Marijuana dispensaries in California

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Marijuana dispensaries in California sell marijuana to clients who are legally allowed to purchase it because of California Proposition 215 (1996). Marijuana dispensaries are often referred to as "pot shops."

Observers disagree about how many marijuana dispensaries are open and doing business in California, with estimates ranging from 500-1,000:

  • According to the California State Board of Equalization, there are 500 marijuana clubs/dispensaries in California that bring in an estimated $870 million to $2 billion in revenue annually.[1]
  • According to the Associated Press in an October 2009 report, "In Los Angeles alone, there are an estimated 800 dispensaries, more than any other city in the nation."[2]
  • According to a December 2009 article in "Pasadena Weekly," "...there are about 1,000-plus medical marijuana dispensaries now operating in California and openly distributing the drug."[3]

What dispensaries sell

Marijuana dispensaries "sell marijuana and its concentrated resin forms, hashish and kif, sometimes alongside a range of enticing, non-inhaled alternatives, including marijuana-imbued brownies, cookies, gelati, honeys, butters, cooking oils (“Not So Virgin” olive oil), bottled cold drinks (“enhanced” lemonade is the most popular), capsules, lozenges, spray-under-the-tongue tinctures and even topically applied salves."[3]

What some are calling a "Walmart for Weed" opened in Oakland, California on January 28, 2010. The store, called IGrow, is a 15,000 square-foot warehouse that is said by its owner to meet every conceivable need of the marijuana horticulturist and medical marijuana consumer, except the sale of seedlings, which can only be sold at dispensaries. 25-year-old Dhar Mann owns the marijuana emporium. The store's grand opening ceremony was attended by 3 members of Oakland's City Council.[4][5][6]

"Ganja Riche"

The New York Times coined a term in its January 1, 2010 edition for those who have become wealthy through trading in medical marijuana: the "Ganja Riche."[7]

The paper writes, "...according to insiders who asked not to be identified for fear of being singled out by the authorities, medical marijuana can be a remarkably lucrative business, especially in the San Francisco region, where zoning laws severely restrict the number of marijuana clubs. There are an estimated 1,000 in Los Angeles — more dispensaries than public schools, in fact — but only about 50 in the Bay Area. Less competition means that medicinal marijuana is, for some, an especially enriching shade of green."[7]

Tim Patriarca, the executive director a the last hospice in California that cares exclusively for people dying from AIDS, started asking the "Ganja Riche" for donations to fund his hospice when he noticed that "They were making money with no tradition of giving." Some marijuana clubs now give his hospice as much as $20,000 a year.[7]


  • Harborside Health Center. Steve DeAngelo is this dispensary's executive director. It is California's largest dispensary.[8]
  • Los Angeles Patients Group, Don Duncan[9]
  • Medical Kush Doctor and the Kush Clubhouse on Venice Beach.[10]
  • Sebastopol's Peace in Medicine, Robert Jacob
  • Café Blue Sky, Richard Lee[11]
  • Organica, owned by Jeffrey Joseph. Marina del Rey and Culver City.[2]
  • Clay Tepel in Los Angeles. His shop was raided in 2009 and he awaits arraignment on one count of felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell. His shop is "in a strip mall with tinted black windows" and Tepel says it was targeted because it was on a busy street and not "in the hood or in a back alley. We're not tatted-up drug dealers. This is a family run operation." Tepel is a married father of four. "I don't want to do anything to jeopardize my future, my family's future. We didn't deserve this."[2]
  • Patient ID Centers in Oakland and Los Angeles.[12]
  • Humboldt Patient Resource Center.[10]
  • In Los Angeles, there are "a dozen" shops between La Brea Avenue and La Cienega Blvd. on Melrose Avenue.[9]

Desire to re-brand

Steve DeAngelo, the owner of Harborside Health Center and president of CannBe, does not use the word "marijuana," preferring "cannabis." He says, "We want to make it safe, seemly and responsible....If we can’t demonstrate professionalism and legitimacy, we’re never going to gain the trust of our citizens. And without that trust, we’re never going to get where we need to go."[13]

Conditions treated by

Dr. Tod Mikuriya, a psychiatrist, compiled a list of about 250 conditions that can, in his view, appropriately be treated with marijuana. The list includes:

  • Psoriasis
  • Writer's cramp
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain[10]

Federal prosecutions

Marijuana Leaf.gif

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in 2009 that federal agents will only target marijuana distributors who violate both federal and state laws. Since medical marijuana is legal in California, Holder's remarks were interpreted by some to mean that federal agents would not prosecute medical marijuana in California.[2]

Holder said, "It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal."[14]

Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project praised Holder's decision, saying, "This is a major step forward. This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality."[14]

Federal crackdowns


  • In mid-October 2009, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said he wants to close marijuana dispensaries that sell marijuana at a profit to customers who do not qualify for medical marijuana. He said that most dispensaries are not obeying the guidelines of Proposition 215.[2]
  • The Los Angeles City Council is considering an ordinance that "could force hundreds of dispensaries to close." The ordinance would allow member-owned collectives to sell medical marijuana, but the shops would have to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches and hospitals.[15]


The federal government launched a crackdown against California's marijuana dispensaries beginning in October 2011. The federal government has:

  • Raided at least 36 dispensaries and growers and confiscated their marijuana, cash and computers.
  • Sent letters from the state's four U.S. attorneys to 150 or more landlords of dispensaries, ordering them to evict their tenants or face seizure of their property and prosecution.
  • Issued threats to cities and counties that have tried to establish permit systems for dispensaries and growers.
  • Through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., exerted pressure on banks to close accounts linked to marijuana.
  • Through the IRS, "audited dozens of dispensaries using an obscure provision of the federal tax code that prohibits drug traffickers from making any deductions." This audit led to Harborside in Oakland (the state's largest dispensary) being ordered to pay $2.5 million in back taxes.[8]

Oaksterdam, 2012

On April 2, 2012, federal agents with the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided Oaksterdam University.

According to a press report, "The doors...were blocked by U.S. marshals and yellow tape following the early morning raid...agents carted trash bags of unknown materials out of the school as protesters gathered to condemn the action. A museum connected to the school and a nearby medical marijuana dispensary operated by Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee also were raided."[16]

The home of Richard Lee was also raided.

Stephen Gutwillig, the director of the California branch of the Drug Policy Alliance, said, "Oakland has one of the most highly regulated systems for distributing medical marijuana in the state. We think this is a campaign by the U.S. attorneys not just to limit but to kill access to medical marijuana in California."[16]

Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser to Barack Obama's drug czar, said, "This is a warning signal to any city including Oakland that they should tread very carefully when sanctioning an illegal activity. The brazenness of Oakland and other cities like this has actually made them a target."[16]

Cities and dispensaries

Some cities in California have adopted ordinances that say that businesses operating within city limits must comply with federal law as well as state and local laws as a way to keep marijuana-growing businesses out of their cities. For example, the city of Lindsay passed a medical marijuana ordinance in January 2006 that says, "Legal Use of Land: No use of land, under this title, shall be permitted within the City Limits if such use shall be in violation of any local, state or federal law."[17]


After the Purple Elephant opened as a pot club on the West End of Alameda in 2008, the City of Alameda revoked its business license and enacted an emergency ordinance to stop any other medical marijuana dispensaries from opening. The Alameda City Council has indicated that it is likely to adopt a permanent ordinance banning pot clubs in the city in early 2010.[18]

Long Beach

Long Beach enacted an ordinance regulating its medical dispensaries in August 2009. Long Beach has had least 39 dispensaries operating in it.[9]

Los Angeles

On Tuesday, January 26, the Los Angeles City Council voted by 9-3 to cap the number of dispensaries in the city at 70. The city will allow the 186 dispensaries that are already registered to temporarily stay open. Pot shops that obtained a license in 2007 are grandfathered-in.[19][20]

  • In addition to capping the number of dispensaries at 70, the January 2010 ordinance also increases the distance between dispensaries and schools, parks, churches and private residences.[21][19]
  • The ordinance also says that the dispensaries can only be open for business from 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., imposes security requirements, requires that the dispensaries be legally organized only as non-profit collectives, and says that any one medical marijuana patient can only get prescriptions filled from one dispensary.[19]

A group of marijuana activists in the city attempted to collect enough signatures on a veto referendum to force a vote on the new law, but were unable to collect the signatures needed -- 27,425 -- in the time allowed.[22]

On April 30, 2010, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed an ordinance that will "shut hundreds of marijuana dispensaries in the city and impose stricter regulations on the 186 remaining stores." The measure caps the number of marijuana stores at 70, but allows 116 stores that registered before November 13, 2007 to stay in business. Each store has to pay an annual licensing fee of $1,595.[23]


The "Sacramento News & Review" published a 32-page insert in their April 15, 2010 edition about marijuana shops in Sacramento. The insert included a two-page color map ("The Marijuana Map"). According to the insert, there are at least 46 marijuana dispensaries in Sacramento, 8 businesses that sell hydroponic supplies for those who prefer to grow their own, and 9 doctors/clinics who are known to write prescriptions for marijuana.[24]

San Joaquin

In April 2010, San Joaquin County supervisors voted to extend a temporary ban on marijuana stores in the county's unincorporated areas.[24]

Santa Barbara

Pedro Nava, a member of the California General Assembly, called on November 30, 2009 for investigations into marijuana dispensaries in Santa Barbara. Nava wrote, " did the City of Santa Barbara become just one of 35 cities ... in the entire state that allow illegal store front marijuana dispensaries and permits them near schools and sober recovery facilities? ...This is about a situation that has spiraled out of control and threatens the fabric and quality of life for Santa Barbara families...Is there anyone who can say with a straight face that the anonymous cash register clerk with no connection to the patient, other than taking their money, can satisfy the spirit and letter of the law? Or that the selling of marijuana that goes on day after day in our city isn’t for profit? Make no mistake, there are powerful interests and their allies promoting the pot trade and their motivation isn’t based on altruism. The City of Santa Barbara must put an immediate end to continuing violations of the law. Unfortunately, there were inadequate regulations and restrictions put in place to prevent the consequences of the proliferation of pot dispensaries. I urge you to implement a moratorium on any and all pending and future permits for marijuana dispensaries being considered by the City."[25]

West Hollywood

On November 2, 2009, the City of West Hollywood passed an ordinance overhauling its medical marijuana dispensary law. The provisions of the new ordinance include:

  • Instead of using the word "dispensary," marijuana dispensaries will instead be referred to as "collectives."
  • There can be no more than four "medical marijuana collectives" in the city.
  • Criminal background checks and compliance with State Attorney General Guidelines will be required for licensing.
  • The total square footage of a collective cannot exceed 4,500 square feet.
  • On-site cultivation of marijuana is allowed, but there is a cap on the square footage allowed for it of no more than 25% of the facility's total square footage with an absolute lid of 1,500 square feet.
  • The ordinance "establishes a uniform compassion program for West Hollywood residents."[9]

External links


  1. San Francisco Chronicle, "Marijuana 101," April 21, 2008
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Associated Press, "LA's top prosecutor vows to target pot shops," October 19, 2009 (dead link)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pasadena Weekly, "How does your pot grow?," December 3, 2009
  4. New York Times, "Calif Pot Backers Submit Petitions for Nov. Ballot," January 28, 2010
  5. San Francisco Chronicle, "Walmart of weed opens in Oakland," January 28, 2010
  6. San Francisco Chronicle, "Walmart of weed opens in Oakland," January 28, 2010
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 New York Times, "Some Medical Marijuana Millionaires Are Turning to Philanthropy," January 1, 2010
  8. 8.0 8.1 Los Angeles Times, "Effort to put marijuana legalization measure on ballot is in disarray," March 10, 2012
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 West Hollywood News, "WeHo Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Re-Regulated," November 9, 2009
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Sacramento Bee, "As medical marijuana dispensaries proliferate, some argue that the state should get a cut of the action," January 10, 2010
  11. Counterpunch, "Reconciling Medical Pot Use and Legalization," October 5, 2009
  12. Contra Costa Times, "Golden State's green future," October 31, 2009
  13. New York Times, "Don’t Call It ‘Pot’ in This Circle; It’s a Profession," April 23, 2010
  14. 14.0 14.1 Boston Globe, "Debate grows over US ruling on marijuana," October 20, 2009
  15. Associated Press, "LA council may vote on medical marijuana ordinance," November 16, 2009 (dead link)
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Seattle Times, "Federal agents raid Calif. marijuana university," April 2, 2012
  17. Foothills Sun-Gazette, "Cities spotlight laws regulating medical pot spots," October 21, 2009 (timed out)
  18. San Francisco Chronicle, "Alameda Planning Board to consider permanent pot club prohibition," December 11, 2009
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 TVNZ, "LA council votes to close most pot clinics ," January 27, 2010
  20. Los Angeles Times, "The Slippery Slope of Marijuana Regulation," December 16, 2009
  21. Philly2Philly, "New Jersey’s New Medical Marijuana Laws," January 21, 2010
  22. Los Angeles Times, "L.A. marijuana dispensaries fall short in referendum signature drive, but say they'll seek extension," March 15, 2010
  23. Business Week, "Los Angeles to Close Hundreds of Marijuana Shops, Tighten Rules," May 3, 2010
  24. 24.0 24.1 Record.Net, "Winds of change," April 18, 2010
  25. Central Coast Examiner, "Pedro Nava demands halt to illegal pot dispensaries," December 2, 2009