Professionals that we are, we learn that the medical marijuana dispensary we’ve shown up at on a Sunday morning doesn’t, in fact, open until noon.
We’re on a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard that is shady and cool, while just steps away the sun bears down hard on the city on what is supposed to be an autumn day. The dispensary looks like any other shop on this block, a well-lit windowed storefront next door to an optometrist and a quick walk to a liquor store, a pizza shop, and a popular thrift store.
A young woman opens the door of the dispensary. “We’re not open until noon,” she says smiling. Despite our error, there is some kind of meeting going on and she invites us inside. It’s not until we’re leaving that I notice the sandwich board out front mentioning the two-hour seminar, MED-UCATION 101.
For this visit, Josh, friend and medical marijuana consumer, accompanies us to what he describes as his go-to pharmacy. In my recent correspondence with people about dispensaries, I’ve received the loud and clear message that patient confidentiality is of utmost importance. I understand this. There will be no photos, no video cameras. When I ask Josh if I may use his name in the column, he responds brightly, “Sure! If I haven’t been taken down now, I never will!”
Our footsteps are silent on the industrial-carpeted floor as our trio walks into the shop. We go through an entryway in the back and up a few stairs. A seminar is indeed in progress, and we are welcomed to sit in a plastic chair. My own experience as a sometime adjunct professor makes my skin crawl a bit because I am the late one, so late that there is only fifteen minutes left of this two-hour seminar I didn’t even know was happening. It’s like a bad dream.
Graciously, the presenter invites us to sit, and begins a short but thorough “here’s what we covered” spiel. I hear of oil extraction as “the new wave” because the smell is minimal. I learn of a pen-like device that produces no smell. I get a short overview of enhanced vs. infused edibles. My notes from the quick tutorial read “enhancer: tomato sauce” and “enhanced: shorter, peakier.” I assume I was quoting, but out of context these words are a mystery.
The presenter and a few participants ask questions and offer comments. Someone inquires about the brown paper bags lined up nearby, and we are told that these starter kits contain samples and accouterments, available for a donation.
When it’s time to stand and mingle, I gravitate to the table displaying an array of products. Grape cannabis quencher, orange, yerba mate, pomegranate lemonade and plain lemonade drinks, and a hibiscus tea, all of which contain some amount of THC stand in a neat and organized row.
The presenter of the seminar introduces himself. Phil is the manager of The Farmacy. He has two gold earrings, one in each ear, and makes excellent eye contact, explaining that he would like to do quarterly seminars. The next one will focus on oncology. “There’s a validity to physicians speaking,” he says. We nod.
Phil, dressed in slacks and a button-up shirt, is friendly and answers our questions, inviting us to peruse the shop even though it’s not technically open. It’s themed for Halloween, and among the paper bats hanging from the ceiling, the I BELIEVE IN GHOSTS sign, papier-mâché skulls, black roses, and Dia de Los Muertos iconography, we find the wares: books on medical marijuana; clones for sale and Mr. Nice seed packets; water pipes of all sizes; joint pain sticks and massage oils; caramel chews and lozenges; a basket of chocolate bars with a sign exclaiming that there’s a Golden Ticket among them. Nearby, fish swim in a small aquarium atop one of the many glass cases.
Adorning the walls are artist renderings of John Lennon, Johnny Cash, Peter Tosh, and Slash. I stifle my glee at seeing an enormous stone alligator poised on a low shelf, alligators being a constant in old nightmares I seem to have outgrown, and then I realize it has a bowl in its snout, transforming it into a gigantic pipe.
Phil has told us that their shop is concerned with Eastern and Western medicine, something apparent in the front of the store, where one can find marijuana-free herbal tinctures and supplements. A standing rack offers Whole Life magazine and Awareness—titles often found in many new age bookstores and alternative healing institutes and businesses—alongside Odyssey Magazine (subtitle: The Source for Gay Nightlife, Gossip, News, Music & Celebrity Drama). Also present is Life After 50. A couch welcomes visitors who may also purchase Dr. Bronner’s products, T-shirts, chips, cookies, and replenish their funds with an in-store ATM machine situated underneath psychedelic posters of Jack Nicholson and Willy Wonka.
When Phil is not attending to the leftover seminar participants, us among them, the young women behind the counter are. Outside, someone is painting the window with what will become a Halloween-themed design. A CERTIFICATE OF APPRECIATION from the Police and Sheriff’s Association hangs on the wall behind the counter.
“We don’t have to have gates, we don’t have to pat you down,” Phil says, differentiating this shop from many others.
When we ask about the 135 legitimate dispensaries left in Los Angeles, he says they are one of the 181. The numbers seem to shift depending on the source. West Hollywood, which is its own municipality, limits the number of shops to four. Either 131 or 177 reside outside its 1.9 square miles.
Just as we leave, my eye travels down to the floor. There it is again. A bowl.
“Do you think this is a water bowl for dogs?” I ask my companion.
The security guard, who had been stealthily, silently noting our movements throughout the store makes eye contact with me and nods.
It’s not until we’re in the back parking lot that I notice the signs around our car. IT IS UNLAWFUL TO MEDICATE they begin, and also remind us that THE FARM will reimburse us for the quarters we spent at the meter. Friendly (and not just dog-friendly), their email in my inbox later that week thanks me for coming in, uses the words “compassionate” and “loving” and ends on an optimistic, encouraging note with an extra space I can’t help but read as endearing: “Be Well [sic]!”