A former police station in Long Beach is now a medical marijuana dispensary aptly named the Station. Having officially opened earlier this month, the Station plays off the theme of the building's former purpose.
"It's like a crossroads for the end of prohibition, so we wanted to highlight that," says Pam Chotiswatdi, the dispensary's health educator. "It's a place where you can get your medication but also think about how we got where we're at legally."
In its original iteration, the Station used to house booking and holding cells for those who'd been arrested. While the location of the cells has now become the "bud floor," and the cells themselves have since been removed ("It was kind of creepy," Chotiswatdi admits), the dispensary has retained, for instance, the original police station benches with tagging etched in.
Before and during the site's construction, the dispensary owners, as part of the Long Beach Collectives Association, invited the community for tours and meetings and held presentations with law enforcement, the fire department, neighborhood associations and various city officials, Chotiswatdi says.
Getting the location — at 1957 Pacific Ave. — transformed into a dispensary wasn't outright difficult but it did involve a community effort. "It was during one of the neighborhood tours that the community suggested a mural to be done by community member David Early," Chotiswatdi says. The LBCA, which works with the city on cannabis regulation and education, encourages community involvement, she says.
In the waiting room of the dispensary, intended to have a similar feel to the waiting room at a cop station, is Early's mural, playing on the location's inherent themes. When Early moved to the neighborhood 10 years ago, he says he remembers the location as an active police station, which operated from the late '90s through the 2010s.
"With the name of the Station, I thought to bring the positive, to focus on being incarcerated and being released," Early says. "We finally narrowed it down to the idea of freeing the jailbird."
Hanging in front of the mural is an open bird cage, to symbolize that release, the freedom to openly buy medical cannabis in legal California. "The image of the cage, that was the original idea, but I wanted to see it go a bit further," Early says.
Hailing from a family of Long Beach locals, Early wanted the mural to also have a historical feel to it. "I created a train station where people are free, waiting to board a train to go wherever," he says. With faux windows at the top, in the same context as the open bird cage, there's the idea of the freed bird flying through those windows.
The mural is almost totally in black and white, but rainbow rays of light come through the windows, providing a direct contrast. "The whole idea behind freedom [is] that finally medical and adult-use marijuana are legal. But [the mural] kind of has an irony to it, a twist," Early says. "It's the end of prohibition, but you have that retro feel. That's why I still have the police officers in it that look harmless, however on guard."
The mural, alongside the original police station benches, is meant to convey immediately to customers that "this was once a police station, and that this is the wave of the future," he says.
When Early first received the assignment, he knew he didn't want to include the cannabis leaf, Rasta colors or anything else anything too obvious in the mural. "I wanted to take it to a different level," he says. "It doesn't have a lot to do with the idea of cannabis, but when you look at it deeper, it has everything to do with it. It's very subtle."
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For now, the Station is strictly a medical cannabis dispensary, but once Long Beach allows for adult-use permitting, the owners plan to apply for an adult-use license as well. The issue is set to be brought to the city council in June, says Chotiswatdi, noting that the council passed a 180-day moratorium in November that is up in June.
"Regulation is always better than no regulation," says Adam Hijazi, general manager of the Station. "We want to see the city go into adult use. We hope that the city will bring up the issue in the coming weeks."
The Station is where old world meets new world, a crossroads of eras, so to speak, between pre- and post-prohibition California.
"For us, what it means is a new beginning, the end of prohibition and now possibilities in the future, whether through community relations, law enforcement or cannabis in general," Hijazi says. "As an industry, we're taking off, everything is new, and that's what we're trying to stand for."