot-card table offering quickie visits and medical recommendations to go.

"Legitimate marijuana recommendations are difficult - because so many people just want the paper," Malka said.

Malka, who lowered her visitation rate from $135 to $80 for the San Jose event, said she remains in the business in hopes of advancing medical marijuana as a political and social issue - and to insist on interacting with those seeking pot recommendations.

So she checked their blood pressure, heart rates and spinal alignments. She counseled young people on marijuana use - and the importance of using less.

"I feel I make a difference," Malka said. "I tell young people they need to maintain their skills in the unaltered world. If you medicate all the time, you're going to have anxiety when you get off of it. It's medicine. You should only use it when you need it.

"They (marijuana patients) will come back and say, 'You're right. More is not better.'"

Malka, who offers medical marijuana consultations for a physicians' network, Compassionate Health Options, doesn't see pot medicine as a sustainable business model for many physicians.

She laments that much of the trade seems increasingly geared toward churning out recommendations in bulk instead of connecting with people over their health conditions and reasons for seeking relief.

Malka began recommending marijuana to patients in 2006 after being inspired by the story of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a Santa Cruz cannabis-growing collective working with terminally ill patients. She says she has found a calling.

"I'm going to do this for years to come because I believe in the political aspects," Malka said. "People have a birthright to chose their own medicine - especially from the oldest, most potent plant on the planet."

Pictured: Dr. Deborah Malka sees herself as part of a movement advancing a medicinal "birthright." Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com.

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