"Can you get me some dope?"

The request from my friend Linda Rubin startled me. A 43-year-old mother and sometime teacher, she is not in the habit of smoking marijuana. Before last month, she had never tried it.

But this summer, Lindy learned that she has breast cancer. She is undergoing a series of chemotherapy treatments, which make her violently nauseated for eight hours following each treatment. Marijuana is known to eliminate that side effect. So Lindy is in the market for some good Jamaican or Colombian.

Ten years ago, I could have walked down the dormitory hall at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and filled her order. But I haven't even seen rolling paper in years. And whenever I'm tapped on the arm at a party, no one ever passes a joint; they offer a glass of wine cooler. So where can a suburban homemaker find dope for an ailing friend?

After much thought, I decided to approach my housekeeper, Kathy. She lives in a southside high-rise building, which I assumed would be crawling with pushers.

Asking Kathy was a mistake. "I don't do that stuff. Who do you think I am?" I tried to explain that I was looking for the dope for a friend. Yeah, sure. That she was no dope fiend. Yeah, sure. That it would counter the side effects of a treatment she must undergo for cancer. Yeah, sure. Kathy barely spoke to me for the rest of the afternoon.

Then I considered recruiting my husband. He writes a column for a newspaper, an environment legendary for dissolute habits. Copy kids, particularly, always looked high when I worked at the paper. They must know how to get it. But it occurred to me his boss wouldn't be pleased to find out that Chapman was hitting on the kids for a nickel bag.

Finally, I inquired of the teen-age boys down the street. Surely they knew of someone at the high school who can get pot. Fearful that I might tell their parents, they denied ever trying the stuff. I tried to appeal to their humanitarian side. "You would be doing a great service to a sick person," I pleaded. They rolled their eyes and bit their lips to avoid laughing. They treated me like a narc, insisting that there was no way they could help me. They said they didn't know anyone who smoked dope. One walked away with a smirk on his face saying, "I never even saw the stuff."

Disgusted with my lack of connections, Lindy asked other friends. So far, she has had some luck but has not found a regular supplier. Many of us in our thirties and forties -- those in an age group susceptible to cancer -- are alienated from the drug culture. And those over 50 -- the generation prone to glaucoma (another disease for which marijuana has some medicinal value) -- have about as much access to dope as they have to Soviet naval secrets.

The problem is that the government prohibits the use of marijuana for treatment of a disease, even under a doctor's care. Marijuana is classified as a drug without medical value -- though studies have found it useful in treating nausea, pain, epilepsy, Hodgkin's disease and glaucoma. Every state except Alaska forbids the possession of marijuana, although penalties vary, and all of them prohibit its sale.

A synthetic version of marijuana is available to relieve nausea after chemotherapy treatments, but patients like Lindy say it's not as effective as marijuana. But when marijuana is not available, it's what she must use -- or she'll have to try her green thumb on the weed. Too bad that Burpee's doesn't sell marijuana seeds by mail.Fern Schumer Chapman is a writer in Evanston, Ill.