'Weed Wars' visits a joint that's higher than most

Weed. Smoke. Dope. Grass. Mary-Jane. We could list them for hours, unless we inhaled and lost our train of thought; too much ganja will do that.

The right amount, however, alleviates many ailments, argue proponents.

One knowledgeable advocate, Steve DeAngelo, the country's most successful legal distributor of marijuana, calls it cannabis. He's the star of "Weed Wars," debuting Thursday, Dec. 1, on Discovery Channel.

"I have a very close, personal relationship with the cannabis plant," he says in the first of four one-hour episodes.

His interview is like a lecture from a professor of pot. "If American people saw the truth about the cannabis plant ... they would understand it is a good plant, not an evil plant, and would support changing the laws," DeAngelo says. "If the American people have a chance to meet me and my family and see how we treat patients, they will support changing the laws."

DeAngelo is executive director of Harborside Health Center, a sprawling emporium of various cannabis products in Oakland, Calif. Last year, it grossed $20 million from some 80,000 patients.

The clean, well-lighted facility is a result of California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996, and despite controversy, 16 states have passed similar legislation.

"On the medical side, a great deal of research has been done on cannabis's palliative effects," DeAngelo says. "It's also a very potent preventative and curative."

Still, many people are not using it to ease mind-numbing pain but to giggle while watching cartoons and eating chips.

"Like any psychoactive substance, cannabis can and will be misused, just as people will overeat, overindulge with the computer or become dependent on prescription drugs," DeAngelo says. "It is possible to overuse. At Harborside, we have a trained addiction counselor free of charge. I feel society has a chance to get it right with cannabis. It is a psychoactive substance. We got it wrong with tobacco. We can advise people on how to use it."