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Comedy mingles with cannabis

Stand-ups and smokers play it for laughs at a recently raided marijuana dispensary.

August 31, 2009|Yvonne Villarreal

It's not every night that a comedian peers down from the stage and notices some of the audience smoking marijuana -- at least not legally.

But that's what Samson Crouppen saw at the Royal Temple of Zion, a Rastafarian temple that also served as a medical marijuana dispensary until it was raided less than two weeks ago and where on Saturday night music and comedy mingled with cannabis.

"It's really not that different than going to a bar or a club," Crouppen said. "Comedians perform in front of people who are drunk or buzzed all the time. Here, there are a few people who get high. Big deal."

Roughly 65 people, a mix of people with prescriptions for medical marijuana and those without, attended the gathering, part of a temple effort to build better relations with the community. And though only a small portion ingested the herbal remedy, the smell of marijuana was potent.

Banners with Bob Marley's image hung from the rafters of the Echo Park facility, a converted airplane hangar. Sheets of red, yellow and green -- the colors of the Rasta flag -- served as a backdrop to the stage, where five comedians rotated throughout the night. Beso Negro, a three-piece band, offered musical interludes between acts.

"It was definitely interesting," comedian John Corbett, 44, of West Hollywood said after finishing his routine.

"I'd rather perform in front of a high audience than a drunk one because there's less vomiting. And if no one's laughing it's not so damaging to the ego, because you can just assume they're too relaxed to laugh."

The clinic-temple has also hosted jazz shows, chess matches and pingpong tournaments. Saturday's event, which was billed as "Samson Goes Green," was the second comedy show held there.

"It's a great way to get the community together," said Patrick Duff, 33, owner of the onetime dispensary that had been operating out of an Echo Park location since June after switching locations.

"We're not doing anything illegal here. The patients who come to these events don't want to be stuck at home, depressed about their ailments. They just want to have fun."

But the night of humor and music almost never happened.

The Los Angeles Police Department raided the facility Aug. 20. Authorities said Duff had not applied for a hardship permit to operate the business, like other medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, so selling the drug was illegal.

When the city adopted a marijuana dispensary moratorium in 2007 that banned new herb storefronts until there was a better system to regulate them, it included a provision that allowed dispensaries to file hardship exemption applications with the Los Angeles City Council.

Three volunteers at the dispensary were arrested and charged with an attempt to sell 25 pounds or more of marijuana, Duff said; about two pounds of marijuana were seized during the raid.

Those associated with the temple say that as a Rastafarian ministry, they have the legal right to sell marijuana to the sick. The temple reopened Aug. 22, but the dispensary has not handed out marijuana since. It's unclear whether they can continue to function as a dispensary.

As Saturday's late-night show unfolded, Crouppen looked on as the crowd offered chuckles to comedian Eric Andre. "This is what it's all about," Crouppen said. "People aren't here to get high. They're here to laugh."

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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