LA City Council may finally vote today on pot shop crackdown

The exterior of the La Brea Collective medical marijuana dispensary is seen in Los Angeles Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009.
The exterior of the La Brea Collective medical marijuana dispensary is seen in Los Angeles Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009.
AP Photo/Reed Saxon

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Pot shop owners across Los Angeles are closely watching the City Council Tuesday. It’s expected to vote today on a new ordinance that would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, and limit their numbers.

Two pot shop owners spoke with KPCC during a break in council deliberations on the issue recently.

For years, Dan Halbert operated an adventure club for singles in Arizona. He assembled lonely people for camping and whitewater rafting trips.

He made good money, sold the business, traveled awhile, and started looking for something new.

“A friend called me and said you gotta come check out California," said Halbert.

He decided to follow his friend's advice and look into opening a medical marijuana dispensary.

"I walked into stores and I saw marijuana and I said 'wow! OK, maybe this does make sense.' And L.A. was doing nothing to stop it at that time.”

That was earlier this year. Halbert, 45, said the Obama Administration’s decision in February to end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries sealed the deal.

He spent $50,000 creating a mock jungle landscape inside a Mar Vista retail space, called it the Rainforest Collective, advertised in local pot magazines and hired a dozen employees.

“I’m here because the economy crashed," said Halbert, who also takes medical marijuana. "I’m a business person. I’ve got to do something and this was the only market that made any sense at this time,” he chuckled.

In Venice, Carl Clines is part of a very different medical marijuana operation.

“We’re run by two seniors – myself and another gentleman, and two ladies that are all volunteers.”

Clines, 67, says his California Alternative Caregivers opened five years ago. It was one of the first pot shops in the city. Now, there are hundreds.

“Yeah, there’s way too many of them," said Clines. "I’ve been in a lot of them and they’re run by mostly kids, they’re getting stoned inside, they’re having a great time, rock and roll music."

He is frustrated by the proliferation of pot stores. "They’re taking it very casually, making a buck while they can and they’re gone.”

Clines likes the idea of shutting most of these outfits down.

But he and Halbert worry that the City Council will go too far. There’s been talk of capping the number at 70.

“If you make that cap too low, those dispensaries will be doing $10,000, $20,000 a day," said Halbert. "The lines will be out the door.”

The City Council’s also considering how to keep pot shops away from schools, parks and churches. Halbert doesn’t mind that. But he worries about another proposal that would require dispensaries to grow the marijuana on site. Halbert says that’s impractical.

Like many owners, he’s reluctant to reveal where his dispensary grows its marijuana.

“It’s in California, that’s for sure. It’s in the great state of California.”

Northern California is home to rich fields of marijuana. Carl Clines says that’s where his dispensary gets its pot.

“I know guys that live up in Northern California that I’ve known forever," said Clines. "Everything that we sell, I’ve been on every growing site. I know exactly how it’s grown.”

Clines’ pot shop, like virtually all others, accepts money for pot from people with valid recommendations from a doctor.

L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley has vowed to criminally prosecute such operations. Clines says some medical marijuana users can't participate in growing pot, and only contribute cash – as the city’s allowed for years.

“We’ve actually had cops walk in. I’ve given them a tour of the place," said Clines.

"They’ve congratulated us. They’ve said ‘great, you guys are doing a good job.'”

That relationship could change with the City Council’s expected passage of a new ordinance that’s largely designed to close most pot dispensaries in L.A.