Whats growing on in South Los Angeles?

William Covington | 12/8/2010, 5 p.m.

As a result of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor's recent decision to ban marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county, I decided to do a personal investigation of medical marijuana as a cottage industry in South Los Angeles. Navigating the streets with my laptop logged on to the PotLocater.com website, I noticed most of the dispensaries that were listed had either shut down or relocated. However, printed signs were stapled to what seems like every other telephone pole, advertising prescription marijuana cards for ridiculously low prices. I jotted down a number and called one to see what the response would be. Moments later I was assured by the female voice at the other end that I could receive a marijuana recommendation (marijuana card) which would allow me to have up to six marijuana plants of my own. She also informed me that "this drug is still illegal by federal law." The first thing I need is an ailment, she told me. She asked a battery of questions, and we decided that those dreadful headaches I have been having would suffice. I was told that I needed to come in and speak to one of the doctors they work with, and within an hour the physician would write me a recommendation...

Dispensaries in South Los Angeles are more discreet than dispensaries in more affluent areas like West Los Angeles. They will post a listing of strains of marijuana and daily specials on their storefronts, as if they were a Trader Joe's or a high-end health food store. I was able to gain access to several of these dispensaries once I introduced myself as a reporter for OW and explained my intentions for visiting their establishment. Quite a few had open doors that allowed you to look inside as you drove by.

In contrast, when I made several attempts to gain entrance to a south Western Avenue dispensary, the staff stared at me suspiciously from behind locked doors, as if I was a suspect.

This reaction to a strange face or non-club member may be due to fear of robbery.

The majority of dispensaries in South Los Angeles display a simple green cross or, in the case of a Crenshaw Boulevard dispensary, the simple name "Café 420."

However, a Black-owned dispensary on West Pico Boulevard, just east of La Cienega, often has its doors open.

In South Los Angeles, the green cross and locked doors appear to be synonymous with fear that having an inventory of marijuana will make the location susceptible to crime. Locked doors would seem to be a wise move. In fact, those on the outside feel they have reason to be afraid.

Mary Franks, a 62-year-old resident of east Dominguez Park welcomed the vote by the Board of Supervisors. Her biggest fear, she told me, "is being out with her grandkids and getting trapped by individuals attempting to rob one of those places for drugs." She's happy that the neighborhood has a very active block club and Neighborhood Watch, but she knows that businesses involved in marijuana are susceptible to robberies.