Lead Story West Edition

Crenshaw community protests cannabis dispensary

By Dorany Pineda

Contributing Writer

CRENSHAW — Local residents and business owners in Leimert Park aren’t happy about the new cannabis dispensary in town and they’ve been expressing their dissent outside the shop while stimulating change in City Hall.

On Oct. 30, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to prepare and present an ordinance that would prohibit future existing medical marijuana dispensaries from re-locating before being given an annual license.

The vote also means that the Department of Cannabis Regulation must stop accepting and approving relocation requests while the City Council considers the ordinance.

For many of Leimert Park’s predominantly African-American residents and business owners, this is a major victory, as it halts what some have called a monopoly of cannabis businesses in Los Angeles and will make possible room for locals to have a part in the city’s cannabis industry.

On Oct. 15, the L.A. Cannabis Co. –– a non-African-American owned dispensary –– opened a new location in the 4200 block of Crenshaw Boulevard, sparking daily protests from many local residents, business owners, community neighborhood groups and social equity supporters. The shop’s owner, Armen Paronyan, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mark Makonie, a Leimert Park resident, compared the cannabis monopoly to the pervasive liquor stores that once littered the area.

“The problem is now that the very people who created the situation that we’re trying to change from, were given privilege to continue on with that situation, and even grow that situation,” Makonkie said.

Matthew Z’Berg, a public and media relations specialist, wrote in an email that the cannabis shop’s opening “raises doubts about the fairness of the city of Los Angeles’ [Social] Equity Program” in the predominantly African-American community known as “Little Africa.”

The proposed cannabis social equity program, which was first developed in Oakland, is meant to promote “equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry,” according to the proposal report.

Cat Packer, executive director of the L.A. Department of Cannabis Regulation, said the intention behind the program is to “acknowledge and address some of the harms that community members had experienced by way of the war on drugs.

“We know that low-income and minority communities, for decades, have been disproportionately impacted by arrests and those arrests really impacted folks’ economic opportunities,” Packer said. “So the argument was made that if we were going to legitimize this industry, then those folks who have been impacted by past cannabis policies needed to have access to the new economic opportunities that were going to exist in the city.”

But many Leimert Park residents and business owners believe they’re not being prioritized for those opportunities.

L.A. Cannabis Co., established in 2007, is an Armenian-owned business with four locations throughout the city, three of which are within a five-mile radius of each other in the historically African-American communities of Inglewood, Crenshaw and South Los Angeles.

It’s what Kika Keith, an activist and owner of the beverage and manufacturing company Gorrilla Life, called a “landlocked monopoly.”

“They have a history of taking the wealth that they’ve gained over the passing years and taking it out of the community,” she said. “They have not reinvested.”

And that’s one of local residents’ primary concerns, which sparked the Protect Crenshaw movement that’s spearheading efforts to shut down the cannabis shop.

According to its Instagram page, it’s “a movement to not only restore our economic growth, knowledge and foundation … it is to restore the fabric of a culture deliberately dismantled to cause the disconnect we have in our communities today!” and includes hashtags like #KeepCrenshawBlackOwned, #SocialEquity, #BuyBlack, #OwnOurOwn and #NoMarijuanaMonopoly.

Organizers also created a petition to boycott L.A. Cannabis Co., Keith said. The petition summary claims that shop owners have “used their pre-[interim control ordinance] status to block out social equity applicants.”

Pre-interim control ordinance (pre-ICOs) shops refer to medical marijuana dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 before an interim control ordinance moratorium went into effect. Under city code, pre-ICOs were authorized to operate legally, but a temporary ban was put on new dispensaries while the Los Angeles City Council came up with zoning laws to determine how and where shops could operate. It limited the number of cannabis dispensaries in the city.

The passage of Measure M in March 2017 gives priority licensing to existing medical marijuana dispensaries (EMMDs) in the city. When the annual licensing period begins, EMMDs will go through processing first, followed by the general public. Then, priority processing is given to those who meet the social equity program’s criteria.

But while votes in City Hall shift in favor of Leimert Park residents’ concerns, for many, the fight continues.

“This is a historically black-owned neighborhood … and the culture of this community is being lost as different things come in and take place,” said Ignite Daniel, a business owner on Crenshaw Boulevard whose family owns four establishments on the block, including barbershops and a dance studio.

“What I know … is that [L.A. Cannabis Co.] being here takes away from restoring, maintaining and keeping the culture of what’s taking place on this block,” Daniel said.

“We really look at this cannabis thing as an opportunity to help fund some of the programs in our community,” Keith said. “So this is heartbreaking. As a community member, I’m like ‘Wait a minute, you just cut off any possible lifeline that we could see to generate [funds]. There are no other businesses on the block that can generate this sort of revenue and community benefits, and we want someone from the community that’s committed to that.”