A rant on marijuana dispensaries, and the quest for a living wage in LA

Over at Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger has an epic rant in response to a recent Los Angeles City Council vote to close medical cannabis dispensaries in the city (there are many). I use pot to help with the side effects of cancer treatment. I didn't use pot before I was diagnosed with cancer. The City Council's suggestion that "seriously ill" people like me should just "grow their own" is very let-them-eat-cake-y. Cancer patients weak and nauseous from chemo can barely make a ham sandwich, let alone cultivate medicinal herb in the quantity and quality required to be useful. They might as well ask us to synthesize our own chemotherapy drugs. Metzger isn't a cancer patient, but he has great arguments here. Snip:

I live in an area of the city near the so dubbed “Green Mile,” a stretch known for its numerous, highly visible cannabis dispensaries. Within walking distance, there are approximately twelve dispensaries. Take a slightly longer walk and that number rises at least threefold.

By contrast, there are but two Starbucks, one McDonald’s, One Burger King, one KFC, one Jack in a Box, two Subways, two 7-Eleven stores and no Carl Jrs. It goes without saying that these are minimum wage jobs, whereas the average wage at a pot dispensary is $20 per hour.

In five years of living in this part of Los Angeles, I’ve seen every single one of these places pop up and what changes the neighborhood has gone through in that same period of time. Not only that, I have PERSONALLY visited almost all of them.

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

Since the recession, there have been very, very few new retail businesses that have opened along the “Green Mile” other than pot dispensaries. A few things, but not many. In every case, they are inhabiting real estate that was not being used, and that had not been used in some time. A lot of these previously empty buildings got much needed paint jobs, let’s just say, and many long empty buildings were rehabilitated by the dispensary owners.

I have seen no appreciable rise or fall in the neighborhood crime rate and I am sure the local police would probably agree. There is no discernible difference. No change. None.

More: Dangerous Minds | The Green Mile: A perspective from deep in LA’s busiest pot district on the weed ban vote


  1. I’d be more sympathetic if the last time I visited Venice Beach, I wasn’t inundated by 18 year olds hocking pot and their onsite doctors every few hundred feet.

    In San Francisco, at least it is a bit more discreet. If LA’s model is the future, I don’t want anything to do with it.

          1. No, I meant “shield,” as in “God shield I should disturb devotion,” but it means the same as “God forbid.”

      1. Did I say I wanted to ban pot? No. I just want to ban these shady dispensaries with script-happy doctors and move medical marijuana to an actual pharmacy with an actual pharmacist (someone with a Pharm.D degree).

        Or just legalize the stupid drug and move on.

    1.  If marijuana cigs were available everywhere tobacco and/or alcohol is, I believe the inundations would cease.

      1. I’m for it. I don’t smoke pot, but I have nothing against the product. I just can’t stand the blight of some of these dispensaries. I also dislike crappy liquor stores and bulk cigarette places and think they too should be zoned out of existence.

        That said, we’re going to need either lower THC pot if it is going to be sold by the carton like cigarettes especially if it is heavily taxed like alcohol. Either that or a radically different commercial format.

        1. I also dislike crappy liquor stores and bulk cigarette places and think they too should be zoned out of existence.

          “I don’t like it” is always a good reason to use government force to limit others’ behavior. Support Your Local Homeowners’ Association!

          1. Hell yes “I don’t like” it is a reason to use *local* government to force limits on other people’s behavior. Have you ever looked at city ordinances? There are nothing *but* forcing limits on other people’s behavior.

            One could argue that the purpose of local government is to allow a community to force limits on other people’s behavior. Some towns don’t have liquor stores. Some down have big box retailers. Some get pissy about keeping your lawn cut. And some don’t have low-rent dispensaries.

          2. Somebody wanted to put a liquor store in a residential neighborhood here, so the City (in a rare fit of sense) said, “Fine. As long as you sell some freshly-made food, like sandwiches, too.” The liquor store got to open, and the neighborhood got something nice instead of something awful.

        2.  I don’t get what connection you’re making between the THC concentration and the tax rate.

          1. Liquor is taxed at a higher rate than beer. It stands to reason that if marijuana is legalized, higher concentrations of THC would be taxed than lower ones and a full blown carton of cigarettes would be prohibitively expensive at the highest THC levels.

  2. I think the whole medical marijuana thing is detrimental to the longer term goal of legalizing recreational use of marijuana.  All the fraud that goes on within the “medical” marijuana industry makes the whole enterprise look, well, seedy.  And it does a disservice to the small proportion of people who actually have a valid medical need for marijuana. 

    But I guess the sham of the medical pot industry is NOTHING compared to the sham of the “legitimate” pharma industry.

    1. Pot won’t be properly legalized because it is still associated with minorities and teenagers while tobacco and alcohol are still partly associated with the well-to-do (wine, cigars, etc).

      1. Same thing with crack.  The sentences for crack are ten times the length of the sentences for the same mass of cocaine, regardless of purity.  That’s because apparently we have to save the minorities from themselves, by putting them in prison.  For the community.

    2. Yea, I’m starting to agree with this point.  I think it’s just time to fight for de-criminalizing, rather than going with the sham that people are using pot for “medicine”.  
      YES I KNOW that there are people that get medical benefits from it, as noted by Xeni, but by and large, the people getting cards just want to smoke pot.  Which is cool with me, but let’s be honest about it.There’s no more reason to outlaw dope than there is with bourbon.  That didn’t work so well either.

  3. I bet Jane Jacobs would give ole Richard Metzger a big ole transcontinental hug if she were still around.

  4. I have no problem with LEGITIMATE Medical Marijuana use. However, I’m not convinced that there are enough LEGITIMATE patients to need so many dispensaries that they end up across the street from each other.

    My mom fought two different cancers five years apart (the second one won) and in the midst of that, my dad fought Lymphoma.

    These dispensaries with the doctor on site make it impossible to argue that there is a real need for medical marijuana when anyone can walk in and get a diagnosis and a script. 

    We NEED medical marijuana, but perhaps instead of attacking the dispensaries, the city council could work with the AMA to get rid of the robosigner docs who have their offices directly inside the dispensaries. Seems to me, legitimate patients would have their own doc and not need the tame doc to write their script and the dispensaries that only get enough business because their doc writes the scripts would go out of business, leaving the ones that do their jobs legitimately.

    1. Depends on who your doctor is with.  I get great care and coverage through the HMO my employer uses.  Unfortunately, she can’t write a prescription that the company pharmacy can’t fill, and the HMO explicitly forbids them from writing medical marijuana prescriptions because pot’s schedule 1. This is in a state that does allow medical use of marijuana.

      1. Not everyone perceives pain the same and reacts to medications in the same ways. Many pain relievers, even aspirin, aleve and ibuprofen, do have bad side effects. I have a really sensitive stomach (it’s also one of the places where I often feel stress manifest myself in my body) and I can’t deal with these medications, even when I’m in pain from period cramps because it replaces one source of discomfort with another.  Some people have liver problems or take other medications that can be hard on their livers. Many pain relievers are also hard on one’s liver. I could go on, but there’s a lot of reasons one might look to alternatives.

  5. a grow lab inside of every cancer patient’s home… sounds like burglaries are just about to sky rocket. Good thing cancer patients have the money and energy to buy and maintain a robust security system.

  6. “…the average wage at a pot dispensary is $20 per hour”???!!!  I wonder why on earth the salary is that much; maybe I’m missing something, but how difficult can a job like this be that it pays over $41k a year (assuming it’s a full time job)?  I’m in the wrong job (for more than one reason!) – but I guess if the dispensaries are being shut down it’s a moot point – would have been decent money while it lasted..

    1.  $41k/year is not that much money in LA.  That’s actually almost exactly the average wage for the entire US.  So in LA that would be like minimum wage elsewhere.

      1. I live in L.A. (well, Long Beach, but close enough) so I know exactly how much it costs to live here – and to me, for what I’m guessing a job at a dispensary entails, $41k is nothing to scoff at – especially compared to what people are paid for doing jobs that require much more of them. 

    2. maybe its because the product is dirt-cheap to produce and can sell for $60 or more per eighth.  with that kind of markup why wouldn’t there be a bunch of money to spread around?

    3. I think it is sad that people think of $20.00/hr is a big wage while “mittens” and his ilk make that much in minutes or seconds. 

  7. I often wish for a covert instant empathy ray.  Like a keyfob garage door opener, except it works on minds instead.  Here you go — here’s what it feels like to be in chemo!  Aim, fire, woo-woo space noises emit, they drop to their knees on the spot, and suddenly the relief offered by marijuana seems like a really good idea.

    1. This is a good idea.  Your ray could eliminate cognitive dissonance if it were widely deployed.  Only, I’m imagining it looks and sounds like the weirding modules from Lynch’s Dune.

      1. Hehe! So the power words would be things like “hugs” and “puppies,” right?

  8. Growing your own pot is like growing your own food – there’s a pretty big time lag between planting the seed and harvesting the crop.  And the first time you do it is by no means guaranteed to turn out well.  And even if you’re experienced and careful, there’s still some element of unpredictability.

    Growing your own could make a lot of sense for recreational users.  Less so when you’re counting on it to hold the cachexia at bay.

    1. There’s a 3-4 month lag, and a good $1500 worth of equipment and consumables that need to be bought basically up-front unless you want to grow stuff that’s only slightly stronger than hemp.

      That being said, here in Canada, we’re fighting for exactly that, because Health Canada’s medical marijuana program is desperately clinging to life after being ruled unconstitutional in R v Mernagh. We’re waiting for the Ontario Court of Appeals to decide whether to uphold the ruling or overturn it.

      Look for lots of fireworks if the ruling is upheld, because this will almost certainly mean that personal possession and cultivation of marijuana will become legal in Canada – and the DEA will go compeltely apeshit over that.

  9. I think pot should be legalized, regulated, and taxed for recreational use.  It should absolutely be protected for medical use, and legitimate medical users should have easy access.

    The density of shops is not supported by legitimate medical use, and while the laws are the way they are, the town is very correct to crack down on dispensaries whoe are using medical use as a cover for recreational use.

    1. “The density of shops is not supported by legitimate medical use ”

      It seems to me that to determine an appropriate density would require statistics on patient populations, and levels of consumption among other things.  Why not just let the market determine how many businesses it can support based on supply and demand?  That’s how they determine how many pharmacies to build.

  10. Actual pharmacists make a heck of a lot more than $20/hour (the median salary is $115,181/year). If marijuana is medicine, I don’t see why dispensaries aren’t required to have pharmacists actually dispense it.

    This makes more sense when you think about all the different strains and that there are actual drug interactions with cannabis http://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/cannabis.html that should be told to patients.

    1. Because there’s essentially no risk of overdosing on Marijuana nor are there potentially severe interaction issues with other drugs. 

      I can get Tylenol or Benedryl anywhere and I’m more likely to kill myself with those than I am with pot (especially as I’ve never even used pot).

      1. Uh. There is at least one major drug interaction and eleven moderate interactions. Mixing cannabis and Orlaam, the one with a major interaction, “may result in additive CNS and respiratory depression, hypotension, sedation, or coma.”

        The idea that there are no drug interactions with cannabis is ridiculous. Vitamins have drug interactions for goodness sakes. No doubt as cannabis usage grows in older folks who are taking it with other medications, we’ll see more interactions (and start actually testing for them).

        And when filling prescriptions, pharmacists will ask if you’re taking over the counter medications if there are interactions with what they’re filling. That’s their job.

        If pot is medicine, it should be dispensed by pharmacists.

        1. Pharmacists have as much training in dispensing marijuana as they do at flying ekranoplans.

        2. There are many herbs and natural plants that can be used as medicine…almost none of which are regulated and controlled by pharmacists. The idea that cannabis is the culprit in the interactions with Levacetylmethadol (of which I was unable to find any evidence of), is just absurd. Many drugs have bad interactions with certain types of food – so should pharmacists regulate those foods? NO. They regulate Orlaam and tell you “don’t use this with cannabis”.

          For example – combining Zoloft or tricyclics with grapefruit juice can lead to ” irregular heart beat, abnormalities on EKGs and, worst case, heart failure”. Does this mean we regulate grapefruit juice? NO. The pharmacist that gives you Zoloft tells you “don’t use this with grapefruit juice.”

          Your logic is rather silly. We’ve been using cannabis safely for thousands of years. If there are any interactions with new drugs it is the fault of the new drug and regulating cannabis has nothing to do with the shitty side-effects and interactions of the new drugs.

          1. We have not been taking prescription drugs for thousands of years and I’m talking about prescription drug interaction with cannabis. Which drug is “at fault” does not matter. The fact that there can be extremely negative interactions does.

            Patients need to be informed of these interactions ahead of time. This has nothing to do with regulating cannabis and everything to do with protecting the general public.

            Some states that have medical marijuana laws also require the dispensaries to be run by pharmacists. This is not the case in California. It should be.

        3. @Aloisius – Again…the point still stands. This has nothing to do with cannabis, and everything to do with Orlaam. Is it the chemicals in Levacetylmethadol or Cannabis that causes the issue? It’s Orlaam. Is it the Zoloft of grapefruit juice? It’s the Zoloft.

          It should be the doctor prescribing Zoloft and Orlaam that should be warning you of the side-effect. Cannabis has no interactions or dangerous chemicals on its own. Same with grapefruits.

          You should really read up on the *way* these drugs cause chemical problems. In both cases above, the issue is caused by Zoloft/Levacetylmethadol not breaking down correctly already, and cannabis/grapefruit changing your metabolism to break it down slower. So, again – is it the cannabis/grapefruit or the Zoloft/Levacetylmethadol? It’s clearly the latter.

          For a great pharmacological breakdown on this, instead of needlessly inundating you here in the comments with advanced scientific and medical info on the subject, is A Primer of Drug Action: A comprehensive guide to the actions, uses, and side effects of psychoactive drugs (11th ed.) by Robert M. Julien, Claire D Advokat, and Joseph E. Comaty.

          We don’t need pharmacists to prescribe us our mint tea, coffee, cannabis, or other practically harmless chemicals to stay safe. We need them to prescribe actually dangerous chemicals to stay safe.

    2. Pot users self dose. no one can tell you how much is enough But, you will know when to stop. You are your own pharmisist. Different strains just means slightly differrent propperties and differing tastes and smells. If one strain is more potent that another one simply smokes less of it at a time.  NOBODY HAS EVER DIED OF A POT OVERDOSE. Studys have been done on this and it simply is not possible. Look it up for your self it’s not hard to find the data.

      1. Prescription drug interactions happen with cannabis. The fact that you can’t overdose on pot does not mean it can’t and doesn’t interact with other prescription drugs you may be taking. There are several drugs that it is known to interact with, one of which is quite significant.

        Good lord, I don’t see why it is such a big deal to have a drug dispensed by a pharmacist.

        1. Good lord, I don’t see why it is such a big deal to have a drug dispensed by a pharmacist.

          Alcohol has all kinds of drug interactions. Should that be kept behind the apothecary counter, as well?

          1. Alcohol is metabolized by cytochrome P450 isoform 2E1, and regular consumption of alcohol increases the production of 2E1 in the liver.  The body is neat like that.

            Cytochrome P450 isoform 2E1 also metabolizes acetaminophen, a.k.a. TYLENOL.  However, it is the minor metabolism of acetaminophen, and results in a metabolite that directly causes LIVER DAMAGE.

            Therefore, regular consumption of alcohol causes Tylenol to result in liver damage.  Both over the counter, and a very real, very common negative interaction.

  11. I don’t smoke and I frankly don’t give two craps about people using marijuana recreationally.  If they want to or don’t, whatever. What I do care about is my husband who has HIV-treatment-related anorexia and persistent nausea and would forgo every meal if it wasn’t for the two hits he takes before dinner. He is 5’11 and weighs 145 lbs thanks to the pot he smokes. And I don’t have to worry about shitty quality or him having to visit some creep in some apartment in North Hollywood. He can walk in with dignity and walk out with his medications.

  12. if people were to grow there own, there would have to be a ready supply of affordable seeds. but there ain’t… far as i can tell.

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