California Patients Alliance is a not-for-profit medical marijuana collective in Hollywood, California. It opened its doors in April 2007, making it one of the golden, pre-interim control ordinance collectives that will remain open if the city ever decides to enforce any of the laws it keeps passing in order to control an industry they very much have zero control over.
Since the beginning, CPA’s mission has been to help get quality medicine and education to patients in need of their services, in addition to providing safe access to their medicine in a controlled environment. In the years since they opened, they have achieved these goals and cultivated a loyal patient base that’s grown with them.
Barry Kramer and Oliver, the men behind CPA, agreed to tell their story over and explain how they created a system planned on bringing medical marijuana to the people of LA.
How did you get one of the pre-ICO [legally registered collectives that are not targeted to be shut down after Measure D, which will put a cap on the number of dispensaries in LA] licenses?
So there is no such thing as a license, no one got any licenses. All we ever did was open our doors and register with the city in 2007.
In 2007, the climate here in Los Angeles was that the DEA was making monthly, if not weekly, raids on dispensaries. Dispensaries were slowly opening up, there were not many, around 187. The city basically said in the summer of 2007, “We are going to give you until September to register with us that you are a medical marijuana dispensary, and then in September we are going to put a moratorium in place to keep new dispensaries from opening. So anyone who is not registered with us will not be allowed to operate.”
Well, that was the plan, and the plan went really far off the tracks. There was no enforcement and slowly some questionably reputable lawyers found a loophole in the moratorium and started, for a consulting fee of $5,000, pretty much rubber-stamping all the people who now wanted to open up a dispensary, post-moratorium. It was called a “hardship exemption.”
There were dispensaries that closed down prior to 2007 and they weren’t able to register. That’s who the hardship was really for, but the lawyers let anyone use the exemption who wanted to open a place, and they all filed their papers. They all had the exact same papers, they were carbon copies. And we went from 187 dispensaries to over 300 easily within six months. And then what happened was the city never reacted to that. No one got closed down, everything was put on hold, there was no enforcement, and therefore people out there, entrepreneurs, were like, “We may as well open a dispensary too.” There is no downside, the city isn’t doing anything, and soon enough we had about 500 dispensaries in the city.
To answer the original question, we were one of the first 187 to step forward in an environment that was very hostile toward medical marijuana. Federally and city-wide, they were coming in and raiding and no one knew what was going to happen when we registered. Were they going to hand our names over to the Feds? No one knew. So those 187 dispensaries that registered were very brave at that point to come forward and put themselves out like that.
Our reason for doing that was because we wanted to serve this community. There needs to be safe access to this medicine, and that’s why we got into business and that’s why we followed all the rules. Although we have suffered greatly for following the rules as a business, our patients don’t suffer, which is really nice. So that’s a little history of how we got in the position that we’re in.
Do you think Measure D is ever going to be enforced?
I keep hoping. I continually hope every time the city says they are about to do something that it will happen, but it hasn’t happened yet and so all I have to go on is history.
Do you think the city is scared to act?
They have some lawsuit-itis. They have been sued up and down. Mainly it’s the city’s own fault. They continue to take bad legal advice and do things that are unconstitutional and people don’t have to stand for it. So organizations have sued them on every level because they try to force this as a sort of a sin taxing.
Because it’s medical marijuana, they feel they can get away with taxing exorbitant rates that no other industry pays—not even the adult film industry. We would be happy if it was just a tax problem, but then they also seem to want to restrict all kinds of rights that normal business owners have in a normal business setting.
I understand we are not a normal business. We have to take extra precautions and we are all down for that, and we are certainly willing to work without them. They have never tried to extend a hand to work with us on how to legitimately figure this out and still provide safe access to medicine for patients who need it and not have the blight on our neighborhoods.
Do you guys get any real direction at all from any government agency regarding how to run this business?
No. There are many contradictory laws out there. You kind of have to navigate through them yourself with common sense. Now for the first time in LA there is an ordinance that specifies that you have certain hours of operation and you need to be certain distances away from “sensitive use areas” like schools, churches, and parks. It’s mostly zoning and very little record keeping.
Then there are the state rules. You need to be set up as a not-for-profit organization, you can’t be near sensitive use areas. These are the regulations that are in place, they are pretty basic. Other than that, it’s just a way to regulate operations. They don’t regulate medicine since the city is not allowed by law to regulate anything that has to do with medicine.
Have you ever been raided?
We have never been raided. We operate to the furthest extent of the law that we can operate. The way we are set up here at CPA is we never wanted to be invasive in our neighborhood. We don’t have a sign out front. We are listed on many dispensary finder websites, so we feel if you are valid patient looking for medicine, there are places to go that you can find us. But if you are just driving down the street you are not going to find us because you’re not really a patient.
Do you think the quality of flowers has decreased over the years since you opened?
I would say we have as good quality medicine as we had when we opened. That’s one of the reasons people come back to see us, a lot of places that are open just take whatever they can get and put anything on their shelves from any vendors. We don’t even see vendors. The only people we see are people we know or people that were recommended to us. As long as you keep the quality control tight on your inventory, I think you will always have good inventory.
What’s your stance on edibles?
The big problem with edibles is they appear to be marketed to kids. The way to clean that up is to regulate it and make sure it can’t be marketed to kids. They have a 100 percent legitimate medical value in that you need to find alternative delivery methods for patients who can’t smoke. Whether it be in pill form or medibles, you need to control dosages.
So are you guys for legalization?
Yes, 100 percent.
But are there dispensaries still after legalization?
I don’t know. I know that if there is legalization, medical marijuana patients will still be able to get their medication, and that’s my concern and if we have to open our doors to the general public, that’s what we will do. I see no reason why adults shouldn’t have the right to put this in their own bodies. It’s a pretty harmless drug and we don’t need to fill private prisons for profit with people who just wanted to smoke a plant and feel good. There is no reason to do that. So I am for full legalization with regulation. Legalization has to come with regulation.
A lot of people were surprised California didn’t legalize first. How do you feel about it?
I am happy about that. To tell you the truth, we failed. It wasn’t a very well-written legislation and I think we will do better the next time we come back with it. The reason I am happy is because we were the first with medical marijuana and there are still a lot of problems with the state regulation of medical marijuana. So I am happy to let Colorado and Washington deal with all the legalization problems and maybe we will come in later.
What do you think keeps you guys popular after all this time and so well respected in the community?
We love what we do and love serving the patients. I love educating the patients. One of my favorite things is when I get someone in here who has never smoked marijuana, and they come in to try it because they are at their wit’s end with prescriptive medicines and pharmaceuticals. We spend a lot of time talking with our patients. We are not set up as quick in and out place.
Also, our medicine is the reason I think people keep coming back. The quality doesn’t change and people like the way we run our business. We win a lot of new clients over. They may still go to their old dispensaries late at night or when it’s more convenient, but we have patients all over Southern California who come visit us regularly.
Brian Kaiser is Philly, born and raised. After attending Temple University, he moved to California, where he works and consults in the burgeoning marijuana industry. Kaiser currently pushes for cannabis legalization on both a state and national level, a process that begins by just sharing information.