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.

The vote to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas was 4 to 1 in favor of the ban. The lone dissenting vote was reportedly cast by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The ban, which becomes active on January 1, covers an area that has not issued any permits to sell medicinal marijuana, so any dispensaries operating in the area the ban covers are already breaking the law.
“I fully support the Board’s decision to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in the county’s unincorporated areas, as too many dispensaries negatively impact the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods,” said Mark Ridley-Thomas, when asked about the board’s decision. “Frankly, it is a matter of public safety and public health. I am serious about improving the quality of life in the Second District by expanding access to quality health care.”

Underground urban farmer
LR, a 35-year-old African-American male who agreed to speak with me on the basis that he remain anonymous, claims to have been a real estate speculator who was involved in rehabbing and reselling properties until the market took a dive. He would not discuss the number of plants he owns, but I estimated his inventory may be about 30 to 40 plants. This estimate was based on research accumulated through individuals known to be knowledgeable about urban marijuana farmers and their mode of operation.

LR says he recruits crack addicts and uses their ID card or driver license to obtain marijuana prescriptions. These prescriptions are really recommendations issued by a clinician. Usually those involved in such an enterprise will enlist a minimum of six drug addicts that have proper identification and use their names to get the cards. This allows him or the person he works for to have six plants at one assigned address. If he can recruit six individuals he can have as many as 36 plants, six at each location. Such a location is considered legitimate should DEA officials discover the plants. He can harvest the plants under the guise of being within the six-plant limit for mature medicinal marijuana plants. LR says his crop gives him a constant cash flow and he knows all his customers personally. He says the majority of them are African-American females, who buy after work or in the morning. He states many of his clients hold office jobs downtown or in West Los Angeles. He very rarely sells to males, due to the possibility of being robbed. LR is 100 percent sure all his customers are healthy and smoke for recreation.

LR claims to know individuals who are pushing and “manipulating” medicinal marijuana laws to the fullest extent. These are individuals who need to work and are tired of being broke due to the economy. “Many of these individuals I worked with in the real estate industry,” he said, but now they are forced to grow pot and sell it to make ends meet. Many of the “farms” are near the downtown area in rented warehouses. LR believes it is just a matter of time before these operators are busted because of the apparent lack of business activity, though the warehouses still generate very large utility bills. This is because of the energy required to operate the proper lighting to grow weed. Some underground growers were reportedly increasing their profits by stealing electricity. This is done by hiring an electrician to bypass the DWP meter, they tap directly into a power line above. This type of jerry-rigged power supply can be a possible sign of urban pot farming, he said.

Pot-smoking elderly man
Aaron Johnson, 71, an elderly male suffers from glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease in which the optic nerve is damaged, leading to progressive, irreversible loss of vision. It is often, but not always, associated with increased pressure of fluid in the eye, according to Dr. Raymond Merck, an ophthalmologist at the Jules Stein Eye Center. Advocates of medicinal marijuana cite evidence that hemp products can lower intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with glaucoma.

Johnson swears he would not be able to survive if he did not have access to marijuana. He complains of the lack of marijuana clinics on the eastside. He has purchased pot from the same dealer illegally for the past three years. Johnson said he once attempted to hire a marijuana courier service to deliver the pot to him from a dispensary on the westside but felt that, due to his fixed income, the added cost would be a burden on his budget. Then he laughed and asked why the LAPD would pull over a pickup-truck driving senior citizen. Prior to meeting his current dealer, Johnson told how his neighbor’s nephew ripped him off after promising to buy him weed, but kept the money. He still sees the youngster who visits his aunt in the area, but has never mentioned the incident to his neighbor because it might be embarrassing and create a scandal.

Selling marijuana
Once harvested, medicinal marijuana creates another problem for the urban farmer who might not have the infratruccture of a high-end westside dispensary or belong to a medicinal marijuana club. This issue was explained by a young male who constantly cautioned, “don’t print my name.” Most Whites, he said, can sell or “donate” any extra bud (marijuana) to their club and receive a small donation. It is also sold on websites like “Bud Trader,” or even on Craigslist. Medicinal marijuana blogs are telling the marijuana community to be aware of feds who are utilizing the sites to act as buyers make arrests.

It appears that African-Americans engaged in marijuana have reliable sources they buy from as well. Most are paranoid about meeting new contacts or prospective clients. The youngster said the biggest nightmare is harvesting the plant but not having any place to put it. You need to sell it before it dries up and loses its potency, he said. “While you are growing, you need to be plugged in.” This means having a buyer on stand-by with cash in hand.

Opposite conclusions
If one has ever studied genetics in college, there are two basic laboratory experiments that should be remembered. One involving the mating of fruit flies and the other involving Gregory Mendel and his cross pollination of sweet pea plants. In Westwood, a couple of blocks west of Sepulveda at a dispensary and club, I was lectured by a club member on the 100-plus strains of bud the club stocks. It was reminiscent of a class on genetics, but it appears that exotic medicinal marijuana breeding for the layman farmer has arrived.

There have been several studies on the medicinal effects of smoking pot; botanist and clinicians agree that marijuana has both anti-nausea and analgesic properties. A cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy will almost surely suffer from nausea and discomfort. Using marijuana as an addition to the chemotherapy by simply inhaling, smoking or ingesting the plant can provide the patient some comfort. The relief of discomfort achieved by smoking while undergoing chemotherapy has created a cry from patients who need it, but has also caused the public to question the safety of smoking pot in relation to its addictive power, public safety issues, and question whether it could be detrimental to health.

A study conducted in 2006 by the National Institutes of Health found no increased pulmonary risks or susceptibility to lung cancer in pot smoking as compared to tobacco. One of the reasons is that individuals who smoke marijuana compared to cigarettes simply smoked fewer of them and lessened the impact on the respiratory system. The France’s department of public health conducted a study in 2009 and determined that smoking pot does cause lung cancer. The British conducted a study last year and concluded that a chemical byproduct that cigarette and pot smokers are exposed to known as acetaldehyde can cause lung cancer by destroying lung tissue DNA.

Numerous other tests and studies have been conducted to determine the positive and negative effects of marijuana treatment, and the results are unsettled. Other British studies has shown that the anti-inflammatory chemicals in marijuana could have anti-cancer properties. The effects of marijuana on degenerative diseases led researchers to believe they may be cured by THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which could have a direct impact on diseases such as Alzheimer’s. A study in 2008 involved injecting rats suffering from degenerative ailments with THC and the process of deterioration was slowed down. Mice have been injected with cancer cells and then treated with THC, which is also known as the happy chemical. After receiving the THC injections, the cancer cells were destroyed.

The effect of getting high which is glamorized by musical artists such as Snoop Dogg, and others in the entertainment industry is caused by two molecules found in the cannabis plant, THC and cannabidinol (CBD). THC is the chemical component that is responsible for giving the pot smoker that “buzz,” and also the cause of the feeling paranoia and hallucinations that are commonly exhibited by pot smokers. CBD has been identified as marijuana’s other mind bender. It is responsible for the sedative effect smokers feel. The percentage of these molecules can determine the type of high an individual will experience while smoking marijuana.

A word-recall test was conducted by a British think tank on the effects of THC and CBD. The test subjects were individuals who had been smoking pot until what connoisseurs of marijuana consider being blasted, or that stage of complete happiness. The test was based on different strains of marijuana and the ratios of CBD and THC contained in them. The subjects were given a series of words and asked to repeat them. It was determined that the marijuana with a lower chemical percentage of CBD to THC made more of an impact on the subjects inability to recall words. Subjects who smoked marijuana with a higher percentage of CBD did better.

The Feds and Bud
The issue of marijuana and the position of the federal government appears to still be stalled in the mid-’80s. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. This classification gives pot the same level of severity as heroin and LSD. This type of thinking contrasts with the philosophy of the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. Our Weekly senior advertising accountant Andy Newman remembers the verbal memo unofficially given to GIs in Indochina. If you did drugs in ‘Nam, (it was better to) smoke weed because it didn’t cause you to nod off like heroin addicts or give you a hangover like alcohol. Both are unacceptable conditions in a shooting war.

The most prevalent issue the federal government had in dealing with a controlled substance or any product that hampers the nervous system’s ability to perform in what is considered a normal capacity is addiction, states CJ as he preferred to be called. CJ claimed to be a former advocate and club member to Café 420, which is currently shut down. The government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance impacts medical research, and the government feels marijuana has addictive powers, a high potential for abuse as well as no currently accepted therapeutic use.

The Obama platform promised to listen to advocates for medicinal marijuana and de-emphasize federal prosecution of violators. However, this appears to be impossible with all the other issues the commander-in-chief is currently dealing with. Also, with the reappointment of former Bush DEA administrator Michele Leonhardt the progress of medicinal marijuana therapy may remain at a standstill. Most African Americans feel that nothing in medicinal marijuana will directly impact the issue of health in regard to the Black community. This is due to South Los Angeles having fewer marijuana clinics than other areas of Los Angeles. An African American activist once said if Proposition 19 had passed, it would have had a positive effect in South Los Angeles, and Blacks would have benefited more as opposed to the current on-going battle with marijuana clinics.