This article was found at:www.veniceartscouncil.org Thou art incendiary. Thou sendest me up in sparks... - Linda Albertano
Relief Is Just A Toke Away
By Ian LovettThe April 21 meeting of the Venice Neighborhood Council saw an agenda item that proposed to limit signage on medical marijuana dispensaries to the side entrance, not the front. Though this proposal seems relatively minor, it is at odds not only with Venice’s longstanding 420-friendly reputation, but also with the marijuana industry’s tentative steps out of the shadow into daylight.When I first moved to Venice three years ago, medical marijuana dispensaries possessed the aura of urban myth. I didn’t know anyone with a so-called ‘cannabis card,’ I didn’t know how you might get one, and I certainly had no idea where to find a dispensary. Upon returning to Venice at the start of this year, however, I found a dramatically different atmosphere. Along Ocean Front Walk, in addition to the ‘Legalize It’ posters and homeless people holding “Need $$ for bud” signs which have long been Venice hallmarks, you’ll also hear promoters wearing necklaces of plastic marijuana leaves shouting, “Get your medical marijuana recommendation here!”On the boardwalk alone, three clinics offer medical marijuana recommendations. And as I sat in the waiting room one doctor’s office, a lawyer came by, as well, handing out a booklet called, “A Simple Guide to California Medical Marijuana Law.” Which is all to say that these days, medical marijuana in Venice is almost impossible not to notice. It’s hard to know exactly how many dispensaries—the collectives that distribute marijuana to patients—are currently operating. Jason has worked in the medical marijuana industry for the past five years. “When I first started,” he explained, “there were maybe 25 dispensaries in the whole state.” Now, he says, there are at least 400 in the LA area. Jason estimates that less than half of those 400 dispensaries are properly licensed.In September of 2007, the city of LA passed an ordinance, which put a moratorium on opening any new dispensaries. Still, new ones open every day, especially since Attorney General Eric Holden announced an end to DEA raids on dispensaries in states, like California, where medical marijuana is legal. Still, some aspects of the medical marijuana industry retain a secretive feel. One of the doctor’s offices I visited is located at the back of a shop that sells pipes and bongs, and I’ve heard of dispensaries run out of bicycle shops and florists. At Gourmet Green Room (GGR), which just opened on Lincoln, even the front door into the lobby remains locked until the receptionist buzzes you in.This feature is “mostly for security,” said Tarek, the general manager. The shades in the smoking room remain down. The sign of the dispensary inside are the pictures of marijuana leaves taped to the window. For patients, too, privacy remains important. Chris Comstock, who works at Dr. Dean Weiss’ office on Lincoln Blvd, explains that many potential patients share a misconception that if they get a medical marijuana recommendation, their information will end up in some government database.“This idea that once you get a recommendation the whole government know is just wrong. The information stays in our files—there’s no government registry. It’s confidential, like any other medical record.” And, of course, the vast, vast majority of marijuana is still sold illegally. Increasingly, though, it’s moving over the counter. Despite its locked door, GGR advertises in various industry publications, and Tareks notes the prevalence of dispensary ads in publications like LA Weekly.