America's Cannabis Capital

Brian Doherty checks in on the pot wars of Los Angeles:

The medical model attaches great importance to motive and state of mind, which is why dispensary operators often say, when justifying themselves to politicians or the press, that they’re in the business “for the right reasons,” unlike some of their competitors. Combined with the federal ban on marijuana, medicalization leads to a world where customers can shop at only one store; where the cash they pay for a product is not the price but a “contribution to the collective”; where businesses are expected to avoid turning a profit; where a medicine is subject to sales tax, unlike other pharmaceuticals, and isn’t regulated like any other pharmaceutical; where you are complying with the law if what you possess is “reasonable” related to some need that may have been invented by a doctor to begin with; where it’s legal for you to have pot but you are still apt to be arrested for growing or transporting it. 

The medical model also fosters a weirdly contradictory attitude toward pot use, one that seemed to animate the L.A. Weekly’s surprisingly negative coverage of the issue: Even people who don’t care about pot smoking in general get upset when they think stoners are gaming a system that is supposed to serve patients with doctor-certified needs. The L.A. Weekly angrily reported in November that 70 percent of the people its reporters saw entering dispensaries were “young mencorroborating D.A. Cooley’s claim that the real market for all this activity is everyday users, not people suffering serious disease.” (Medical activists tend to respond to that sort of talk with the riposte that all sorts of maladies for which pot provides relief aren’t diagnosable by strangers watching from yards away.)