Of the three pages of terms and conditions I sign off on, this line is the oddest one:
I WILL BE RESPECTFUL OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND THE COMMUNITY OF THE COLLECTIVE BY NOT PLAYING LOUD MUSIC, LITTERING OR LOITERING IN OR AROUND THE VICINITY OF THE COLLECTIVE.
And yet we’re in Sherman Oaks, an “affluent neighborhood” (so says Wikipedia) of the San Fernando Valley, on a Friday night, within walking distance of any number of restaurants (Italian, Japanese, American), a smoke shop, an armed forces recruiting center, the ubiquitous cellular phone store, and a gas station. Ventura Boulevard is humming with cars and a few pedestrians at not-quite-dinner hour. A miraculous parking space opens up mere feet from the storefront of the dispensary I chose because of its logo. The Root Cellar’s emblem looks like it could belong to an herbivore’s restaurant, with its simple font and inconspicuous green cross incorporated into the design, a feature that doesn’t even register until I mention the logo later to an employee who agrees, “Yes, the cross. It’s very thin.”
The storefront directs us to the back entrance, so we must walk past another storefront, then through a gas station parking area, until we find the pedestrian throughway to what are parking lots we didn’t know about. We enter the glass door and are given the clipboard that greets us at most dispensaries.
I initial and sign with the pen attached to the clipboard by a green braided hemp-like material, no doubt a small detail added by a clever person.. A flat-screen television silently displays college football to anyone on the loveseat; a fish tank entertains everyone else. Standing in the small waiting room makes it feel crowded but I want to examine the FACT and FICTION boards displayed just outside the next door we must breach. An abridged version of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s recent statement/change of heart about marijuana adorns the wall, as well as a list of facts about cannabis and myths (fictions) with clarifying facts. Art takes up less space than text at this dispensary. Here and there are small square abstract patterns with primary colors. The counter window is open and I hand my clipboard and pen back to the young woman who holds my driver’s license and prescription card until the visit is over.
During our wait, my companion and I are one of three new customers handed a clipboard. The door to the next room opens and a young woman with long brown hair wearing a knit pink and white slouchy sweater and leggings ushers us inside a wide corridor. “I’m Eva,” she says in what we believe is an Eastern European accent. Eva closes the door behind us and commences giving us a tour of the second waiting room.
“Here is a chess board, if you know how to play, and books, and,” she waits for me to stop looking at the bookshelves, “a place to put your business cards or take business cards from members of the collective.” I’m suddenly more interested in the business card board than the bookshelves but Eva moves on. “Here members can share what brings them here,” and she shows us a small vinyl banner with a Sharpie pen lying in wait, the permanent writing prompt like a thought cloud in the middle of the white space, “I medicate because…” An array of different handwriting populates the banner, with reasons ranging from admissions of chronic pain to philosophical ramblings to the single stark sentence of a military veteran. Just as I decide I want to spend as much time as possible in this room, Eva herds us into the buying room.
“Are you interested in flowers, edibles, oils?” she asks before introducing us to the wares.
Paper snowmen decorate the walls. Another fish tank bubbles with bobbing fish. An enormous high-tech vending machine takes up a wall, and underneath (part of?) the unit is a flat screen televising a perpetually roaring fire. When I touch the upper screen to see how the vending machine works, Eva says, “It’s not working right now. We’re using the refrigerated portion to keep things fresh.” Eva tells us about the strains of marijuana they carry. Her cadence carries an easy, unpretentious authority. She twirls a common spice rack with her long tapered fingers, her painted-purple fingernails pointing out different buds available. She speaks of “Critical Jack,” “Girl Scout Cookie” (which we see at nearly every dispensary we visit), and “Berry White.” Eva reminds us of the differences between indica, sativa and hybrids. She casually mentions in her spiel that she works for other dispensaries as well as this one, and I’m immediately caught in a fascination with her job as a roving weed sommelier.
“How did you find out about us?” she asks.
“Just looking at WeedMaps,” I reply, telling her that it was the innocuous logo that led me here, the logo that looked like it belonged to a restaurant, and also that we were in the neighborhood to catch a movie.
Another patient enters with a young clean-cut man who conducts another tour. I get the feeling we need to be snappy. The rooms in dispensaries always seem to have low occupancy rates, and presumably we are there to look, buy, and move along. I’m amused by the spice rack, from which we can open and sniff and hold the jars under the magnifying glass as we like. Eva retrieves full jars on shelves behind her and uses the longest tweezers I’ve ever seen to carefully pluck a bud out from one. A jar of joints rolled in brown paper with the label NOR CAL sits on one shelf. The glass case I rest my purse on contains the usual smoking accoutrements. A small sign informs us that the medical cannabis in this facility is tested for butane, which we decide must mean it is not organic, as some shops boast.
“Can I just check out this room?” I ask, eager to return to the second waiting room. Eva nods, and my companion and I walk back through. I sit for a moment in one of the chairs on either side of the chess table. Eva pops back in.
“Make a move if you know how to play, then move the telescope,” she instructs. The telescope points toward the side whose move is next. White is winning. After some calculation about what’s been done and what is still possible, I push a pawn forward. My companion makes a bold move, ousting a bishop in a move that will secure the demise of the queen.
I want to know where the books—copies, some doubles, of Kerouac, Bukowski, Burroughs, James Ellroy, Philip K. Dick, mass-market science fiction—came from. I step back into the buying room, which is empty.
“Eva?” I call. The roaring fire video flickers near my feet. I wonder if cameras have just disclosed to the front desk that I’m back in the buying room, unaccompanied.
When we exit the second waiting room and are back in the lobby I see three employees, all of them young and fresh, almost like high school students.
“Where’d the books in the library come from?” I ask.
One of them hands me my license and prescription card. “The former owner, manager. People also bring one, take one.” He pauses, then adds with a slight smile, “I just read some Bukowski actually.”
And so a new generation comes up in the lobbies and interiors of medical marijuana dispensaries. Career dispensary employees, weed sommeliers, green cross customer service clerks read the counterculture books of previous generations. The taboo of marijuana smoking in those books may seem quaint, or just incomprehensible, the way rotary phones might be to lifelong smart phone users.
I pluck the establishment’s business card from the front counter before we leave. I learn that I can earn one free gram for liking the business on Facebook, reviewing them on Marijuana.net, Yelp, or WeedmMaps, respectively. On my way out of the second waiting room, I had fished two of my own business cards out of my wallet to pin to the bulletin board. I wished for more time to study who else had left their mark on the already crowded space. In any case, I’ve left mine.