When I thought I was going to a party in Pasadena, I opened two browser windows on my computer: the vaguely informational “Weedmaps,” with its outdated (for the internet) banner message across the top “Congratulations, Colorado! Now you can find adult use dispensaries near you” and its litter of green squares with marijuana leaves across a map of greater Los Angeles, and “Leafly,” its cleaner, more elucidative cousin, with its five-color theme and periodic table of marijuana strains.
Pasadena, I learn, has a number of marijuana delivery options, but no actual dispensary to visit. My search on Weedmaps begins taking me as far south as El Cajon, an overly large upside-down yellow teardrop containing a marijuana leaf to distinguish its location. I toggle between Leafly and Weedmaps until I’m looking in Highland Park and then Glendale, little green teardrops bouncing playfully on the interactive map nowhere near these locations. Nothing is close in distance to the location where I’m meant to be that evening. Leafly tells me there are no physical dispensaries within five miles of Pasadena, instructs me to update my selected location or readjust my selected filter, and points me to a featured advertiser located not far from the house I grew up in in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
Before I learn that my babysitter can’t make it and my plans to be in Pasadena are squashed, I home in on a location that I figure might be on the way to Pasadena as long as we take surface streets part of the way. Of the many dispensary listings I peruse, very few of them actually have websites. Many use Gmail for the contact email address. Menu updates reveal how on top of the game these locations are. Hours, ATM availability, and reviews can be accessed. Opening the website of the Hollywood dispensary that may fit well on our route, I find a simple, static photo of a young marijuana plant next to the dispensary logo, both floating in white space. Clicking on the tab titled “Reviews” I realize the oldest reviews are on top in descending order, which seems wrong. Beginning in 2012, individuals have called this dispensary “the best!”; “the Walmart of strain selection”; a place where the “sweetest dealz” can be had. “The budtenders are very knowledgeable,” one person writes, and this is reflected several times throughout the reviews spanning from October 8, 2012 through November 17, 2013. Someone else mentions “the EYECANDY working there” followed by “…haha.” A reviewer named Kathy uses three sentences, six typos, and no less than 40 exclamation points in her praise. “Keep it going.. (sic)” someone else simply notes.
All of these reviews, compared to many reviews I’ve looked at, make the place seem like a good one to visit. I begin looking at a Google map to plan the route.
After entering the location of the dispensary I realize, zooming in, that the address is maybe close to the apartment I lived in between 2001 and 2004. I click on the street view. Doing a complete 360 I see that this dispensary is in fact located less than one block from where I lived, a storefront that I never noticed in the past, with apartments above, and competitive street parking out front.
Finally, after the sitter officially falls through, I have to abandon the thought of this dispensary for the night. I open up Leafly and Weedmaps once more and change my itinerary. What is closest to my house, I wonder. What might I have not noticed in my own backyard? What’s within five miles of my zip code?
As I consult maps and street views once again, I see a place I’ve driven past on my commute. At a stoplight I had noticed an unusual Spanish tile on the outside of the building, white squares with green forms, a sort of simple alcala design. I like to imagine details like this are what might make a dispensary stand out from the others, but when I look at the photos of the dispensary’s website I find that the tiles are the most unique characteristic. Inside it’s gaudy black and gold patterns, complete with marijuana leaves, a stone statue of a god playing a sitar, strung up lights from Target. In one photo, a shot from the loft-like ceiling looks down at the main floor, where there is an office off to the side and a bald man at a desk is looking at something off camera. He may or may not be a security guard; there is something that looks like a patch on the arm of his black shirt.
I’m searching for something novel on this trail.
“Novel” in the context of marijuana culture, and medical marijuana dispensary culture in Los Angeles, specifically, is becoming harder to locate. Am I looking at the décor aesthetics of a manager, an owner, or the employees who might spend the most amount of time instead the dispensary? Is the culture inside the dispensary a reflection of the people who work there, the consumer base, or the neighborhood?
There is still something of the Wild West in the dispensaries, so I find myself looking closely at the photos. Sometimes the interior shots of dispensaries provide the most clues, because it’s more acceptable for me to linger over the photos themselves than the clues I might stumble upon live, standing in front of a countertop full of various marijuana strains in spice jars.
Still, this Wild West is in the process of being tamed. Many of the storefronts I intended to visit are now empty, FOR LEASE signs in place of the green cross. Los Angeles must be making good on the city district attorney’s vow to shut down the dispensaries that opened their doors after the 135 grandfathered in under the law.
Last week the Obama administration cleared the way for legal dispensaries to now set up legitimate business accounts with major banks. Marijuana inhabits the ambivalent space of remaining a controlled substance, illegal at the federal level, while also developing, in its pungent green arena, a certain amount of legitimacy.
The excursions I make to the handful of dispensaries I locate in search of the novel, the unique, might mean nothing in the end. A place I visited just months ago might not exist for long. The list of criminal cases filed by the city attorney’s office in January 2014 contains 70 names of dispensaries that, in different circumstances, I’d like to visit based on name only: G-Spot, Funhouse, Ultrafave, Super Terrific Remedies. The Venice branch of The Farmacy, profiled in the second installment of this column, has been shuttered due to its proximity to a youth center, a stipulation promised by Los Angeles’s Proposition D.
Essential to this issue is that there are patients who seek relief from a number of medical conditions that would be alleviated with marijuana consumption. Los Angeles is a little over five hundred square miles, with a population of close to four million people. Can the need be served by 135 dispensaries within Los Angeles?
As of the time of this writing, when one clicks on the buttons “Start Your Business,” “Grow Your Business” or “Move Your Business” on the City of Los Angeles website, the user is transported to a HTTP Error 404 page. There are, it seems, issues upon issues for the city to deal with.
I scan the list of criminal case filings. A dispensary that would have shown up on a map late last year, and would have been considered the dispensary closest to my house, is on the list. It’s been shut down for some time, though, and remains an empty storefront.
As I drive past the other dispensaries I notice, in an area known informally as “the green mile” as well as other more far-flung parts of the city, I have to wonder: How long do I have to pay a visit before these places disappear?