Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Facing a citywide ban, dispensaries prove to be far less plentiful than feared.
California's tumultuous love affair with marijuana has hit soap opera proportions in Los Angeles. The city's business-minded "Care Providers" latched on to loosened drug laws in the state in recent years and have launched what seemed to many a citywide blanket of medical marijuana dispensaries. In some neighborhoods, such as Venice, locals could hardly walk more than a few blocks without passing one of these green-signed drug stores.
The proliferation of dispensaries eventually became an official concern as some counts estimated more than 1,000 such businesses had suddenly opened in the city. In July, the city council voted unanimously to ban storefront medical marijuana dispensaries. That ban was set to fall into place this week, but a last-minute signature gathering effort fielded a list of 50,000 residents opposed to the idea calling for a referendum. The city has postponed the ban while it verifies the signatures.
So for now, the dispensaries remain open. In the meantime, a UCLA professor has debunked the estimated dispensary counts. Rather than the 1,046 to which city officials sent letters regarding the ban, only 472 dispensaries could be found operating as of September 4.
Bridget Freisthler, an associate professor of social welfare at UCLA, looked into the city's finance records to find 762 dispensaries registered with the city. With a team of researchers, Freisthler set out to visit each one. Only 472 were found to still be operating as dispensaries. Many had either closed or were simply post office boxes. Some of the addresses on the list had never even been dispensaries.
The map below shows the spread of dispensaries throughout L.A. The green crosses are (for now) actively operating dispensaries and the red dots represent the locations of dispensaries that are either closed or not operating as dispensaries
If slightly more than half of the 50,000 signatures collected are verified, the fate of these 472 dispensaries could be in the hands of L.A. voters in March.
Top image: A medical marijuana dispensary in Venice Beach. Credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters