This is part of a series on the medical marijuana distribution shops in Studio City and North Hollywood that will be published over the next two weeks. Watch for continuing coverage of the issues surrounding these shops and Prop 19.
What is that big green cross? What does it mean?
It usually signals a location for a medical marijuana dispensary. The most common places to see them are along Ventura Boulevard and up Lankershim Boulevard.
In the upcoming election, the state Proposition 19 will legalize various marijuana-related transactions—and that will take place the day after the election. Could that mean more pot shops in the area? Most likely.
"It is literally true that there were more medical marijuana facilities in the city of Los Angeles than than there were Starbucks coffees. That is literally true. I'm not being facetious. And that's absurd," said Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who hasn't yet taken an official stand on Prop 19, but is leaning against it. "Because as much as I support the idea of compassionate use of marijuana, or any other substance that will bring relief to people who are suffering in pain with a real disease, I think we all know that isn't what's happening at the vast majority of medical marijuana facilities."
At the moment, although the numbers continue to be fluid, and many of the distribution centers are not even advertised, or are more private, the number of active marijuana distribution centers do exceed the dozen or so Starbucks in the Studio City and North Hollywood neighborhoods.
Councilman Tom LaBonge, who also represents Studio City, North Hollywood and Toluca Lake, said, "I understand the medical need for marijuana. I want the doctors and the pharmacies and the police department to all agree that it's safe and helps people. I'm not pleased with the pot shops, but if it's good to put them in the CVS pharmacies, and the doctors say it's OK, I'm fine with it."
The local senior lead officers for the Los Angeles Police Department say they've not seen an increase in crime around the pot shops (not like in other parts of the city, particularly in Hollywood). Nor have the neighborhood councils or resident associations or homeowners groups particularly been bombarded with protests against the stores.
In fact, the Studio City Chamber of Commerce even has the owner of one of the shops on the executive board of the chamber.
"We don't see any more crime that we can attribute to those shops," said Senior Lead Officer Mike Lewis, who patrols the Studio City area. "If they are in violation of something, we will put a stop to it, but so far it's been quiet."
Toluca Lake and North Hollywood Senior Lead Officer Robert Benavidez added, "We can't really attribute any crime trends to any of the stores we have in the area."
As you drive down Ventura Boulevard there are seven dispensaries just in Studio City. One clinic has a valet, another shop expanded their driveway to accommodate more traffic, two of them have an armed guard to let you in the facility.
With tinted windows you are buzzed in to a nice waiting room with a large wall separating it. In others you just slip your ID into a bullet proof tinted window slot and wait for a voice on the other side who says, "Is it your first time?"
At the moment, these clinics are operating like any other businesses in the area by paying rent and taxes. Eric Matuschek of Starbudz on Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood feels that the pharmaceutical companies will have the most to gain from this initiative.
"But, I don't even think enough people will show up at the polls in November and vote on it," Matuschek adds. Since his recent interview with Studio City Patch, Matsucheck's clinic has been shut down and he was arrested for a misdemeanor by the Los Angeles Narcotics detectives.
Dave Warden, manager at the Wellness Earth Energy Dispensary on Ventura Boulevard, said, "We all want Proposition 19 to pass and we welcome the competition, when government and large conglomerates get involved we get innovative and better products, maybe even then insurance will start covering it."
Cannabis would have its ingredients listed for consumer's safety grown from "legitimate collectives" free of pesticides, he added.
Sam Humeid, the owner of Perennial Holistic on Ventura Boulevard, claims it is all about "the product." The people who use these clubs want to get off of their pharmaceutical drugs and want a natural alternative. "It really is just about helping people," he says.
The important word is "sell," said LAPD Narcotics Police Lt. John King. "At the moment the sale of any narcotic is illegal in the state and city of Los Angeles." That is, except for medicinal purposes, and that will change if the law is passed on Nov. 2.
The clinics are non-profit caregivers, like American Medical Group (AMG) on Ventura Boulevard. The manager of that clinic, Roy, who refused to give his last name said, "Bring it on. Whatever the law says, I will do." He stressed that he would be a "chameleon" and change with whatever law happens in November. "Maybe I'll make it a healing center and model it to fit in with the changes in the law." And, about that armed guard in his shop, he added, "you can never be too careful."
Lt. King reports, "We have had two murders and an attempted murder at dispensaries in Hollywood, Rampart and Devonshire division." An arrest has been made On July 21, 31-year-old Daniel "Scooter" Hinton was arrested and has been charged in connection with murder and attempted murder. He is being held without bail, awaiting trial.
The main question is what are the consequences for the neighborhood? Are the dispensaries dangerous to have, considering these security concerns?
Jim Meyers, an area resident, claims it bothers him "because the street presence is pretty shady. They popped up all over all of a sudden in a half-mile radius, some on the same block."
Another resident, Meriam Harvey, said, "It doesn't bother me, I never see anyone going in or out of them. It's a ghost town and I drive by one every day."
However, several of the clinics have just disappeared over night, due to the new city ordinance, according to Lt. King. "I have one squad working on that right now, on the post city ordinance ones," King said. "Those are the ones we are targeting along with the city attorneys office."
If a clinic was opened before November of 2007 they are not a target, or so they think. Some of the clinics shut down have reopened because they are in litigation with the city.
"But, being in litigation will not get these clinics out of being investigated," Lt. King emphasized.
What does all this mean to medical community? Doctors are taking no stand on the issue, only to commenting that "what a patient does in their private life we have no control, just like with cigarettes or alcohol."
Prop. 19 will legalize marijuana and allow it to be sold and taxed. Lawmakers claim that the taxes imposed could generate between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion in new direct tax revenue annually to local governments.
The fact is that marijuana, along with LSD and heroin, has been categorized by the Federal government as a Schedule I, the most restrictive category. These substances are considered to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse, according to the American Medical Association. There are no FDA-approved medications that are smoked, but they have approved the active ingredient THC in the form of a regulated medication called Marinol. Warden said if the pharmaceutical companies get involved there will be inhalers for asthmatics and ingredients printed on the back, just like a "can of soup."
The clinics give out fliers for local doctors that say they give recommendations for, anxiety, arthritis, anorexia, asthma, chronic pain, cancer, Crohn's disease, depression, diabetes, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, HIV/aids, irritable bowel syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, muscle spasms, migraine's, nausea, stress, seizures, sports injuries and more. (Patch tried to reach two of the local doctors listed, but neither would comment.)
Charlene Mathers, a 13-year resident of Studio City, explained, "I voted for the initiative because I felt everyone should have a choice in their medical care. But, then when I saw one on every corner and people in there 20s hanging out, it became a downer for me."
She said she feels like it was supposed to be for cancer patients and people with real illnesses, but now they are just "bulking the system."
As the voters go to the polls this November, think of the comment from Mathers: "I wonder now why we don't have bullet-proof glass and armed guards at our pharmacies too since there are narcotics there also?"
For more information on the Ballot measure for Nov. 2 go to www.taxcannabis.org
For information on The Weed Report go to www.theweedreport.com
Check back Saturday to read about how easy and safe (or not) it is to purchase your medical marijuana.
Craig Clough, Nicole Kristal and Mike Szymanski contributed to this report.