Drug War

L.A.'s Pot Revolution

How Los Angeles became the "wild West" of medical marijuana-and lived to tell the tale.

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On a warm, bright winter day in January, I spent a few hours driving around two neighborhoods in Los Angeles, looking at marijuana stores.

You know, marijuana stores. Where you (well, not necessarily you) can walk in and, if you can prove a doctor has recommended marijuana to you for relief of an ailment, walk out with a brown bag full of buds, pot brownies, or cannabis candy bars. Los Angeles has more than 500 of these stores. My companions on the drives were two citizen activists who didn't like seeing so many marijuana shops and who regularly let the Los Angeles City Council know of their unhappiness.

Michael Larsen, a 43-year-old family man, is public safety director for the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council. He doesn't like to discuss his day job in the press, saying it has drawn too many hostile medical marijuana supporters to his work-related websites in the past.

Eagle Rock, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, is visibly aging but remains dignified and distinct, with commercial areas occupied mostly by low-slung, pale old buildings housing storefront doctor's offices, service businesses such as beauty salons and tax preparers, and independent restaurants and boutiques rather than chain stores. As we cruise a mile or so up and down Eagle Rock, York, and Colorado boulevards, Larsen points out more than 10 pot dispensaries. "Eagle Rock is about being a small community with a small-town feel, and we want to retain that," he says.

Responding to criticisms he's received from medical marijuana activists, Larsen insists: "I'm not being uncompassionate. I may be a NIMBY, but I'm fine with that. Eagle Rock is struggling to maintain the character of the neighborhood, for my kids or other people and their kids." Larsen tells me about the healthy-looking young men who sometimes congregate in parking lots or on streets near dispensaries, smoking pot or blasting music. He points out one such young man entering AEC, a dispensary on Colorado Boulevard, while we are in its parking lot. He tells me about a local woman in her 80s who can't understand what kind of world she's living in, where marijuana is sold on her corner.

Larsen also points out some grubby-looking auto repair shops along his neighborhood's main strip and tells me how the locals managed to curb their profusion through the city's planning process. He talks about the auto repair shops in much the same way he discusses the pot shops. He does not think either should be completely eliminated, but he believes they constitute a blight on the neighborhood when they are too conspicuous.

Larsen and I pass one marijuana dispensary, the Cornerstone Collective, that I visited the day before. If you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't know it was there. It has no pot leaf images, no neon signs announcing "Alternative" or "Herbal," no commercial signage at all. The owner, Michael Backes, told me with amused pride that a while back, when a runaway car plowed straight through his wall, a local news crew identified the place as a "dentist office," which is what it looks like from its waiting room. Backes is "doing it right," Larsen tells me.

My drive through Studio City, in the southeast San Fernando Valley just over the mountains from Hollywood, is similar. Barbara Monahan Burke, a 64-year-old horticulturalist who serves as the neighborhood council's co-chair for government affairs, doesn't say anything about increases in crime associated with the marijuana dispensaries (a connection often asserted by public officials), but she does complain about occasional pot smoking in front of them, which can annoy commercial neighbors. "I personally believe in compassionate use of medical marijuana and voted for it," she says.

Within a couple of miles on Ventura Boulevard, a dozen dispensaries seem to be open for business on this weekday afternoon. (Burke told me in mid-February that by then she was only sure that six of them were still open for business.) "It's about preservation of communities," she says. "We want this to be a place where families can live. It's about, what do the people who live here want our branding to be as Studio City?" That branding, she thinks, should not be linked to green crosses and billboards for Medicann, a medical marijuana doctors' consulting service, every couple of blocks on her neighborhood's major commercial strip.

The Wild West of Weed

Newsweek dubbed Los Angeles "the wild West of weed" in October 2009, and that phrase often echoed through the city council's chamber as it haggled over a long-awaited ordinance regulating the dispensaries. Both the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly regularly jabbed at the city council for fiddling while marijuana burned, supplied by storefront pot dispensaries that were widely (but inaccurately) said to total 1,000 or more.

On January 26, after years of dithering and months of debate, the city council finally passed an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana shops. In addition to dictating the details of lighting, record keeping, auditing, bank drops, hours of operation, and compensation for owners and employees, the ordinance requires a dramatic reduction in the number of dispensaries. The official limit is 70, but because of exemptions for some pre-existing dispensaries the final number could grow as high as 137. The ordinance allocates the surviving dispensaries among the city's "planning districts" and requires that they be located more than 1,000 feet from each other and from "sensitive areas" such as parks, schools, churches, and libraries. It also requires patients who obtain marijuana from dispensaries to pick one outlet and stick with it.

As those rules suggest, city officials are not prepared to treat marijuana like any other medicine, despite a 1996 state ballot initiative that allows patients with doctor's recommendations to use it for symptom relief. It's hard to imagine the city council arbitrarily limiting the number of pharmacies, insisting that they not do business near competitors, creating buffer zones between parks and Duane Reade locations, or demanding that patients obtain their Lipitor from one and only one drugstore. Such restrictions reflect marijuana's dual identity in California: It is simultaneously medicine and menace. At the same time, the regulations do serve to legitimize distribution of a drug that remains completely prohibited by federal law—a stamp of approval welcomed by many dispensary operators.

When I asked activists, businessmen, or politicians why L.A.'s medical marijuana market needed to be regulated, they almost invariably replied, "It was unregulated." When I delved beyond that tautology, I found motives little different from those that drive land use planning generally. The activists who demanded that the city bring order to the "wild West" of medical marijuana were motivated not by antipathy to cannabis so much as mundane concerns about "blight," neighborhood character, and spillover effects. While responding to these concerns, every member of the city council voiced support for medical access to marijuana in theory, and none openly sided with the federal law enforcement officials who view the trade as nothing more than drug dealing in disguise.

Los Angeles became the medical marijuana capital of America thanks to a combination of entrepreneurial energy and benign political neglect. What happened here is instructive for other jurisdictions that already or may soon let patients use the drug. In the last 14 years, the voters or legislators of 14 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for at least some medical purposes. Medical marijuana campaigns, via either legislation or ballot initiative, are active in 13 other states. National surveys indicate broad public support for such reforms. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in January found that 81 percent of Americans think patients who can benefit from marijuana should be able to obtain it legally. 

But L.A.'s experience also shows that majority support for medical marijuana is not necessarily enough. An October poll of Los Angeles residents commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project found that 77 percent supported regulating dispensaries, while only 14 percent wanted them closed. But patients and the entrepreneurs who served them still had to contend with a noisy minority, clustered in political institutions such as neighborhood councils, the police department, and government lawyers' offices, who resisted the normalization of marijuana. That process culminated in an ordinance with onerous restrictions that could nearly eliminate the current medical pot business and cause great hardship for tens of thousands of Los Angeles residents who use marijuana as a medicine.

Still, for those who lived through the ferocious cultural and political war over pot during the second half of the 20th century, it's amazing that the strife in pot-saturated Los Angeles has had more to do with land use regulation than with eradicating an allegedly evil plant. Even with pot readily available over the counter at hundreds of locations to anyone with an easily obtained doctor's letter, the most common complaints were essentially aesthetic.

The Road to the Corner Pot Shop

When California voters agreed in 1996 to legalize pot for medical use, the initiative campaign emphasized marijuana's utility in treating AIDS wasting syndrome, the side effects of cancer chemotherapy, and other grave conditions. But the initiative, known as the Compassionate Use Act, also allowed pot to be recommended for treatment of "any other illness for which marijuana provides relief." That language strongly influenced how the politics and culture of medical marijuana evolved in Los Angeles.

The federal government did not yield to the judgment of California's voters. The Clinton administration threatened to prosecute or revoke the prescription privileges of doctors who recommended marijuana, only to be rebuked by a federal appeals court on First Amendment grounds. From the late 1990s into the first year of the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided medical marijuana growers and suppliers, without regard to whether they were following California law. Last November, the Justice Department instructed U.S. attorneys that they "should not focus federal resources" on "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." Yet as of February, the DEA was still raiding medical marijuana shops in the L.A. area.

Ambiguity is built into the Justice Department's new policy, thanks to uncertainty over what exactly it means to comply with state law. The Compassionate Use Act allowed patients or their "primary caregivers" to grow marijuana for medical use. The Medical Marijuana Program Act, a law passed by the state legislature that took effect in 2004, imposed limits on how much marijuana patients or their caregivers could possess, while allowing local jurisdictions to establish higher ceilings. In January the California Supreme Court rejected those limits, saying patients should be allowed to have whatever amount is "reasonable" for their medical needs.

Most important in understanding what happened in Los Angeles, the 2004 law said patients may join together to "collectively or cooperatively" grow marijuana and distribute it to each other. The law did not define collectives or cooperatives, but guidelines issued by Attorney General Jerry Brown in 2008 said they should be deemed legitimate as long as they were operated by patients, served only members of the collective, and did not take in more revenue than was necessary to cover their operating expenses. Ostensibly, the storefront dispensaries that opened in cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Oakland were collectives operated by and for patients, providing them with their medicine as permitted by state law. But given the ease of obtaining a doctor's recommendation and becoming a collective member, critics viewed the dispensaries as thinly disguised pot shops that sold marijuana to the general public for recreational as well as medical purposes. 

As you are frequently reminded by people in Los Angeles who are angry about the way the dispensary system developed, Californians who voted for the Compassionate Use Act had in mind patients with cancer, AIDS, or other serious conditions, people who needed marijuana to relieve agonizing pain, fight debilitating nausea, or restore their appetites so they could take in enough nutrition to stay alive. Voters who supported the initiative did not have in mind milder, vaguer, and less verifiable complaints of the sort that seem to be far more common among people with doctor's recommendations. Austin Elguindy, a partner in an L.A. medical pot recommendation practice called Consulting and Care for Wellness, tells me his top three reasons for recommending marijuana are lower back pain, insomnia, and anxiety.

Regulation of the dispensaries was left to local jurisdictions. Some, such as the politically liberal cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and West Hollywood, experienced an early proliferation that was quickly curbed. San Francisco set a limit of 23 dispensaries, while Oakland and West Hollywood each settled on four. About 120 cities banned pot storefronts entirely (although a lawsuit that is before a state appeals court challenges their authority to do so). Los Angeles, by contrast, declined to address pot dispensaries at all. Medical marijuana entrepreneurs began moving into L.A. in 2003. In May 2005, when City Councilman Dennis Zine (a former cop) first asked the police to look into the dispensaries and asked the city attorney's office to help the council draft regulations for them, just a handful were around. By the end of 2006 there were nearly 100.

Zine blames the delayed reaction on resistance from then–City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Don Duncan, a leading medical marijuana activist and operator of a West Hollywood dispensary that opened in 2004, also blames the city attorney's office. He says Delgadillo and his successor, Carmen Trutanich, did not want to legitimize an industry they viewed as illegal. Both  took the position, contrary to Attorney General Brown's guidelines, that state law does not allow the exchange of medical marijuana for money, no matter how the distributor is organized or labeled. In a January ruling on a civil nuisance case brought by the city attorney's office against a dispensary called Hemp Factory V, a Superior Court judge agreed with this narrow reading of the law. Joe Elford, a lawyer for the medical marijuana activist group Americans for Safe Access, says this contradicts state appellate decisions that acknowledge the legality of not-for-profit sales.

The complaints that prompted Zine to consider regulating the dispensaries were not terribly alarming. Citizens were annoyed by pot smokers congregating outside dispensaries. Some parents didn't like the message they believed the dispensaries communicated to their kids: that marijuana was an ordinary commodity that could be sold openly without fear of legal repercussions. They also worried that kids might obtain marijuana from patients, which local journalists have found happens occasionally. Mostly, marijuana just kind of freaks some people out.

In August 2007, the city council rushed through an "interim control ordinance" (ICO) that declared a moratorium on new pot shops. The ordinance also required existing dispensaries to submit paperwork proving they had seller's permits from the state Board of Equalization (which expected them to collect taxes on marijuana sales), a tax registration certificate from the city, and a legitimate commercial lease or property deed. One hundred eighty-three dispensaries filed their paperwork before the November 2007 deadline, of which 137 were still operating when the council passed its new regulations in 2010.

By the time the ICO was passed, many dispensaries had been forced to close by the DEA's tactic of sending threatening letters to landlords who rented space to pot shops. Worried that their property would be seized by the federal government, dozens of landlords evicted marijuana dispensaries. Many of these sellers sought to reopen by applying for a "hardship exemption" under the interim control ordinance. The city let the applications pile up without examining them, and dispensary operators who were not in business prior to the moratorium filed the same forms, hoping they could slip by. Many others, known as "rogues" in the medical marijuana community, opened without bothering to file any paperwork.

By mid-2009 hundreds of what came to be known as "post-ICO" pot shops had opened. Local and national media outlets began to notice. In July a Wall Street Journal story looked askance at the "unchecked growth" of pot shops in L.A. In October, the same month Newsweek dubbed L.A. "the wild West of weed," a New York Times story tut-tutted that there were "more marijuana stores here than public schools." The city council could no longer avoid the issue. 

Making a Hash of an Ordinance

According to dispensary critic Michael Larsen, Los Angeles was "a national laughingstock" because of the proliferating pot shops. Based on a combination of hysterical hearsay and applications for exemptions that never turned into functioning storefronts, politicians, journalists, and perturbed neighbors were regularly claiming the city had something like 1,000 dispensaries—more than the number of Starbucks locations.

The L.A. Weekly—an alternative paper that might have been expected to side with the dispensaries, especially given how many of their ads fill the paper—helped lead the negative coverage, as part of a general crusade against what it sees as the city government's fecklessness. The paper in November tried to get an accurate count of the dispensaries and found that 540 or so were operating when the council began reconsidering the issue. To a politician who didn't have to worry about where he could obtain a medicine that helped make his life livable, that must have seemed like an awful lot.

Even though the city council had been considering the issue, on and off, for nearly five years, the ordinance it produced after a contentious back and forth between the council and the city attorney's office seemed half-baked in many respects. It imposed draconian restrictions with little thought to how they might affect patients who had come to rely on marijuana to relieve their symptoms.

Some of the provisions are mild and largely supported by the medical pot community, which was begging for bearable regulations that would legitimize the dispensaries. The relatively uncontroversial requirements include demands for twice-daily bank runs, no plants visible from the street, and unarmed security guards patrolling a two-block radius around each dispensary.

Other provisions seem difficult to enforce and/or comply with, such as the rule that each patient can be a member of no more than one collective (meaning he can obtain marijuana from just one location), a demand that all the pot distributed go through "an independent and certified laboratory" to be checked for pesticides (dispensary operators insist that no such lab exists in Los Angeles), and a requirement that dispensaries store what could amount to tens of thousands of pieces of paper with patient and transaction information in fireproof vaults on site. Most ominously for the future of the medical marijuana business in L.A., the ordinance creates 1,000-foot "buffers" between the dispensaries and a list of "sensitive uses": schools, churches, libraries, parks, youth centers, substance abuse centers, and other pot dispensaries. A last-minute addition to the bill also bans dispensaries from land "abutting" residential property and specifies that "no collective shall be located on a lot…across the street or alley from…a residentially zoned lot or a lot improved with residential use."

If the ordinance survives legal challenges and goes into effect, that last provision will force nearly all of the existing dispensaries to move, and they will have few places to go. Almost all of L.A.'s standard commercial space is separated from homes or apartments merely by an alley behind them. In the weeks after the ordinance passed, various sources in the medical marijuana community told me landlords lucky enough to have space that complies with the new rules have tripled their rents and started demanding five-figure "signing fees" from dispensaries scrambling to find new locations. 

Pot Civil War

The regulatory debate divided the medical marijuana community, pitting older dispensaries against new competitors, those seeking legitimacy against the open outlaws, those happy with the medical-use status quo against those who want complete legalization. Pot sellers who were in business before the 2007 moratorium—which a state court overturned on technical legal grounds in October—believe, probably correctly, that the industry could have continued to thrive under the media and political radar if not for the hundreds of Johnny-come-latelies. "Pre-ICO" and "post-ICO" dispensaries are the Sharks and Jets of the L.A. pot world. 

Bill Leahy is general manager of a three- location chain of dispensaries known as the Farmacy, which began operating in West Hollywood in 2004. He meets me at the West Hollywood branch, which features cheery attendants, warm wood, mystical art, and one of the metropolitan area's widest arrays of cannabis-enhanced tinctures, sprays, drinks, packaged foods, and gelatos. Leahy, a 63-year-old former print shop operator with the air of a steel-hard but gallant Western sheriff, is understandably proud of his comfortable shopping environment with doors open wide to the cool, sunny L.A. winter. 

The Farmacy does not have the unsettling mantrap quality of many dispensaries, where you are locked into enclosed space after enclosed space between you and whoever hands you the goods (after examining and confirming your doctor's recommendation and asking you to fill out forms to join the collective, assuming the dispensary is trying to be legit). Leahy makes sure I notice a rival shop across Santa Monica Boulevard, which opened in 2005. He gently chides its garish signage and unfriendly layout, which includes one of those off-putting enclosed entry areas.

Leahy is on the steering committee of the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, a trade association dominated by the pre-ICO shops. Don Duncan, a prominent activist in the association, represents Americans for Safe Access as well as his own West Hollywood dispensary. An overwrought November L.A. Weekly story painted Duncan as the drug kingpin guiding council members such as Dennis Zine and Ed Reyes to let legalized pot dealing ruin their city, describing Duncan as "the most important man in City Hall regarding medical marijuana policy" with "tremendous influence." The article suggestively noted that Duncan "wasn't vetted to determine whether his pot sources and profits are illicit or legitimate," though it presented no evidence that he fails to comply with state law.

Since March 2009, Dan Halbert has run the Rainforest Collective, a pot shop on Venice Boulevard in West Los Angeles with a bright and airy front room, floors covered in Astroturf, and walls painted with murals that suggest you are sitting in a vaguely Greek temple situated in a jungle. Halbert is president of the Green Alliance of Patients and Providers (GAPP), a trade group representing post-ICO dispensaries. The organization raised the ire of the city council gadfly John Walsh, a perpetually angry, perpetually arm-pumping shouter who was the most consistent and loudest anti-dispensary voice at city council meetings. At a January city council meeting, an appalled Walsh pointed the council's attention to a line in a GAPP pamphlet that said the dispensaries wanted to craft and pass, via city referendum, regulations "for the industry by the industry." Walsh bridled at the word industry. Wasn't medical marijuana supposed to be about medicine and compassion?

Halbert understands that the pre-ICO pot entrepreneurs paved the way for people like him, braving the risk of federal arrests. An entrepreneur from Arizona, he says he did not feel safe moving into the market until he believed the Obama administration wouldn't come after him. He can see how old hands such as Leahy and Duncan would resent the new competition. Still, Halbert says, "We brought the prices down. When there were only 186 [dispensaries], things were expensive, and [the shops] were making a lot of money, which is against the whole intent of this." 

Halbert's jab at the profits of his older competitors seems somewhat at odds with his group's description of medical marijuana distribution as an "industry." But it fits with the anti-commercial mentality reflected in the attorney general's guidelines, which say collectives should not turn a profit (although they are not required to incorporate as nonprofit organizations). That same attitude led to the half-baked wage controls in the new ordinance, which bans bonuses and says operators and workers must receive "compensation commensurate with reasonable wages and benefits paid to employees of IRS-qualified non-profit organizations" with similar qualifications and duties.

'That Other Thing'

We've been talking about the politics of medical marijuana, a more or less civilized activity in which business people and activists on both sides lobby politicians, who consider their input, along with public comments and negative press coverage, when they formulate policy. That's one thing. But as drug lord Avon Barksdale told his lieutenant Stringer Bell in the HBO series The Wire, there's also "that other thing." 

Barksdale says this in the context of Bell's attempts to turn the drug trade into a rational business—much as Don Duncan and Dan Halbert, in a more aboveboard way, are doing in Los Angeles. "That other thing" is the part of the drug trade Barksdale is more comfortable with: the part with guns and threats, intimidation and violence.

That other thing also plays a role in L.A.'s medical marijuana market, but how big a role is unclear. Although the text of the new ordinance alleges an "increase in and escalation of violent crime" associated with dispensaries, the city's crime rates were dropping in almost every category while the shops proliferated. In a January interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck admitted there was no evidence the dispensaries had contributed to criminality. "I have tried to verify that because that, of course, is the mantra," Beck told the paper. "It doesn't really bear out."

One guard was murdered by robbers at a Pico Boulevard dispensary in October 2008, the sort of tragedy that can be expected in a big-city business that deals mostly in cash because its transactions are prohibited by federal law. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich says about 200 L.A. dispensaries have been robbed. Patrick Duff, proprietor of three L.A.-area marijuana dispensaries that have been raided by the police for various reasons, thinks the actual number of robberies is much higher because dispensary operators are often reluctant to call cops they believe are corrupt. 

Police and politicians often claim dispensaries get their pot from Mexican drug cartels. (To comply with state law, everything a pot dispensary sells is supposed to be provided by its own patient-members, and all the dispensary operators I talked to or who stood up for themselves at city council meetings insist that's how they do it. The council briefly considered requiring the dispensaries to do all their growing on site, the kind of demand that would have been seen as obviously absurd if applied to any other market or pharmacy.) Capt. Kevin McCarthy, the Los Angeles Police Department's commanding officer for gangs and narcotics, tells me that getting to the bottom of such connections, if they exist, would be "labor intensive to do, and we don't have resources to do it." McCarthy notes that the city claims to have found pesticides used only in Mexico on pot seized in at least one dispensary raid. 

One old-fashioned grower from Mendocino County who was accustomed to dealing with pot-savvy dispensary operators in the pre-ICO days laments that he is now supplying "Boris with the gold chains," who cares only about price points and doesn't understand the product. (There is no legal reason growers from up north can't be patient-members of a dispensary in L.A.) Some anti-dispensary activists worry that they may be interfering with the interests of people who are not afraid to use violence when crossed, but there is no hard evidence to support that fear.

When it comes to intimidation and violence in the medical marijuana scene, the leading offender, however, is clearly the government: the DEA, plus local police and sheriff's departments. They send small armies of heavily armed, Kevlar-clad, dark-helmeted men into the stores and homes of dispensary operators and medical marijuana growers, terrorizing their children, shooting their dogs, digging up their yards, roughing them up, and taking their money.

As of early February, Americans for Safe Access has counted nearly 70 medical marijuana raids in the Los Angeles area since 2006. Federal raids usually do not result in criminal charges; the DEA typically settles for shutting down dispensaries and seizing their assets. State and local authorities are slightly more inclined to prosecute. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, like City Attorney Trutanich, maintains that all pot sales are illegal. Still, most cases end in plea agreements, which means defendants' claims to be operating within the law are never considered by a jury. Meital Manzuri, a Sherman Oaks defense attorney who represents dispensary operators, says it's generally in the interests of both the state and the defendants to stop medical marijuana cases before they go to trial: Trials are expensive and, when a medical defense is involved, risky for both sides.

One dispensary operator who is likely going to trial on state charges is the 60-year-old accountant Clay Tepel, a veteran of L.A.'s counterculture as a former business manager at the original Los Angeles alternative weekly, the L.A. Free Press. In August local police arrested Tepel for possession with intent to sell at Kush Korner, his pot shop in a strip mall on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana. His sign still hangs between "I Sold it on EBay" and "Kids Hair Shop" in front of the strip mall, and the wrecked storefront stands empty next to a Domino's Pizza outlet. Tepel still has the lease and keys, and we chat in the front room of the former dispensary, where natural light seeps into the electricity-deprived space. The possession with intent to sell charge darkly amuses him: Why else would he have a seller's permit from the state Board of Equalization? Tepel's lawyer, Allison Margolin, says that the case may result in her challenging the legality of the state's demand that dispensaries have to operate not-for-profit.

Tepel's store was a family operation. One of his teenaged daughters and his wife helped run the shop, which he insists was not only not making a profit but was in fact sucking money from his accounting income. Both of his teenaged daughters were around when a squad of heavily armed cops burst into his house at the same time the store was raided. Tepel tells me he and his family are negotiating with a major TV network to produce a reality show about his "Brady Bunch with bongs" once his legal troubles are behind him. Tepel says he has no idea why he was raided or why he is one of the unlucky few with a court date. He says the lead cop on the raid told him they were "coming to get all of them."

In mid-February, after the new ordinance passed but before it took effect, local officials started to deliver on that threat. On February 18, the city attorney's office sued three L.A. dispensaries, seeking to shut them down as public nuisances. The operator of one dispensary named in the lawsuit, Organica in West L.A., was arrested on state charges of selling marijuana in a raid that involved the DEA. On the same day, 18 other dispensaries received letters from the city attorney, threatening them with eviction for selling marijuana.

Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg told the L.A. Weekly that all the shops were targeted for selling pot to undercover cops who presented doctor's recommendations. The city attorney's office continues to insist that exchanging medical marijuana for money is illegal in all circumstances, even though the city council just passed an ordinance that explicitly allows nonprofit sales. 

The Lie of Medical Marijuana

California's medical marijuana law created a special category of people who are allowed to do something that others would be arrested for doing, and it gave a guild of licensed professionals the nearly unlimited power to define this category. Although physicians who issue recommendations for nonmedical reasons theoretically can be disciplined by the state medical board, that has happened only 12 times since 1996, and only one doctor lost his license as a result. The discretion permitted by the law is so broad that proving misconduct is very difficult.

That broad discretion helps patients who might be denied their medicine under a stricter regime, and at the same time it helps people who want pot for recreational purposes. Medical marijuana activists often say that all marijuana use is essentially medical, if that category is understood to include quotidian psychological and emotional problems that the drug alleviates. If physicians can prescribe pharmaceuticals to treat stress, anxiety, shyness, and depression, the activists say, why can't they recommend marijuana for the same reasons? Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, offers a partly tongue-in-cheek take on the question: Given how bad for your health it is to get caught up in the criminal justice system because you have marijuana, he says, removing that threat is a form of preventive medicine.

Politically, though, the malleability of the medical category is a problem. Anyone who locates a sympathetic, trusting, or simply greedy doctor can obtain the legal right to possess pot in California. That fact, plus the hundreds of outlets that sprang up in Los Angeles to supply those patients, fostered a fairly accurate public perception that during the last few years anyone willing to put in a little effort could travel a short distance and buy pot over the counter.

The medical model attaches great importance to motive and state of mind, which is why dispensary operators often say, when justifying themselves to politicians or the press, that they're in the business "for the right reasons," unlike some of their competitors. Combined with the federal ban on marijuana, medicalization leads to a world where customers can shop at only one store; where the cash they pay for a product is not the price but a "contribution to the collective"; where businesses are expected to avoid turning a profit; where a medicine is subject to sales tax, unlike other pharmaceuticals, and isn't regulated like any other pharmaceutical; where you are complying with the law if what you possess is "reasonable" related to some need that may have been invented by a doctor to begin with; where it's legal for you to have pot but you are still apt to be arrested for growing or transporting it. 

The medical model also fosters a weirdly contradictory attitude toward pot use, one that seemed to animate the L.A. Weekly's surprisingly negative coverage of the issue: Even people who don't care about pot smoking in general get upset when they think stoners are gaming a system that is supposed to serve patients with doctor-certified needs. The L.A. Weekly angrily reported in November that 70 percent of the people its reporters saw entering dispensaries were "young men—corroborating D.A. Cooley's claim that the real market for all this activity is everyday users, not people suffering serious disease." (Medical activists tend to respond to that sort of talk with the riposte that all sorts of maladies for which pot provides relief aren't diagnosable by strangers watching from yards away.)

In Los Angeles, such outrage over pot being used for the "wrong" reasons led to a bad and unsustainable ordinance. In March, Americans for Safe Access challenged the new regulations in state court. Its lawyer Joe Elford said in a press release that "The requirement to find a new location within 7 days [if the old one is zoned out of compliance] is completely unreasonable and undermines the due process of otherwise legal medical marijuana dispensaries." The suit seeks to have the ordinance declared "unlawful and unconstitutional."

The ordinance also faces a challenge in the form of a citizen referendum spearheaded by Dan Halbert, who needs 27,000 signatures to get it on the next available L.A. ballot in 2010. But as long as medical use is the only marijuana use officially permitted, dispensaries will remain hamstrung by stupid and unworkable restrictions. Full legalization, an idea long avoided by many medical marijuana activists, may be the only way to make sure all patients who can benefit from the drug have access to it without creating the sort of situation that gave rise to the crackdown in L.A.

While the latest ordinance may or may not succeed in shutting down hundreds of functioning storefronts, the freewheeling culture of quasi-legal pot will be harder to crush. L.A. is home to at least four ad-filled magazines serving the pot community, a branch of "Oaksterdam University" where potrepreneurs and patients learn medical marijuana science and law, an endless series of cannabis-related expositions and conventions, and websites such as Weedtracker (featuring discussions of dispensary quality and local politics) and weedmaps.com (which finds the dispensary nearest you). The Medical Cannabis Safety Council meets at Oaksterdam on occasional Saturday nights to discuss, among other things, the molds that can bedevil growers and self-regulation as a way of fending off heavy-handed government interference.

Is America ready for a world in which pot is as culturally and physically prevalent as it has become in L.A.? In a national Zogby poll conducted in April 2009, 52 percent of respondents supported treating marijuana more or less like alcohol, while other recent polls put the percentage in the 40s. Support for legalization is higher in California: A Field Poll of California voters taken the same month as the Zogby survey put support for legalization at 56 percent statewide and 60 percent in Los Angeles County. This fall we will see whether those opinions translate into voter support for a California ballot initiative that would, at long last, legalize and tax adult possession of marijuana.

Don Duncan, as dean of L.A.'s medical marijuana suppliers and activists, doesn't want to opine about full legalization. But his take on why all sides have fought so ferociously over the city's medical pot ordinance applies to the legalization debate as well. "The normalization of medical marijuana—certain elements in law enforcement and other civic leaders see it as a threat," he says. "If L.A. is in fact a medical marijuana town with safe access regulated, then that ends the debate for California.…Once the state's largest and most populated community has sensible regulations, foes of medical cannabis in law enforcement know they've lost the battle in California. They see it as a line in the sand, so ideologically they can't give up L.A. By the same token, that's why ideologically we can't either."

The fight to define what happened in L.A. during the "wild West" days of what amounted to legal over-the-counter pot is the same sort of battle. If the complaints that led to the regulatory crackdown are understood as arising from anti-pot prejudice, NIMBYism, and the occasional sighting of "undesirables," rather than real threats to public order and safety, it will seem pretty silly to continue spending billions of dollars and millions of man-hours each year to stop people from exchanging money for pot. The accidental result of a city attorney who didn't want to legitimize marijuana and a city council that didn't want to think about it could be the realization that it's better to allow a pot free-for-all than to continue to wage war on marijuana. 

Senior Editor Brian Doherty (bmdoherty@reason.com) is the author of This is Burning Man (BenBella), Radicals for Capitalism (PublicAffairs), and Gun Control on Trial (Cato).

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

113 responses to “L.A.'s Pot Revolution

  1. Brilliant Onion video about DEA raids (quite subversive, I think):
    http://www.theonion.com/video/…..son,17224/

    1. Excellent work as usual by “The Onion.”

      1. In all seriousness, I wonder if the drug warriors’ minds would change if their own kin were facing a long spell in prison for possessing weed.

        1. Their kin get busted all the time. They get rehab. Other people’s kids get jail.

    2. Who says we’re losing the drug war?

    3. Haha, yeah I saw this the other day. Reminded me of being 16 again.

  2. dude…..

  3. Larsen tells me about the healthy-looking young men who sometimes congregate in parking lots or on streets near dispensaries, smoking pot or blasting music. He points out one such young man entering AEC, a dispensary on Colorado Boulevard, while we are in its parking lot.

    I have no love for Larsen, but his point here might just serve as a cautionary tale. When we decided to ‘medicalize’ marijuana, we’re undoubtely going to find that there are a lot of ‘healthy’ young people who have a sudden, inexplicable need for “medicine”.

    At some point, someone’s going to investigate this and find shenanigans. And because Pot is “medicine” an inevitable crack-down will occur.

    This has to be legalized broadly. If we don’t, we’re in for a very rude awakening.

  4. hours of operation, and compensation for owners and employees

    Wha?!

  5. If marijuana is a dangerous weapon, surely we have a right to it under the 2nd Amendment.

    1. Subject to local, reasonable restrictions.

  6. That branding, she thinks, should not be linked to green crosses and billboards for Medicann…

    Or:

    That branding, she thinks, should not be linked to silver bullet trains and billboards for Coors Light…

    Fucking people.

    1. Good analagy.

  7. The accidental result of a city attorney who didn’t want to legitimize marijuana and a city council that didn’t want to think about it could be the realization that it’s better to allow a pot free-for-all than to continue to wage war on marijuana.
    For that to happen people would actually have to show some common sense in judging a controversial issue. I’m not holding my breath!

  8. NIMBYism, in the form of property owners who are concerned about the value of their home, means that the initiative to legalize cannabis statewide in California in November is doomed to defeat.

    1. I’m not a fan of zoning and land-use restrictions, but if there’s one that’s actually legitimate, it’s restrictions meant to make the marijuana use more private. Most of the justifications for zoning in terms of “preserving” real estate values just don’t hold up; most of the things that are restricted would NOT damage real estate values – just look at Houston. But a bunch of punks smoking marijuana outside right next door on a regular basis would most definitely destroy your house value. It constitutes real damage to you just as much as someone dumping on your land, or emitting pollutants into a stream that empties into a pond you own, etc.

      In other words – micromanaging the minutiae of details of your property as regular Euclidean zoning does, telling you how many families can occupy a home regardless of size, telling you you can’t run a small business out of it, saying you can’t build a shed – bad, and doesn’t really protect realty values (they at best create an artificial rise until the bubble bursts again). Stopping punks from smoking marijuana in broad view of the public, which would be a MAJOR turn-off for MANY prospective buyers, – legitimate because it really can pwn the value of your realty.

      Now I’ll grant that the restrictions described in the article go too far and some of them are just plain silly, but the concept is valid.

      And before any libertarians get all up-in-arms about it, just look at the Netherlands. They’ve effectively legalized marijuana. The massive amounts of violence and subsequent costs that prohibition created are gone, and marijuana use is actually LESS than here in The States. But they still have restrictions in terms of not smoking on public property, if I’m not mistaken. So it works out fine, even by libertarian standards (relative to what we have now). You can whine about your “moral principles” but you have to admit that the brunt of the damage done by prohibition is gone.

      1. in the Netherlands you are talking primarily about recreational cafes, these are MEDICAL dispensaries. if a city is dumb enough to enact zoning laws, then any zone where a pharmacy can operate a cannabis dispensary should also be allowed. they are both dispensing medicine to patients, except the meds at a regular pharmacy are more hardcore.

      2. I’m not a fan of zoning and land-use restrictions

        So you wouldn’t mind if a hog rendering plant was built next door to your home?

        1. Would I get any pig freebees?

          1. If we made a deal to get some free chitterlings and hog maws…..I could live with it. 🙂

        2. read my post thoroughly – I’m saying that it’s clearly appropriate in some situations

          1. Just being snarky for not any really good reason. Isn’t that what we do here?

            1. Being a douche in general is not good practice.

        3. if the hog rendering plant did not directly effect my property I wouldn’t give a fuck what they put in. but my point is that a place of business that sells drugs (alcohol, rx, herbal) doesn’t directly effect someone elses property. a hog rendering plant as you put it may directly effect a neighboring property if it was not built properly (ie: if they were leaking out an awful smell) but that can be argued, there is a cheese plant right next door and a bread bakery, one smells good, one smells like shit, but I don’t mind either operating there, it doesn’t bother me inside of my house and due to my proximity it doesn’t really effect me outside of my house either. but start taking a walk across the street and you may catch a nice or nasty scent, oh well deal with it.

  9. “local woman in her 80s who can’t understand what kind of world she’s living in, where marijuana is sold on her corner”

    Well, it sounds like she would probably be living in a world similar to the one of her youth…

    Also, I doubt she really owns “the corner”, so she can buy it or shut up.
    Also, I doubt the old lady exists.

    1. Apparently some elderly people find all sorts of aspects of the external world confusing and strange. Crazy, right?

      1. WHY IS MY CAR ACCELERATING? AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!

        1. Someday we’ll be old and (more) confused, too…

          1. I’m already there, baby. Already…oh look, a squirrel!

    2. Why should conflict between old people stagnation vs modern progression dictate how everyone lives? If you don’t understand what’s going on around you, you have no right to bitch.

  10. Even people who don’t care about pot smoking in general get upset when they think stoners are gaming a system that is supposed to serve patients with doctor-certified needs.

    I understand that sentiment, but it should be clear that people need to “game the system” because it’s been gamed to death by prohibitionists for decades now. So long as that demand is unable to find any legitimate outlets, it will use illegitimate ones.

    Besides, that really has nothing to do with dispensaries; a fraudulent “stoner” can just as easily grow his own marijuana under the guise of medicinal need as he can buy it at a dispensary.

  11. meant to post this here:

    I’m not a fan of zoning and land-use restrictions, but if there’s one that’s actually legitimate, it’s restrictions meant to make the marijuana use more private. Most of the justifications for zoning in terms of “preserving” real estate values just don’t hold up; most of the things that are restricted would NOT damage real estate values – just look at Houston. But a bunch of punks smoking marijuana outside right next door on a regular basis would most definitely destroy your house value. It constitutes real damage to you just as much as someone dumping on your land, or emitting pollutants into a stream that empties into a pond you own, etc.

    In other words – micromanaging the minutiae of details of your property as regular Euclidean zoning does, telling you how many families can occupy a home regardless of size, telling you you can’t run a small business out of it, saying you can’t build a shed – bad, and doesn’t really protect realty values (they at best create an artificial rise until the bubble bursts again). Stopping punks from smoking marijuana in broad view of the public, which would be a MAJOR turn-off for MANY prospective buyers, – legitimate because it really can pwn the value of your realty.

    Now I’ll grant that the restrictions described in the article go too far and some of them are just plain silly, but the concept is valid.

    And before any libertarians get all up-in-arms about it, just look at the Netherlands. They’ve effectively legalized marijuana. The massive amounts of violence and subsequent costs that prohibition created are gone, and marijuana use is actually LESS than here in The States. But they still have restrictions in terms of not smoking on public property, if I’m not mistaken. So it works out fine, even by libertarian standards (relative to what we have now). You can whine about your “moral principles” but you have to admit that the brunt of the damage done by prohibition is gone.

    1. Yeah I mean I don’t think many of us would reject a model of heavily zoned legal industry in favor of maintaining prohibition.

      But the problems you’re talking about aren’t at all unique to dispensaries. Liquor stores, bars, sex shops, gun stores, and pawn shops could all have similar effects on surrounding property values. So yeah, go ahead and subject these businesses to zoning laws, but do so in a manner consistent with the regulations imposed on other, similar businesses.

      1. oh my god, a reasonable response that actually recognizes some policies as better or worse, instead of just shrill moral absolutism – from a LIBERTARIAN!?

        I think my head just exploded

        1. Haha, I’m sure responses like that will encourage libertarians to continue interacting with you in a civil and respectful manner.

          Really though, we’re not the pig-headed doctrinaires everybody thinks we are. We’re just looking for freedom — and criminal prohibition is about the most egregious violation of freedom imaginable in the whole drug policy arena.

          I don’t personally know any libertarians who would knowingly sacrifice the “good” (an end to arrests for marijuana use and sales)for the sake of the unattainable “perfect” (no drug laws whatsoever).

          1. I’m sorry but 30% to 50% are indeed shrill, dogmatic, and often depraved lunatics. I consider myself a libertarian, but with the “small l” caveat – or “sane” caveat. I’ve seen libertarians say:

            A) Child prostitution should be legal, as long as you’re paying the child
            B)Circumcision should be a legal, you baby-hating monster
            C)All U.S. soldiers are traitors
            D)Forcibly keeping someone in their house would be fine if you owned all the land around it (this is a situation that does actually come up in real estate – and no, you can’t do that)

            etc. etc.

            And these same people never recognize any improvements, and every minute regulation or law is a gross violation of human rights – even if marijuana gets legalized a la Holland they’d still complain

            There’s me and you and the Reason crew here, but there is also the other kind of libertarian.

            1. I’d be interested to find out where you got your numbers from. 30-50% sounds really high for the nutjob quotient. I’d be personally inclined to peg that at around 5% of the human population, whether libertarian, Democratic, Republican, or whatever.

              There are some crazies out there, and yes some of them self-identify as libertarians.

              1. I really hope you’re right. I really do. But I get the idea that it’s a lot more than that from the Free State Project-ers. There are some who don’t take the philosophy to ridiculous ends, but they’re conspiracy theorists. Seems to be very few reasonable people there.

                1. Seems to be very few reasonable people there.

                  Even if that were true, it wouldn’t exactly serve to distinguish libertarians from any other broad political contingent.

    2. “But a bunch of punks smoking marijuana outside right next door on a regular basis would most definitely destroy your house value.”

      How so? It seems pretty harmless to me, as long as they have permission to be where they are, and aren’t causing any damage to your property. And you’re assuming that people who smoke cannabis are going to be obnoxious assholes, rather than like the people I see smoking cigarettes every day outside their house.

      Really, your justification goes something like this:
      “But a bunch of [group of people] [activity I don’t like] outside right next door on a regular basis would most definitely destroy your house value.”

      Property values are not an entitlement.

      1. Yes but their massively dropping could be considered damage to the property, or an externality

        Property values would drop massively in an area if open and public marijuana use all over the public rights-of-way were a regular thing. If I were raising a family I would never buy such a house in such an area, and very few other people would either. And if there were a store (commercial real estate) in such an area, I would go to it much less, if at all, again, certainly not with my kids. And again, there are many many people like me. Hell, the entirety of the house business involves selling the house to the WIFE, lol. A large chunk of home buyers are the typical American nuclear families. Single people don’t need an entire house to themselves.

        So yeah, property values would plummet, completely screwing over many people (remember, you’ve got to make the mortgage payments). And yes, that could be seen as an externality. It’s not as “direct” of a damage as would be done by the stink of a rendering plant, or the noise of a rave-club, but I could see an argument to consider it an externality nonethless.

        Telling me I can’t build a fence or a shed, or limiting a house to being 1-family regardless of size or parking space it has, or saying that a commercial building can be a restaurant but not a storefront – now that’s stupid.

        1. I am a single, pot-smoking, homeowner. I wish that my neighbor’s annoying 15 year old kids and their friends would start smoking weed and calm done a little, rather than be the destructive noisy little alcoholics that they are.

          Can I sue my neighbor for lowering my property value? One of their kids vomited in my driveway and tossed a liquor bottle in my flower garden.

          I think that my smoking on my deck in my backyard is far less destructive then the alcoholics next door. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a stoner for a neighbor.

        2. The children. We’ve heard it before.

          “Property values would drop massively in an area if open and public marijuana use all over the public rights-of-way were a regular thing.”

          If you are worried that cannabis will cause such a huge problem in your area, you probably live in a shit hole already. No zoning is going to fix it. Cannabis use would probably be as big of a problem as people having beers or cigars on their patio, which is to say, not a problem unless you are a nosy asshole.

        3. In the 80’s people were still trying to say that they should be able to not sell homes to blacks in some neighborhoods, because it might bring down the property value. From a property value standpoint, they may have been right, but it’s still wrong. Unless you own the property that the activity is occurring on, or the smell from the weed is spilling onto your property in a way that makes it difficult to live your life, you have no argument. Just because you don’t like something, and it may bring down your property value, that doesn’t mean that you can regulate your neighbors property. You should have to prove real damages to health, safety, or convenience (the ability to live your life the way that you want on YOUR property). Some people down the street smoking weed outside a pot dispensary doesn’t really constitute harm.

          1. OK you guys are being silly. A huge chunk of the market would not want to buy a house in an area where people smoke pot openly in public streets, and you all know it. Nobody wants to raise kids in a place like that. I’d even bet you could find statistics from Holland backing it up.

            And when you owe multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars to the bank (and that’s even IF you put down a large down payment), it really is damage if you can’t sell your house.

            1. or rather, maybe a trend could be seen (and extrapolated from) from properties near liquor shops, gun shops, brothels, strip clubs, etc.

              Indeed, isn’t that exactly where house prices are lowest – in the “bad” parts of town? Though of course, there may be a lot more at work there.

              1. Your property values are not a justification for the violation of someone’s individual liberty or property rights. Owning property comes with the risk that it will not be worth what you think it should be. Externalities are bullshit- either something causes direct damage or it doesn’t. Observing someone smoking cannabis is no different than observing someone smoking tobacco.

            2. Where are all these crazy people which will fill up the streets with their pot-smoking mayhem going to come from? Surely, those types are already smoking pot, and not bothering you now. Or do you suspect there is a large, silent, law abiding majority, just waiting for that $100 fine to be removed before they start the reefer madness and drive down your property value?

              1. it’s comforting to know that the dogmatic types only have rationalization, deflection, and ignoring in response to my actual points.

      2. “How so? It seems pretty harmless to me”

        You are clearly NOT a homeowner.

        “Property values are not an entitlement.”

        You might be right, but you can count on property owners to fight for their values as if they were an entitlement.

        My justification goes something like this
        “Bunch of sophomoric, stoned (high ranking beef) idiots living next door to me in a rental will definitely destroy my house value, so I’ll use my contacts in the city to get them evicted.”

        1. “Property values are not an entitlement”

          “You might be right,…”

          but they’re not right. It might sound nice in libertarian theory, but the reality is much more harsh. Houses nowadays, even after the crash, are expensive, extraodrinarily expensive. They involve massive debt no matter how much you save and how small you buy. And apartments, being similarly priced in terms of monthly payments, are no substitute when tax write offs and the prospect of actually owning the house are considered. So damn near everyone has houses. If you get fucked over with a massive drop in house value, and are left a few hundred thousand dollars in debt, because of a system you don’t control (that is, that made the house prices so high in the first place), no amount of libertarian philosophizing on human rights is going to change the fact that you’re fucked.

      3. “How so? It seems pretty harmless to me”

        You are clearly NOT a homeowner.

        “Property values are not an entitlement.”

        You might be right, but you can count on property owners to fight for their values as if they were an entitlement.

        My justification goes something like this
        “Bunch of sophomoric, stoned (high ranking beef) idiots living next door to me in a rental will definitely destroy my house value, so I’ll use my contacts in the city to get them evicted.”

  12. great article. it is both hilarious and sad that these fools didn’t learn a thing from alcohol prohibition. of course crime will surge if you make a highly desirable chemical illegal, allow it to be sold legally and nearly all of that crime disappears. sure people may rob liquor stores, but people rob places to get TVs, does that mean TVs cause crime and should be prohibited?

  13. I think anything the city is doing to pot they should also do to prescription-drug sellers.

    1. exactly, how is it their place to discriminate based on what kinds of drugs your store is selling. they should be encouraging more businesses to open up, regardless if they are dispensing oxycontin, amphetamine, alcohol, or cannabis.

      1. They could solve this completely by selling marijuana at Walgreens and CVS. If it is medicine, sell it where medicine is sold.

        Or, you just let anyone sell it because they have no business telling us what we can and cannot do to our own bodies.

        But what they have now is stupid and causes such NIMBYism.

  14. Let me save your head from exploding Edwin. I live right by the part of Ventura talked about in this article and have watched dispensary after dispensary open up and have never seen anyone smoking pot outside of them, in fact it’s exactly the same as it was before.

    Not only should there be less restriction on dispensaries there should also be less restriction on bars, liquor stores,pharmacies, sex shops AND gun stores. How’s that for shrill absolutism?

  15. Rhayader, as a libertarian you don’t personally know, I feel I should inform you that I don’t think there should be any drug laws whatsoever where adults are concerned. Except maybe it should be illegal to beat someone to death with a brick of hash.

    1. Right, but even when you say “where adults are concerned” you’re talking about regulation. Don’t get me wrong, I agree in principle, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to shit all over a regulated marketplace model that would clearly be a major improvement over zero-tolerance prohibition.

      Should drugs be legal? Yes. Will I vote for whatever pathetic minor not-especially-libertarian improvements I can get? Absolutely.

    2. I couldn’t agree with you more…it’s too bad we don’t have a medical mushroom movement that has as much clout as the medical marijuana movement…you may think this next statement is funny…I agree with you on less restrictions on all the above that you mentioned…except for pharmacies. All too often, big pharma peddles pharmaceuticals that can really fuck you up just as bad, if not worse, than crack, smack and meth….the social consequences of letting big pharma and their peddlers (pharmacy outlets) have a free for all would be drastically bad. Ironically, pharmaceutical medications could cost society more money and lives than weed and mushrooms.

  16. I am absolutely all for a marijuana free for all…and I don’t even smoke it (hmm hmm)!

  17. How did you come up with 30-50% Carl Rove?

    1. I’m Karl Rove because I’m not a lunatic? Did you read my examples? I swear to you those are things libertarians have claimed.

      1. if you want some more examples – once a clear paranoid schizophrenic posted on a libertarian forum. He was talking about how he was the victim of “organized stalking”. He believed that vast numbers of people were stalking and keeping tabs on him – and everyday gestures were actually “signals” the “agents” were sending to each other.

        Now it’d be fine if it were one lone nut – but the other posters sympathized with him. Others tried to debate him, asking him to “show evidence”. A clear out-and-out schizophrenic, and they expect to have a meaningful debate with him.

        1. That’s just an anecdote from some nameless web site though. I think Fiscal’s question implied that you have no basis for that 30-50% figure; I think that’s what the misspelled Karl Rove dig was all about.

          And he’s sorta right — you won’t convince us that we have a 50% chance of being lunatics by listing off a few stories from internet forum conversations.

          1. Jesus Christ, man, whatever, I’m estimating

            and no the people who post on Reason do seem reasonable

            1. You sound retarded.

              1. Why?

                Don’t believe me on the screwy-libertarian thing? Youtube “free state project” or go on their forums. You’ll learn all about how oppressive driver’s-license laws are and how we’re in a police state.

                1. But the Free State Project is not the central information depository for philosophical libertarians. You should spend as much time reading Radley Balko, Will Wilkinson, Cato Institute, et al before you decide that a few whack jobs speak for the broad group.

                2. Fuck you, when Bush was in power, I would talk to leftists on myspace who believed that the FBI and CIA and department of homeland security were spying on them, because they had “FUck Bush” posted on their myspace. On the right, you have the people who buy duct tape and plastic bags to prepare for a terrorist attack in wisconsin. There are nuts on all sides. You are just trying to raise some ire for no fucking reason.

                  1. Oh jeez. Calm down, spazz. I’m just saying it’s a trend I noticed. I’m a libertarian myself, but “small l”, like Glenn Reynolds, or Tucker Carlson, or the guys who write for Reason.

                    But you are falliny prey to a libertarian tendency described here:
                    http://www.inmalafide.com/2010…..bout-them/

                    1. maybe you’re just a douche. Did you ever think about that?

                    2. hoo hoo – I theem to have thruck a nerve?

                      perhaps my observations have caught the ire of someone trying to stay on a certain river in Egypt?

      2. No, you’re Carl Rove because you invent statistics to sound unimpeachible.

        1. it’s called an estimate, you spazz

          no, I haven’t personally performed a poll. Big surprise.

  18. There are screwy centerists on the internet. There are Liberals on the internet who say we’re in a police state and 9-11 was an inside job. The internet is a big place Edwin, you have no point, give it up.

    1. jesus christ you’re a spazz. I’m just saying it’s a trend I noticed. The loony ones form a disproportionate share of the whole of the libertarians I’ve seen (on the innernets).

      1. I’m just saying it’s a trend I noticed.

        Right. And we’re just saying that there’s no trend there, and that noticing one isn’t valid given the available evidence.

  19. Sorry, I guess the playfulness doesn’t really come through. My point is the first thing whack-jobs do when the go all whack-jobby is go get a web-cam and purport to speak for a whole group of people.

    The “Free State Project”, too, is a bunch of individuals who wanted to move to a more free state and try to make it even more free. There are some whackos but I think that project makes a lot more sense than California’s “Go Broke State Project”

    1. Yes, but to bad they didn’t pick a better state, lol

  20. Heh. They should check out Denver. There are now two dispensaries within a couple blocks of my office – that I’ve spotted (the number of lame take-offs on ‘Mile High’ and ‘Rocky Mountain High’ are staggering) and at least 12 within a mile of my house.

  21. We’re only for states’ rights when it comes to abortion and pot.

    1. We’re only for states’ rights when it comes to abortion

      Slow down there, cowboy.

  22. The easy solution is to put pot in convenience stores with the cigs and beer, and place the same restrictions on public use as are on tobacco smoking in California. Nobody loses property value because of convenience stores because they are already zoned and expected to have people hanging out around them day and night. NIMBYism can’t argue with 7-11, because even the NIMBY people need gas and a candy bar sometimes.

    The ultimate question of all this, the road this is leading to within the next 10 years, is whether we’re going to legalize of retrench. Sadly, the chances of retrenchment are very, very high, even with a majority in CA behind legal weed. Ultimately it will become a national issue, and our leaders will have to choose between withdrawing from the UN drugs conventions or cracking down. The current “bust occasionally for image” status quo can’t last forever.

    If the US goes legal, Europe will too. Asia will not. This is my prediction.

    1. +1 on the 7-11 proposal

  23. Libertarians have a lot of good ideas, but what always keeps me from identifying myself as a Libertarian is this nealy psychotic defense of drug use. Nearly every single argument from Libertarians seems to center around their right to get high. Knowing that such short sightedness pervades the movement I fear that the second a joint is decriminalized most so-called Libertarians would suddenly lose interest in their “Libertarian” ideals. Try worrying more about illegal wiretaps, taxation without representation, and wanton trashing of the Constitution before smoking your joint and maybe, just maybe, people might start taking Libertarians more seriously. A movement dominated by the “right” to get stoned belongs more rightly in the pages of “High Times” than a website/magazine that is desperately trying to be taken seriously — and currently failing. “Reason” sorely lacks its own self-identifying credentials.

    1. More true than you know, Nick. They worry about wiretaps because someone may overhear something about a drug sale; the fear people looking into their backyards because someone might spot a pot plant; they fear illegal search and siezure because a cop may find a drug stash under the steering column; EVERYTHING centers around this perceived “right” to use drugs. All other rights be damned. Libertarians are like your racist grandma; you love her dearly and her old timey stories are genuinely fun to listen to and she seems to be sewn out of whole-cloth common sense — THEN she calls her next door neighbor a “darkie” and you just need to put a gun to her head and put her out of her misery.

    2. Nick, maybe you should actually read this site instead of just painting the entire libertarian movement as a bunch of druggies? On Reason’s front page I see THIS article and 2 others about drugs, out of 30. That’s 10%, which may seem high to you but considering there is a Mexican Drug War on our border, a massive and racially imbalanced incarceration problem in the US that is linked to the US drug war, and we are fighting a war in Afghanistan and having troubles because their economy is based on drug production… Not to mention drugs have been used as a shield for encroachments on liberty like civil forfeiture… Well, it seems like it’s an issue that is important.

      If you won’t take a stand for your neighbor’s freedom to toke a joint, why should he care if you get wiretapped? What excuse do you THINK they use when they trash the Constitution that you hold dear? It seems to me it’s drugs and terrorists every time.

      You can’t call yourself a libertarian if you won’t defend liberty. The liberty to use drugs may seem a piddling thing to someone who’s never deviated from the allowed alky and cigarettes, but you need to consider how deeply it affects other liberties, and perhaps read up on the prohibition era.

  24. How I wish for the good old days before all the dispensaries opened up and there was no crime in California. lol

  25. On a warm, bright winter day in January, I spent a few hours driving around two neighborhoods in Los Angeles, looking at marijuana stores.

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  30. I wish for the good old days before all the dispensaries opened up and there was no crime. | ran ??? |

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  32. You can’t call yourself a libertarian if you won’t defend liberty. The liberty to use drugs may seem a piddling thing to someone who’s never deviated from the allowed alky and cigarettes.

  33. The ultimate question of all this, the road this is leading to within the next 10 years, is whether we’re going to legalize of retrench.

  34. I just spent a few hours driving around two neighborhoods in Los Angeles, looking at marijuana stores. That’s good. ????????????

  35. There are screwy centerists on the internet. There are Liberals on the internet who say we’re in a police state and 9-11 was an inside job.

  36. There are some work but I think that project makes a lot more sense than California’s “Go Broke State Project”

  37. I recomment youu to try worrying more about illegal wiretaps, taxation without representation, and wanton trashing of the Constitution before smoking your joint.

  38. bars. Los Angeles has more than 500 of these stores. My co

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