Saturday, May 16, 2009

Marijuana Clinics in Venice


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

Fri, 05/01/2009 - 23:58

By Ian Lovett 
The 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. 

Nowhere is medical marijuana’s move out into the open more apparent than at The Farmacy—a dispensary with three locations, including one on Abbot Kinney—whose motto is, in fact, “Very Open.” The marijuana products are kept behind the counter, while anyone—even those without a medical marijuana recommendation—can come inside peruse all manner of other herbal medicine throughout the store. Recently, for the second straight year, a class of 3rd graders from Broadway Elementary came to The Farmacy to meet with the store’s herbalist, who covered up all the cannabis products, conducted a lesson on some of the other herbs in the store, and then walked the kids back to class, pointing out plants they’d just learned about on the way. “We want to be a part of the community,” Bill said, “and keep it safe for everyone.” Bobby is a medical marijuana patient who sells handmade jewelry on the boardwalk. “It’s a lot safer now,” he said. “I’m 50 now, and especially for someone my age, you don’t have to meet with people you’re not familiar with. At a dispensary, there are checks and balances about what goes on.” Indeed, Bill Leahy hopes to increase such checks and balances on the industry. 

“Regulation is the biggest problem,” he said. “There no true regulation on edibles across the state.” The Farmacy is part of a the Greater Los Angeles Caregivers Alliance (GLACA), an organization of some of the larger dispensaries that advocates for medical marijuana. GLACA’s application for membership includes questions like “What is your collective’s philosophy or mission statement?” and the group imposes more stringent rules on its members than Los Angeles requires. Already, such efforts have helped change the public perception. “I’ve seen the industry change a lot in five years,” Jason said. “At first, people didn’t want the dispensaries there—they wanted to keep it under the table. Now, most often people look at us as doing a good thing for the community.” And, despite the Neighborhood Council proposal to move dispensary signs to the back door, Venetians continued to show their support for this increasing openness. 

Though the agenda item was held over until the next meeting, they did take a straw vote. More than 90 percent of those present raised their hands in support of medical marijuana. 

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