Thirty years ago, buying cannabis was difficult, expensive and illegal. Buying cannabis in 2019 is somewhere between picking up a prescription from a pharmacy and buying beer from a liquor store. Join columnist John Tudhope each week as he visits a cannabis company in Los Angeles and discusses the budding industry.
Cannabis retail locations, commonly known as dispensaries, are perhaps the most visible businesses in LA’s newly emerging recreational cannabis industry. These businesses connect consumers and producers, carry some of the most meticulously crafted products in the cannabis world and are at the forefront of normalizing cannabis consumption.
When I visited a newly opened dispensary on Westwood Boulevard, the atmosphere felt particularly welcoming and artistic, a far cry from some dispensaries that can feel like a hybrid between a doctor’s office and a prison. The Field of Dreams dispensary combines a traditional dispensary setup with an art gallery space and reminded me more of a tattoo shop than a cannabis business.
Like many of the 170 legal cannabis dispensaries in LA County, the newly opened Field of Dreams has a waiting room where a security guard checks ID and a secondary room where customers can view and buy products. The dispensary carries traditional smokable “flower,” THC- and CBD-infused edibles and topical creams, vaporizer cartridges, and concentrates.
These products are a far cry from the cannabis that used to come in crumpled baggies from someone’s backpack. Smokable cannabis comes in small glass jars, vaporizer pens come in high tech-looking boxes and topical creams come in lotion bottles.
In case you’re new to the subject, in 1996, California was the first state in the nation to legalize cannabis for medical use. Following Washington and Colorado’s successful 2012 legalization efforts, California voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016, legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use.
Cannabis is still a federally controlled substance, but as legalization efforts succeed across the nation, federal law enforcement agencies are putting minimal effort into pursuing users and businesses that comply with state and local laws.
Cannabis retail businesses in LA must have both state and city licenses to sell cannabis legally. In order to acquire a state license, businesses must have protocols in place for transporting the cannabis securely, taking inventory, ensuring product quality, securing the business location and disposing of waste. The products must be packaged in childproof containers and tested at a state-licensed laboratory. It is illegal for cannabis dispensaries to allow any type of on-site consumption.
Field of Dreams is a space for people who did not consume cannabis under prohibition as well as longtime users, said owner Glen Choi. Choi said his budtenders are knowledgeable on the products they carry and that the dispensary would like to eventually have cannabis classes open to the public.
Choi, an art collector and music industry veteran, said he wants to take his experience in the studio, where it is essential to create a relaxing environment, and use it to make customers comfortable when buying cannabis.
“We make it very friendly by design,” he said. “No more days of the buzzer doors.”
Choi said it is essential for first-time users to educate themselves about cannabis products before going to a dispensary to purchase them. He said websites like Leafly and Weedmaps are effective places to begin understanding what types of cannabis products are available and what their intended effects are. Choi recommends first-time users to take cannabis slowly and start with a low dose.
“First know what’s happening in yourself, what you are seeking, then research online,” he said. “Then call your local dispensary, and go in yourself and vibe it out.”
A list of LA’s legally operating cannabis businesses is available at the Department of Cannabis Regulation’s website.