Originally posted August 7, 2009.
It’s been a good couple of months for some commercial property owners in the 92107 area.
Since the Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought by the County of San Diego that sought to block implementation of the provisions of California’s 1996 Proposition 215, two stores that dispense medicinal marijuana have already opened and another four are expected to open during the next few weeks.
In a down market, where many commercial property owners are reducing tenant rents and otherwise modifying leases just to keep properties occupied, OB has seen solid growth in retail rentals.
Not everybody is happy about all these new leases being signed. Ocean Beach residents and business people interviewed by the OBRag over the past week are voicing concerns about marijuana dispensaries opening throughout the community. Thus far, the attitude is mostly one of “wait & see”, with a great deal of reluctance to go “on the record” in opposing these businesses. Rumors of higher crime rates in other areas that have these storefronts combined with news media accounts of pot store proliferation in Los Angeles (over 600 locations have opened in the last two years) are at the root of local concerns.
The dispensaries, also called “collectives” and “co-ops” are banned in the unincorporated areas of San Diego County, the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Vista and San Marcos. Escondido, Oceanside, Chula Vista National City and Santee have all implemented 45-day moratoriums on granting business licenses to these kinds of businesses, which are required by law to be non-profit entities. It’s likely that legal challenges to the bans will be coming shortly. The City of San Diego is studying the situation, where there are currently few laws that apply directly to the operation of dispensaries. One thing that you can say for sure about the pot business: there are lawyers lurking wherever you look.
Based on our attempts over the last two weeks to interview dispensary operators, (both in and out of OB) they aren’t doing much to alleviate local concerns. Some told us that they refused to be interviewed, others “lawyered up” claiming that they’d been advised not to speak with reporters based on advice of counsel, and others promised us they’d get back to us… later, maybe. The owner of Mother Nuture, a dispensary located on West Point Loma Avenue, did (after three attempts at contact) say he’d talk with us (soon) and has even promised to make a public appearance at Matt Cook’s talk show at Gallagher’s pub on August 16th. (We’re pretty sure he’s not a three headed monster, but we’ll be there just to make sure and report our findings to you.)
Generally speaking, they all seem pretty unconnected with the community, paranoid, and eager to talk about how good their lawyers were should anybody cause them any trouble.
I visited the two already open clinics in OB that are taking walk-ins (There is one other that claims to be members only) last week. The experience is very much like going to a doctor’s office. Each had a waiting room with receptionist and locked back room (s) where clients were ushered after completing paperwork. Instead of People, there were copies of Nug magazine, a slick publication dedicated to San Diego’s cannabis community, complete with gardening and cooking columns. And, of course, there were cards for lawyers on display in the waiting rooms.
The medicinal nature of the OB Clinics contrasted sharply with an operation that I observed while visiting Venice Beach over July 4th weekend. As my family -including my 13 year old daughter- walked down the famed Venice Boardwalk, we passed employees of a local clinic openly soliciting our business: they had a primo sound system blasting hip tunes, discount coupons, and were loudly promising that they had “a doctor in the house”. Other clinics in the Los Angeles area reportedly feature relaxation rooms where clients can “medicate” while enjoying pool tables, video games and stages featuring live music.
Clinics in the Bay area have taken a decidedly more activist approach. Oakland residents, urged on by local operators, passed a local tax on marijuana sales. Supporters of the legalization movement believe that this ballot effort was a big leap forward towards legitimizing, regulating and legalizing marijuana. And the City of Oakland is thrilled to be getting an extra boost thanks to the tax on the estimated $17.5 million in pot sales that happened in the four clinics serving that community.
Thirteen years ago medical marijuana was legalized in California via a state ballot initiative that made cannabis available by prescription. That means you’ve got to get a doctor to certify any conditions that may be treated with medicinal marijuana. So you can’t just walk in and buy grass in one of these dispensaries, regardless of what part of the State it’s located in. And the places I visited appeared to have vigorous protocols in place to discourage behavior that might be considered offensive by their neighbors. The problem is that, while today’s clinics may seem to be on the up and up, there is nothing in place to prevent future providers from engaging in virtually any kind of conduct.
The prevailing paranoia in the pot business is certainly understandable, given the history of prosecutions that have been aimed at cannabis users. Nationwide, about 775,000 people were arrested in 2007 for simple possession. Over 6500 people have been imprisoned for possession this year alone. (For up to the minute statistics on the cost and scope of the “War on Drugs” click here.)
The non-medicinal part of the marijuana trade continues to thrive. It’s the largest single cash crop in the State of California, generating an estimated $14 billion annually. Much of the illegal trade is now supposedly controlled by Mexican drug cartels and these farms’ negative impact on the State’s environment is well documented. How much of this illicit cannabis is finding its way into local dispensaries is a question that will likely remain unanswered, given the secretive nature of the business. Given the number of companies advertising hydroponic gear locally, it’s also safe to say that a substantial amount of “home grown” is available.
Legal or not, the marijuana trade has been a part of the fabric of OB life going back at least fifty years. Now that it’s coming out of the shadows, it’s time to perhaps rethink all the paranoid parts of pot production. Maybe these new operators will emerge from behind their closed doors long enough to discover the vibrant and diverse community that surrounds them. Maybe the community will work with them and discover that they’re not three headed monsters.
Now, if we could just have a sane and rational discussion about the role of intoxicants in our society-sans the propaganda-things would be lovely.
As usual, your comments are an important part of the story here at the OBRag.
And we’d still love to talk with any dispensary operators about what they envision their role in the community to be.