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Breaking Buds

South Los Angeles’ and medical marijuana economy

William Covington | 4/17/2014, midnight
Cover Design by Andrew Nunez

Author’s note:

On December 9, 2010 OurWeekly ran a cover story on the medical marijuana industry in South Los Angeles with a focus on African American dispensaries. There has been a marked increase of new medical marijuana clinics and clubs in the community since that article published. This may appear at odds with an ordinance approved by the Los Angeles City Council to shut down hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries and impose strict rules on the operation and locations of these cannabis clubs, shops and collectives. The ordinance capped the number of dispensaries at 70 (with the exception of those registered with the city prior to 2007). At press time, hundreds of new establishments have opened in the city since the passing of that ordinance. In anticipation of April 20, or “420” widely recognized as the Smoker’s Holiday, OW decided to take another look into the budding industry.

BREAKING BUDS

The American crime drama Breaking Bad created and produced by Vince Gilligan depicts the main character, actor Bryan Cranston, as high school chemistry teacher Walter White, who uses his knowledge of physical science to produce crystal methamphetamine, or crystal meth as it’s more commonly called. White can be best described as an “American citizen gone bad” according to a recent article in TV Guide.

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Photos courtesy of drugpolicy.org

In the last episode of the crime drama (episode #62) White dies of a gunshot wound fired from his remotely controlled MacGyver-esque machine gun, which he designed to inflict revenge on a gang of neo-Nazis that double-crossed him.

Initially, the crime drama encourages the television audience to believe White’s drug transactions were for the sole purpose of creating a nest egg for his family before he succumbs to lung cancer. However, White’s persona as the “family protector” is diminished later when he admits that his life as a drug manufacturer was for himself, stating that “he did it because he enjoyed it, was good at it, and it made him feel alive.”

Charles Byrd believes he was dealt the same deck of cards as Walter White. He was a science teacher until he lost his job after the private charter school where he taught was shutdown; he would have needed additional education to get work with a public school district. Although circumstances differ, this created a financial hardship similar to what Breaking Bad’s anti-hero endured.

Byrd has a son with Sickle Cell, as opposed to cerebral palsy, the disorder White’s fictional son suffered from. He also has a baby on the way and has prostate cancer.

“Although it’s not fatal...I’m not dying of cancer like White, but it is scary,” he said.

Byrd felt he had to take a gamble when the cards appeared to be stacked against him. “Oh yeah,” Byrd says with a smile, “Walter White’s stress level is probably experienced by most African American males everyday.”

A close relative suggested that Byrd open a medicinal marijuana dispensary.

Byrd believes he is an advocate for people of color; not just some common drug dealer trying to make money.