Temperatures in the 90s didn’t keep thousands of pot smokers, pain sufferers and partiers alike from standing outside California Heritage Market, billed as L.A. County’s first farmers market for medical marijuana, this past weekend. Lines to get in were as long as an hour Friday, the first day of the three-day event. Depending on the direction of the wind, the air in the sunbaked warehouse district in Boyle Heights was either redolent with fried onions sizzling on a vendor’s grill or the sweet sickly smell of garbage from the dumpsters down the block. But inside, where pot-growers and -consumers met in a 15,000-square-foot open-air warehouse, there was a whole different kind of smell.
Ever since the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, allowing patients to form pot-growing “collectives,” Los Angeles City Council members have twisted themselves in legal knots dealing with the proliferation of storefront dispensaries that in certain neighborhoods easily outnumber Starbucks. Last year, city residents passed Proposition D, which banned all dispensaries but granted immunity to those that have operated since September of 2007. Consequently, the little green-crossed storefronts have been disappearing, leaving patients with fewer options.
“The language within these ordinances [governing dispensaries] is so confusing,” Paizley Bradbury, executive director of the California Heritage Market, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Politics is crazy and Los Angeles is crazy. It’s going to have to change within the political system first before it can change anywhere else.”
Until that happens, Bradbury and company are hardly sitting on their hands. Instead they opened the farmers market, a place where buyers can bypass dispensary owners and go directly to growers. It cuts out the middleman, which brings the industry more in line with the original intent of the law, and also brings prices down and allows consumers to ask specific questions about the way a product was cultivated, its potency and its various medicinal qualities.
“Dispensary owners [in Los Angeles] have gotten in a lot of trouble doing a lot of things that they weren’t supposed to do,” Bradbury, whose been working in the marijuana industry for five years, explains. “Something like this is just showing that we can do it correctly. Please give us a chance to go forward and do things the right way.”
Inside, there are booths set up like you might see at any farmers market: gallon jars containing green buds, hand-painted signs offering quantities of White Widow, Sky Jack, Green Crack and Candyland wax — and that’s just for smoking. Of course there are edibles, cooking oils, baked goods, soft pretzels and lollipops, as well as balms and sun blocks, oils and incense. Yes, there’s a stoner element to it, and many of the attendees might make you wonder whether they really suffer from back pain. But there was little doubt why amputee Dean Martin was there.
“I use this instead of opiates,” Martin said, holding up a bag and smiling a weary smile from behind his sunglasses. Martin had half his pelvis and right leg removed after a cancerous tumor was found five years ago. “I use it for the opiates, and then I started taking less and less of the opiates, and now I’m off of opiates altogether. This is just a natural way for you to help deal with pain.”
“In this business you do meet patients that subsidize medical marijuana over numerous pills they take on a daily basis,” added grower Alan Tang, representing his collective, Green Gorilla in Torrance. “It’s a blessing to be able to provide that type of sustenance.”
A cop car was parked across the alley and a city building inspector showed up Saturday asking about a change-of-use permit required for retail activity within the warehouse. But Bradbury is confident her papers are in order and plans to make the market a weekly event, just so long as it doesn’t feel like an event.
“I would like it to feel more like a flower market, if anything, where people know they can go in and it’s much more calm,” she sighed as the crowd kept pushing through the door behind her. “It’s calm inside the market but it’s a lot outside. And for us to have to deal with this line situation all the time it’s just not ideal. But as long as we can work out the logistic kinks, we’ll be all right.”