L.A. may close hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries

A California dispenser displays marijuana.

by Eve Troeh

Shops along Venice beach hawk all kinds of funky things, from big sunglasses and dreamcatchers -- to marijuana.

"We basically have the best deals on the beach," says a young woman chatting up potential customers outside a store called Dr. Kush. Buff guys wave signs behind her that say "420 Evaluation" and "The Doctor Is In", implying that doctor will write you a prescription for pot.

California legalized marijuana for medical use 14 years ago. In the past few years, Los Angeles City Council member Ed Reyes says the number of stores that sell it exploded. "We had as many of these establishments as we had Starbucks."

Actually, more than that. The LA Weekly counted 545 medical marijuana stores last year. The city aims to weed out 80 percent of them with a new ordinance. Dispensaries that opened after a certain date will have to close by June 7.

California Alternative Caregivers sells medical marijuana from a tan stucco office building about a mile from Venice Beach. Owner Carl Clines says patients have to get buzzed into the building, show ID, then go through winding hallways.

"And it's kind of a maze in here," he says. "I had a couple of retired DEA agents help me select a facility."

In a back room, volunteers sell different strains of pot in sealed plastic bottles. "This is an eighth, and this is a gram," notes one volunteer. "All it is is just buds."

Clines says he was the first in the city to get "medical marijuana" printed on his business license. His shop will stay open. Under the new ordinance, though, he did have notify every residence within 1,000 feet about his business. "We sent out 941 letters. We gotta a whole lotta new patients came in and said, 'We didn't even know you were there!'"

The crackdown on medical marijuana has already prompted some businesses to close. Hundreds more pot store owners are seeing their investment go up in smoke. Those that make it through the hazy regulations will be busier than ever.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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