Medical marijuana finds another avenue in Los Angeles

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Eric Zassenhaus/KPCC

Dann Halem of the Artists Collective marijuana delivery service.

Next week, hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles face a deadline to close or risk criminal charges. But the crackdown is doing little to slow another trend: businesses that offer to deliver pot directly to homes, workplaces and more unconventional locations.

A flourishing and unregulated industry of pot delivery services is circumventing bans on storefront dispensaries and bringing medical marijuana directly to people’s homes, offices and more unconventional locations across the state, records and interviews show.

The unfettered delivery of marijuana through hundreds of these services highlights how quickly California’s fabled pot industry is moving from the shadows and into uncharted legal territory. These new couriers include enterprising farmers, business entrepreneurs and even a former Los Angeles pot dealer methodically switching her former clients to legal patients.

In newspapers and on the Internet, hundreds of “mobile dispensaries” advertise a wide range of strains and other products, such as brownies and cookies laced with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. One service delivers organic vegetables along with medical marijuana, as part of a “farm-direct” service.

Some operate in multiple counties, including jurisdictions where storefront dispensaries are banned, or make local deliveries to drop-off points, such as Starbucks parking lots and gas stations. At least three ship to clients around the state using private prescription-drug couriers.

Although delivery of medical marijuana is not a new phenomenon, advocates say the growth of these services could be a game-changer in the state’s pot war, which pits law enforcement, elected officials and community groups in some localities against dispensary owners and patients.

A question remains on whether these services are legal. Some local and federal officials say delivery services violate the 1996 Compassionate Use Act that legalized medical marijuana in California for qualified patients, as well as other laws. The services are viewed as a way to circumvent local regulations clearly banning dispensaries.

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