In an economy where vacant commercial space is the norm, it's no surprise medical marijuana dispensaries have cropped up to meet the demands of legal stoners. Since cannabis became “legal” in 2003, it's been almost as easy to buy as cigarettes or alcohol, but the pot free-for-all reached a fever pitch last year when the city ordered more than 400 dispensaries to close.
As the fate of legal weed outlets hangs in the balance, photographer, cinematographer, and CalArts alum Michael Underwood has been using his lens to document the collectives before they close for good, featuring them in his aptly titled new photo book: Dispensaries.
Saturday, June 18 at 2 p.m., art critic Mathew Timmons interviews Underwood at the book's launch as part of the Saturday Visits series at the Outpost for Contemporary Art. In the meantime, we're giving you a sneak peek into the book with our own Top 10 Pop-Up Pot Shops, with insights from the photographer himself.
10. Mission Hills Patients Collective
Michael Underwood: “Whomever sells mirrored glass in the valley made a killing in the dispensary boom. It's as if our city is so vain it created a phenomenon just so it could look at itself.”
9. California Health Remedies
“Vinyl banners were used extensively by the dispensary owners to promote themselves with imagery, in this case a blue sky with ganja plants to the horizon. 'Your Health Depends on Our Quality' sounds a little ominous to me, but I suppose it's accurate.”
“While shooting this project, I spent a lot of time on the street and saw firsthand how big the homeless problem in L.A. truly is. All the good things promised by the dispensaries are only available if you have the money (preferably cash) to get a 'recommendation.'”
7. Hyperion Healing
“In this prime Silver Lake location, Hyperion Healing goes with a minimal-chic remodel with a striking mural. Three separate cameras are the only other decoration, because in a business like this, you can never be too careful. From what I understand, the chief affliction they heal is writer's block.”
“It took nearly a week of shooting, but I finally found one that had the address number '420.' No sign or other advertising needed — the address is the name of the store.”
“The roman numeral for 420 is CDXX, not IVXX, which means something like 20 minus 4, but hey, who's counting? I have a soft spot for this humble place, as I too started my business out of my home — although without quite the same investment in green siding.”
“Can dispensaries be a gentrifying force? Here, the Higher Path looks fresh and clean compared to the dingy, high-density apartments surrounding it. This was also the site of a botched robbery that ended with two people shot.”
3. Kaya Compassion Center
“In our jumbled urban environment where ads appeal to every conceivable urge, the green cross seems understated, maybe even classy, compared to the Vegas billboard that promises 'always a happy ending.'”
2. Pacific Collective
“One thing I noticed was how a minimal intervention into existing architecture can transform an old building. Here all you need is a paintbrush and some green paint, and you are in business.”
1. Kind For Cures
“Kind for Cures is the king of them all. This tells the whole story of the economic collapse and our nascent recovery. You know the economy is bad when a fast-food joint goes under. Luckily, there are entrepreneurs who will step up to fill the void, unafraid of any copyright lawsuits that might block their way.”