In a meeting room at a Spenard hotel this weekend, Alaskans seeking a medical marijuana card can line up to see a Los Angeles ophthalmologist in town to evaluate their medical need for pot -- at $225 a "patient."
"The Healing Center Medical Clinic" will be Friday through Sunday at the Millennium Hotel, the second such session this year.
The Healing Center Medical Clinic -- not to be confused with The Healing Center, an Anchorage chiropractic and wellness clinic unrelated to medical marijuana -- is the brainchild of Montana-based entrepreneur Michael Smith.
The events are designed to connect patients with a prescribing doctor, in this case a California doctor named Dr. John McGroarty, who has a temporary Alaska medical license.
Smith has conducted similar sessions in Montana and Arizona.
The clinic is not a dispensary, meaning no actual marijuana will change hands -- only medical advice that can be used to acquire a permit for medical marijuana, which is theoretically legal in Alaska.
The clinics may be behind a recent spike in the number of people on Alaska's medical marijuana registry, which allows card-holders to legally possess up to 1 ounce of pot and six plants in their homes.
For years, Alaska's medical marijuana law has existed as a low-key extension of the state's relaxed attitude toward pot.
The state has had a registry since 1998, when voters approved a law sanctioning marijuana for medical use.
The number of people on the registry has ebbed and flowed over the years, said Phillip Mitchell of the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, which oversees it.
In 2009, only 57 people applied to join the registry.
But in the years since, as a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California and Colorado made headlines, more Alaskans have applied to register.
Some 112 people have applied in the six weeks of 2012.
There are now a total of 510 people on the registry, Mitchell said.
"I think the recent spike in applications is due in large part to the clinics that have been happening in Anchorage," Mitchell said.
According to an answering machine message on the Healing Center Medical Clinic's phone line, the first two days of the clinic are already fully booked.
Applicants need a statement from a physician saying they've been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition that meets the state's requirements. Those conditions can range from glaucoma to cancer. The application doesn't require the doctor to list the exact medical condition.
"It can be pretty personal," Mitchell said.
It has sometimes been challenging for patients to find an Alaska doctor willing to recommend them for a medical marijuana permit. For years, the agency has fielded calls from people complaining about that, Mitchell said.
Physicians must affirm that the examination took place as part of a "bona fide" patient-physician relationship.
Successful applicants get a wallet-sized paper card.
Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but prosecutors have discretion when deciding which cases to prosecute, said assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Russo.
Other states like California and Colorado have legalized dispensaries to allow medical marijuana patients to buy pot in a regulated setting. Dispensaries have been the target of federal raids.
Alaska's law is silent on the issue of how one is to obtain medical marijuana. Buying and selling it, according to both state and federal law, remains illegal.
The basics of Alaska's Medical Marijuana Law
• Patients must apply and be accepted to the Alaska Medical Marijuana Registry, managed by the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics. A physician's recommendation is required as well as a driver's license number and other personal information and the payment of a $25 application fee, with a subsequent $20 renewal cost.
• An adult cardholder can possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana or six marijuana plants in the home; no more than three can be in a "mature and flowering" form producing usable marijuana at any one time.
• Transport is limited to what is necessary to get the marijuana to the place where the patient can legally use it.
• Sale or distribution of marijuana is prohibited, but a person designated as a primary caregiver may deliver marijuana to their patient.
• Medical marijuana can't be used in public.
• Minors must submit a statement by their parents or guardian that the physician has advised them of possible risks of medical use of marijuana and that the guardian will serve as primary caregiver and control factors like dosage and frequency of use.
• The law is silent on how medical marijuana is to be procured. The sale and purchase of marijuana is illegal under state law.
-- Michelle Theriault Boots