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Where's the weed? Mapping L.A.'s marijuana dispensaries

September 10, 2009 |  6:56 am
Dispensary_cloud

It's green. It's herbal. It's organic. It's compassionate. It's healing. And it's nonprofit too.

This plethora of adjectives is not describing a gimmick to cash in on alternative energy or a new diet plan.

No, it's L.A.'s latest retail craze: medical marijuana.

Those words, pulled from the Los Angeles city clerk's website, were the most common descriptors in the names of the 966 dispensaries registered in the city.

A Times analysis of pot store names, however, showed that the most frequently occurring word was the socialist-tinged "collective," appearing in 199 of the names.

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Whether that choice of words is merely merchandising double-speak or genuine cultural expression -- a point on which reasonable minds might differ -- may ultimately be of little consequence.

But by plotting the addresses of the pot dispensaries, The Times has made another finding: At least 260 of them fall within 1,000 feet of a school, a library or a park. The distance is significant because it's the buffer in a proposed law the Los Angeles City Council has been kicking around for a couple of years. The ordinance is still pending, with no vote yet scheduled, while council members figure out how to shield their constituents from too much underground pot culture without trampling the dispensaries' legal right to exist.

The marijuana conundrum goes back to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, passed by California voters. It legalized the use of marijuana for pain or illness. Then in 2003, state Senate Bill 420 (yes, the same number as the underground name for pot) authorized the attorney general to set possession limits and shielded physicians from prosecution.

Alarmed by the rate at which dispensaries were opening, the Los Angeles City Council in 2007 froze the number at the 186 already licensed. No new ones were supposed to open unless applicants received a hardship exemption.

But the moratorium had the opposite effect as would-be pot impresarios rushed to reserve their licenses by filing applications. The city attorney opined that enforcement officials could not shut them down while their applications are pending.

By the time the city cut off the exemption loophole in June, 779 applications had been filed. That's not to say that every one of them is actually selling pot. Many of the registered businesses exist only on paper, apparently filed by entrepreneurs who hoped to get a foothold. Among them are the 58 registered at a single address in Northridge.

The City Council has recently begun crawling through the 779 hardship applications, deciding on a case-by-case basis which will be allowed. It has reviewed about 85 applications, and all of them were rejected or withdrawn.

-- Doug Smith and Thomas Suh Lauder

Related

L.A.'s medical pot dispensary moratorium led to a boom instead

Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries could face closure

L.A. is trying to weed out pot sellers

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