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Move it, bud, pot outlets are told

June 07, 2010|John Hoeffel

The Kush Clubhouse and the Medical Kush Beach Club boast killer views of the ocean, and that's what Sean Cardillo says he was after when he opened the only medical marijuana dispensaries on the Venice Beach boardwalk.

"It's proven that being by the beach can actually heal a person and make a person feel good," Cardillo said as he smoked a joint in a hazy, mirrored lounge. "We're trying to create this place where people can heal, and they're looking at it like, oh, it's not really that."

Venice -- with dispensaries, pot doctors and bong merchants all a flip-flop stroll from the beach -- is the example critics typically cite to highlight the consequences of Los Angeles' failure to control medical marijuana. But there are less-vivid pot hot spots across the city.

Cardillo, a onetime ophthalmic technician, said he adheres to the law and runs his shops as nonprofits. That's why he drives a beat-up Camaro, he said, and not a "for-profit 911 Turbo." Nevertheless, his days of surfside healing may be coming to an end.

More than five years after the City Council began discussing medical marijuana dispensaries, Los Angeles Ordinance No. 181069 takes effect Monday. Shaped by the council's conviction that the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries was fueled by a passion for cash and not a compassion for patients, the ordinance seeks to rewind the Wild West period in which 600 dispensaries opened.

The ordinance shuts down more than 400 stores that appeared in the last 2 1/2 years. Dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 will have six months to comply with new location restrictions, which will force many to move to isolated areas.

City prosecutors have declined to spell out how they will enforce the ordinance. "Our next step will be to ascertain the level of compliance," said Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney.

She said her office would rely on reports from police officers, building inspectors and neighbors to identify violators. Offenders face civil penalties of $2,500 a day and six months in jail.

At least 64 dispensaries, including Cardillo's, have sued and asked for court orders to halt enforcement. Stewart Richlin, a lawyer who represents 10 of them, said he expects many across the city to remain open Monday.

"The collectives are going to have to make heavy decisions," he said.

Cardillo, calling it a stressful time, said he would close the Kush Clubhouse for now. The Beach Club, while legally registered, stands too close to a residential building and possibly a playground, and the business must be moved within six months. "I don't want to do anything to disrespect the city. I'm not in this to do anything illegal," he said.

Fellow plaintiff Dan Halbert, who runs Rainforest Collective in Mar Vista, said he also will close but plans to post a sign on his darkened storefront that reads: "12 jobs lost. 10's of 1000's of dollars in tax revenues lost. Another vacant building in L.A. Drugs back on the streets. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!!!"

Dispensary patron Nicholas Fasoline sat at the Beach Club's $13,000 laminated-wood hash bar after he had driven down from Moorpark for "the sun, the beach, the girls and the hash." He said Los Angeles ought to leave the older, established dispensaries like the Beach Club alone, but shut down newer ones. "Every corner, there's a weed shop?" he said. "It doesn't need to be that many."

Venice is not the only marijuana marketplace. In Woodland Hills, West Valley Caregivers, West Valley Patients Group, Green Magic, Green Joy and Green Hills cluster together on Ventura Boulevard. In Van Nuys, police raids culled a once-dense concentration of shops at Van Nuys and Victory boulevards.

Michael Larsen, the neighborhood council president in Eagle Rock, said the ruckus had calmed down, but residents have recently complained about disruptive dispensary customers. "They're in their death throes in a sense, so I expect some shenanigans," he said.

Tucked among the stylish shops along four blocks of Melrose Avenue in the Fairfax neighborhood are five dispensaries the city wants to close. At La Luna, L.A. Confidential, Green Medicine and Buds on Melrose, none of the workers would discuss their plans.

Evrika Zatikyan, a painter, shares his Evo's Gallery with his son's Ultimate Care. He has painted a vivid pot leaf on the door, which leads to a counter with 11 jars of buds. "This close-the-marijuana business -- very, very bad in my life," he said. Pot helps pay the pricey rent, allowing him to have a studio in a location that draws art dealers who pay more for his work.

Marijuana had become such a draw along the strip that George Betancourt, who owned Bling Jewelry, converted it to DNA Hydroponics.

Two flamboyant chandeliers still dangle incongruously over grow lights and specialized nutrients. "I think it could be a good thing for L.A., especially right here, which was turning into a marijuana district," he said.

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