Letter from the Editor

Stop the cannabis club hysteria!

By David Burton

Los Angeles is sick with medical-cannabis clubs.

More than 600 collectives, co-ops and dispensaries have sprung up in the city in recent years. The sheer number of clubs is even more shocking when compared to Oakland, which has only three. Many L.A. dispensaries are located near schools and playgrounds, with some children having to pass clubs just walking to the local library.

How do we know all this? Because hardly a day goes by these days without some major newspaper, radio station or television network flinging these details at us. To read, listen to or watch the mainstream media, you’d think they were handing out kilos on the 405 Freeway.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just the media claiming that it’s raining buds and stems in L.A.

The Los Angeles City Council, having just closed a hardship loophole in its 2007 moratorium on cannabis clubs, is in the process of shutting down clubs by the dozens throughout the city. Council members – including Ed Reyes and Dennis Zine – justify their actions by echoing variations on the same sensational refrain: “More than 600 dispensaries in the city! Oakland has only three!”

Certainly, the explosion of cannabis clubs in the L.A. market is cause for reflection. Many fair-minded people – including, not incidentally, owners of collectives that opened prior to the 2007 moratorium – say that the number of clubs in L.A. is too high and needs to be reduced. That’s the natural evolution of any new market: First the rush, and then the shakeout.

But in a great recession, when the state of California is handing out IOUs and businesses are dying by the thousands, we should all seriously check our facts before looking to put the brakes on one of the state’s few remaining growth industries – one that generates tens of millions in sales-tax dollars annually.

First, let’s take another look at that “more than 600” number. Yes, there are a lot of dispensaries in L.A. (thought fewer than there were just a month ago). But do this: go to www.yellowpages.com, and search for bars in the city of Los Angeles. You’ll get the names of 648 businesses. Now search for liquor stores : 1,116 businesses. That’s 1,764 L.A. businesses dispensing a substance that kills more than 105,000 Americans every year.

Second, few seem terribly worried about the number of bars and liquor stores children have to pass on their walk to school. That’s particularly odd, given that — even for adults — entering a cannabis club requires a medical evaluation and an ID check, while any child can freely enter any L.A. liquor store any hour of the day.

Why? Because we’re accustomed to alcohol dispensaries in this country, while the very thought of cannabis clubs runs counter to our drug-war-indoctrinated way of looking at things.

Legalized medical cannabis requires a new way of thinking. Instead of comparing the number of dispensaries in L.A to those in Oakland and asking what’s wrong with L.A., perhaps we should be asking whether three dispensaries is an adequate number for a city the size of Oakland. That’s less than one cannabis club per 100,000 residents: Do we really want that kind of limited access in L.A.?

This is a dangerous time for medical cannabis in Los Angeles. More than ever before, careful consideration of the facts, free from the breathless hysteria of the media, is required if we’re to maintain our access to this important medicine.

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