Local clinic deals in pot only

It looks like any other doctor's office — clean white walls, magazines on a table, a receptionist waiting — but at Ashland Alternative Health, the only drug physicians deal with is pot.

The medical marijuana clinic opened July 20 at 180 Clear Creek Drive, No. 103. The professional setting is all part of the plan, said co-owner Alex Rogers, who worked at Voter Power, a medical marijuana advocacy group with an office in Medford, until February.

Ashland Alternative Health is designed to "set the gold standard" for helping qualified people obtain Oregon medical marijuana cards, allowing them to grow and use pot, he said.

"We want to change the perception of what it entails to get a medical marijuana card in Oregon," Rogers said. "We want to make it as professional and private an experience as possible."

In order to be approved for a card, a person must be diagnosed with a qualifying debilitating medical condition — such as cancer or glaucoma — and get a doctor's signature of approval for using marijuana to treat the illness.

"We adhere very strictly and stringently to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program standards," Rogers said.

In 1998, voters approved the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, which allows residents with certain medical conditions to use pot and grow small amounts of it.

Rogers, a cardholder, has seen firsthand how marijuana can help ease symptoms of serious illnesses, he said. He has ulcerative colitis, which causes inflamed ulcers to develop on his lower intestine, he said.

"By using cannabis I have been able to wean myself completely off the prescription meds, azulfidine and prednisone, both of which have detrimental long-term side effects," he said.

At the Ashland clinic, physicians will not diagnose people, but they will approve those whose medical records show they have already been diagnosed with a qualifying condition, Rogers said. They will also guide patients through the medical marijuana card paperwork process.

Rogers believes Ashland Alternative Health is the first medical marijuana clinic to open in the city. Medford has several such clinics, he said.

Although people can ask their primary physicians to approve them for the medical marijuana program, some doctors refuse to approve anyone for the program, Rogers said. Also, some patients don't feel comfortable asking their primary physicians to approve them to use medical marijuana, he said.

In both of these cases, qualified patients need to have an alternative way to gain access to the program, which is where clinics come in, Rogers said.

"There was a need; that's probably what inspired us most," he said. "And not only is there a need for it: It can be done better."

Before they visit the clinic, patients are prescreened by doctors, who check the patients' medical records to ensure they have been diagnosed with a qualifying illness.

The approval process at the clinic takes about an hour and costs $175, Rogers said.

The other co-owner of the clinic, Claire Pence, who is Rogers' aunt, said the point of the clinic is to help normalize the medical marijuana approval process, so that patients feel comfortable with the doctors.

Some clinics in Oregon create a back-alley atmosphere because they make patients wait for long periods of time and don't adequately protect their privacy, she said.

"I think that we need to offer people a safe and private place to come get an Oregon medical marijuana card," Pence said. "Basically, I think there's a right way to do this."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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