The pungent, resinous scent of marijuana is unmistakable. What may be harder to recognize, and also much more surprising to Central City workers and residents, is just how easy it is to find pot in Downtown Los Angeles.
While the exact number of medical marijuana purveyors is in constant flux as operators deal with both business and prosecutorial matters, a Los Angeles Downtown News examination has revealed that more than 30 medical marijuana collectives and delivery services operate in Downtown. Though few openly promote themselves, they are all over the Downtown map: There are 10 storefront shops in South Park, and patients with a doctor’s prescription and a form of official identification can find heady sativas and indicas (types of marijuana) for sale in Chinatown, the Historic Core, the Arts District and the industrial area in the southeast corner of Downtown. The lineup includes nearly a dozen services that will deliver a variety of fresh buds, THC-laced snacks, hashish and more straight to a buyer’s door. The proliferation of pot shops in Downtown raises a number of issues, questions and concerns, everything from how there came to be so many shops to what the city can,should and will do about it.
The office of City Councilman Jose Huizar has fielded some community complaints about medical marijuana collectives in Downtown, and previously dealt with the issue in Eagle Rock, another neighborhood in his 14th District. There, a concentration of collectives sparked a community backlash that led to the shuttering of several pot businesses However, he said that in Downtown the issue hasn’t been a high priority. “If it’s a priority for a neighborhood, then it becomes a priority for us,” Huizar said. “But [in Downtown] it’s not just marijuana. It’s flipping prescription drugs, it’s homelessness, it’s a lot of things. It’s a case-by-case basis, and there are dispensaries that aren’t causing problems.” The issue is not limited to Downtown Los Angeles, of course. Under City Attorney Mike Feuer, the city is embarking on an effort to roll back the number of medical marijuana business through enforcement of Proposition D. That initiative, which was approved by voters in May 2013, gave 134 Los Angeles collectives the ability to qualify for “limited immunity” from prosecution.
Unbeknownst to Many, Downtown Has More Than 30 Medical Marijuana Clinics And Delivery. What Happens Next?
Perhaps the biggest question is how Downtown came to be weedtown. The use and cultivation of marijuana is illegal under United States law. However, medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, when voters approved Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Care Act. Since then the number of pot shops have exploded, despite multiple city efforts to curtail growth, among them a 2007 interim control ordinance to prevent new shops opening and a similiar 2010 effort. Prop D did not legalize collectives. Rather, it effectively allowed them to operate providing they meet a number of criteria, including having registered under previous ordinances. They also required to abide by a string of requirements involving opening hours, storefront appearance and more.One reason medical marijuana collectives have proliferated in Downtown is that the community has characteristics that can lead to a concentration of shops. Although Downtown is in the midst of a residential rush, in the past the relative lack of concerned parents may have reduced the number of people who would complain. Additionally, Downtown has fewer family-oriented amenities than other neighborhoods. Prop D requires shops to stay at least 1,000 feet away from a school and 600 feet from areas including public parks, libraries and childcare facilities. Previous laws on clinics in Los Angeles had similarly strict distance requirements. Another contributing factor is that the number of buildings where pot shops have sprung up are owned by absentee landlords who don’t visit their property frequently and aren’t tied to the community, said Jessica Lall, head of South Park Business Improvement District. South Park has the highest number of collectives in any Downtown district. “They have this old perception of Downtown L.A. and don’t care about the renaissance here and the demand for other kinds of business,” Lall said. “I think that’s the number one reason for the concentration of pot shops in thee old buildings in South Park and elsewhere.” Marc O’Hara, executive director of the Patient Care Alliance, a trade association that advocates for medical marijuana users and collectives, agrees with Lall Downtown’s urban commercial environment, a historically hands-off approach from area law enforcement, and the success of early collectives has attracted a slew of “parasites” trying to profit, he said. “You don’t see collectives in Beverly Hills because it’s too had to be compliant and you get a lot of attention,” O’Hara said. “In Downtown it’s relatively easy to set up shop.”