By Alex Halperin // July 19, 2017
Recreational weed’s debut in Nevada this month was marred by a legal fight over how product reaches consumers. Despite lines stretching out pot shop doors, stores reportedly couldn’t restock their shelves for the first two weeks of sales because the state hadn’t issued any distribution licenses. There was no legal way to deliver product to stores.
Nevada resolved the matter, at least temporarily, by awarding two distribution licenses, but a bigger, messier fight over distributing pot in California is just beginning.
California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, but it took 20 years for the state to create rules for the industry. While some cities have regulated the industry, the movement of product around the state has functioned as a gray market. Cities and counties can license growers and dispensaries, but how product moves from, say, a grower in Humboldt County to a Bay Area infused-chocolate maker to an L.A. dispensary has left drivers vulnerable to criminal prosecution.
By Alex Halperin // July 7, 2017
There are written histories of marijuana prohibition, but much of the plant’s past will never be recorded. Much of its illicit past survives only as oral history, a kind of mythology. The most tangible evidence of this folklore is in the endless number of cannabis strain names, which can refer to famous activists, unlikely crossings and, probably more often, meaningless, silly shit that must have seemed funny at the time.
Shop at any dispensary and the provenance of its strains is highly dubious. But every grower can make the case for the veracity of his crop. Similarly, the widely held belief that strains can be sorted into uplifting sativas, restful indicas and balanced hybrids has no scientific basis. But people use the terms anyway. Strain names also hint at how companies want to position their brands for a legal future.
The mood is tense in L.A.’s cannabis scene as many businesses are fretting about L.A. Police Department raids (three of the proprietors asked that their last names not be published). But a few Southern California producers shared with L.A. Weekly the stories behind their strains.
By Alex Halperin // July 5th, 2017
In March, L.A. voters overwhelmingly approved Measure M, giving the City Council permission to regulate the marijuana industry in the world’s biggest market. But industry leaders worry that the council’s proposed rules, released earlier this month, could force cannabis companies to relocate to more amenable cities, taking their jobs and tax dollars with them.
The proposed rules are up for a 60-day public comment period.
Marijuana industry insiders' main complaint is that while Measure M empowered the City Council to regulate the industry, the proposed rules would not give cannabis businesses full legal standing. Instead of licenses or permits, the draft regulations offer “certificates of compliance.”
The certificates, according to a spokesman for L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, would affirm that a business has met certain requirements, such as being far enough from schools, but do not signify “the city’s ‘approval’ of the business’ cannabis activity.”
By Alex Halperin // June 13th, 2017
One morning this spring, about two dozen L.A. cops arrived at a large marijuana grow facility with a battering ram. Without knocking, and armed with what the business owner called “full-on assault rifles, like something from a movie,” the owner said police proceeded to bash on the entrance.
The facility's owner recounted the event to L.A. Weekly on condition of anonymity, for fear of attracting more law enforcement activity. The incident also was referenced at a May 19 City Council meeting by Seth Hilsabeck, a board member of the Southern California Coalition, a cannabis industry group.
The police arrived at 7:30 a.m., and only 15 of the 35 workers were on-site, according to the owner. Those who were present, including an apparently very pregnant woman and a man with cancer, were handcuffed and “literally paraded up and down the street” for at least 20 minutes before they were released with a court date and misdemeanor charges that could carry fines or jail time, the owner said. One employee, a security guard, was arrested because he had a gun, according to the owner, and then released without charge.
By Alex Halperin // May 22nd, 2017
When she was 14, Sandra Andrade first learned about marijuana from her brother who had an outdoor garden. Today, the 36-year-old works at downtown L.A. dispensary Kushmart, where she helms the point-of-sale contact for those who want to purchase cannabis products. In weed industry terms, she's a budtender.
Sitting in a cramped space behind the showroom of downtown dispensary Kushmart, Andrade shares her experience of working in the relatively new industry. She said it’s essential to her job to “relate to what a patient needs.” Andrade has a great deal of influence over the patients’ purchase, whether a patient asks for something that will help with sleep or deal with pain. Or maybe they're looking to simply have more fun at parties..
The incipient industry offers opportunities to enter the legit marijuana economy, but like many budtenders, Andrade and her colleagues began work while dispensaries were in a legal "gray area." “The way we’ve learned has been a hustle,” Kushmart budtender Michelle de la Cruz said. “The next generation will have to go to school."
“There is a career in this,” Cruz, who has “Ambition” tattooed in script down her right forearm said. “We’re going to take over alcohol and cigarettes. We’re already doing it.”
By Alex Halperin // May 19th, 2017
Donnie Anderson says it took weeks of driving to count the pot dispensaries in City Council District 8, which covers much of South Central Los Angeles. The team found two shops granted “limited immunity” by the city, but they were vastly outnumbered by 133 of what Anderson calls “rogue shops.”
As partial owner of Med X, one of the two dispensaries in the district that are trying to follow the rules, it bothers Anderson that scores of other less conscientious stores operate openly, selling similar inventory, while not necessarily paying taxes or fulfilling other obligations of legitimate businesses. A former music and entertainment executive, he’s a founder of the Southern California Coalition, an advocacy group that created Measure M, as well as chairman of the NAACP’s cannabis task force for California and Hawaii.
District 8 is overwhelmingly Black and Latino. But Anderson says many of the rogue shops are owned by non-residents who are, in effect, siphoning money out of the area. “They don’t live in the community, they don’t invest in the community, they just know that our people are going to purchase cannabis,” he said.
By Alex Halperin // May 1st, 2017
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. For the first 20 years of the legalization era, the state declined to create a normalized industry.
Instead, local governments have been forced to figure out for themselves how to regulate a federally illegal industry. The consequences of this delay have frustrated cannabis activists eager to see California set the tone for legalization. In some cases, entrepreneurs have been convicted and incarcerated for growing or selling a plant that’s ostensibly legal in California.
Sherman Oaks–based cannabis business lawyer Ariel Clark notes that the cannabis industry is a "challenging" field. “It’s a huge thing to put your arms around, and [it’s] well outside local government’s general experience,” Clark said.
The situation has been especially confusing in Los Angeles, which is considered the world’s largest cannabis market. While San Francisco, Oakland and other progressive cities have licensed some cannabis businesses, L.A. has not. The closest it has come is Proposition D, which took effect in early 2013. Proposition D offers “limited immunity” to more than 130 dispensaries.
By Alex Halperin // April 11, 2017
In the dusty, Joshua tree–speckled desert of southwestern San Bernardino County, the town of Adelanto almost blends into the landscape with its unlovely grid of colorless, low-slung buildings. The remote town was founded in 1915 by Earl Richardson, who is best known for inventing the toaster and an electric iron. Much like the nearby colony of Llano Del Rio — the failed Antelope Valley utopian commune that existed from 1914 to 1918 — Adelanto was intended to be one of Southern California’s prototypical planned communities. It was home to orchards and farms. But after the George Air Force Base — a large area employer since it opened in the 1940s — shuttered in 1992, the city never recovered.
Today, Adelanto’s population is around 33,000. It is 50 percent Latino and 30 percent African-American, and roughly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Adelanto’s first prison opened in 1991, and since then it’s been known — to the extent that it’s known at all — as a prison city. The for-profit prison company GEO Group has opened facilities there, housing more than 3,000 inmates. Last year, Adelanto reportedly collected only $160,000 annually from these businesses.
On a desolate inbound road, a welcoming sign calls Adelanto “the city with unlimited possibilities.” Beneath the slogan are badges for Rotary International, the city’s Chamber of Commerce (founded in 1956), and the American Legion. There’s also a new logo on the sign, for the Adelanto Growers Association, a marijuana industry group striving to revive the city’s fortunes.
By Alex Halperin // March 20, 2017
On the evening of this month’s local elections, members of the Southern California Coalition gathered on a restaurant patio downtown. It was a clean-cut, mostly male crowd and they had come to celebrate a milestone more than 20 years in the making: a regulated marijuana industry in Los Angeles.
Virgil Grant, the organization’s president, held a tablet showing the results. It wasn’t even close. Only 20 percent of Angelenos voted, but Measure M had better than 70 percent support.
Grant, a Compton native who had his first dispensary more than a decade ago and later served six years in prison, is now president of the industry trade group Southern California Coalition (SCC) and a powerful figure in L.A. weed.
While California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, it entrusted local governments to regulate their own industries. While some cities have banned pot businesses, others including San Francisco created frameworks allowing some cannabis businesses to get licenses from the city.
By Alex Halperin // March 13, 2017
One aspect of legal marijuana that is not often acknowledged is the difficulty of making money in the industry. Despite seemingly bottomless demand for cannabis, companies face problems that stem from its unique semi-legal status. Many pot companies, for example, have to deal with 280e, a few lines of the tax code left over from the early Reagan years. It's the measure that prohibits companies that deal in federally illegal substances from deducting business expenses on their taxes. It’s a crushing burden, especially for small businesses.
Within the market itself, companies struggle to differentiate themselves, leading to brutal competition. Every weed grower, vape designer and edibles maker can explain at excruciating length why his product is incomparably superior. But only the most fanatic connoisseurs appreciate the difference, or care.