Civil disobedience never smelled so good, tasted so fine or felt so naughty.
A few days before Christmas, in the Mid-City shadow of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, an estimated crowd of 125 or so Angelenos of all ages and backgrounds drifted in and out of Hit Man Coffee Shop. Their common purpose: to smoke their brains out in protest of new recreational marijuana laws so restrictive that the only legal place to consume weed is in the privacy of your home — and that's only if your lease allows you to smoke in your living space.
The tokers, who ranged in age from 21 to 75 and included a businessman who smoked his first joint in 1957, were unanimous in support of changing laws to allow smoking in public via a controlled atmosphere. They wanted to be able to go to a smoke bar just as others frequent their neighborhood bar for happy hour.
A half-hour into the four-hour gig, a barefoot volunteer elf with a Santa-sized sack filled with joints made his way through the hip, split-level coffeehouse brimming with art, neon signs and Plexiglas cubes that contained museum-quality glass pipes. Without saying a word, the young man passed out generously sized spliffs, bowing in a respectful "namaste" way each time he offered. Within minutes, the room was as foggy as June gloom in Santa Monica. Everyone was meeting new friends. A DJ and proper lighting set the mood. People danced and noshed on sandwiches and chips and drank plenty of water. No alcohol was served.
"We are not promoting marijuana or breaking the law," L.A. defense attorney Bruce Margolin said. "If someone is smoking pot in here, there's nothing I can do about it. We need to change the law because right now, you can't smoke in public, you can't smoke in your car and you can't smoke in your apartment unless you own it or your landlord says it's OK."
Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, flew in from Oakland. The prohibition of smoking in public wasn't his only beef with the new recreational-use laws that are supposed to go into effect Jan. 1.
Gieringer wants the state to make sure medical marijuana delivery is never denied patients. Employee rights need to be addressed so that medical marijuana users don't get fired if they test positive at work. Currently there are no employee rights when pot is in play. He pointed out that collectives now operating need to make sure they re-register with the state prior to Dec. 8, 2018. That's because the law that allows for medical marijuana collectives goes away. The law "sunsets" is the gentle way politicians put it.
Alas, as Gieringer pointed out, California politicians are afraid of what the federal government might do, especially at the hands of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who still thinks the movie Reefer Madness is a documentary.
"The situation in L.A. is unclear," Gieringer told the crowd, because even though the law is scheduled to go into effect, the infrastructure simply isn't in place. "It's such a mess down here."
The sheer number of new laws and taxes coming out of Sacramento and from local governments threatens to choke off access.
"I've told a lot of people to stock up now because taxes go into effect Jan. 1, which means prices are going up. And who knows if anyone in L.A. is going to be open," Gieringer said. "This is the end of the free, unfettered market."
No worries, Ike Diezel said, as he looked over the glass-pipe display. The former porn star turned director decided it was time to transition to a new career. He tossed the dice, buying a nice spread in Northern California where he'll focus on a back-to-nature farm using no pesticides or artificial lighting.
"I'm going all natural with the greatest light source we have — the sun," Diezel said. "It's time."
Attorney Allison Margolin with Margolin & Lawrence in Beverly Hills specializes in cannabis regulatory law and defending people who get busted. She's the go-to lawyer if you want a recreational sales permit, helping at least a dozen dispensaries obtain temporary permission so they can sell recreational pot in Los Angeles on New Year's Day.
"I don't think it's going to be a mess. I think it's going to be all good," she said. "We don't live in an absolute world and the city is going to allow the 134 pre-ICO (interim control ordinance) dispensaries to open for recreational sales. I think it will be four months until things smooth out." Until then, she figures the city's attitude is likely to be one of laissez-faire or hands off.
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She's not sure how pot lounges will go over with the city. But her father, Bruce Margolin, is hopeful that he can convince L.A. politicians that a place like Hit Man is a shining example of what could be.
He thinks the city and state will have an attitude adjustment when it comes to marijuana bars.
"Hit Man Coffee Shop is an example of how the city should have on-site consumption," Margolin said. "It's organic because it's a place where patients and people can talk."
And dance and laugh and smoke without fear. At least for now.