Medical Marijuana Dispensary Grateful Meds

Grateful Meds opened in December at the corner of Seaton and Palmetto, one block south of where embattled Ramirez Liquor failed to open an outpost.

In late 2012, Boyle Heights-based Ramirez Liquors announced plans to open a store in the Arts District. The second outpost of the family-run business was slated for a 7,081-square-foot space at Fifth and Seaton streets (near Alameda Street).

Ramirez, which had operated for 17 years, hoped to cater to the evolving Downtown, and intended to stock a large selection of craft beers and more than 750 types of tequila and mescal. There would be a wine tasting room and a cigar humidor.

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Although a rendering revealed a modern exterior, more akin to a furniture shop than a standard corner liquor store, the community rebelled, with area inhabitants saying the neighborhood was vulnerable to crime and frequented by transients.

The complaints struck a chord, and in March 2013 a city associate zoning administrator wrote that a liquor store would “adversely affect or degrade adjacent properties.” The Ramirez family ultimately lost their battle. There would be no Arts District store.

Fast forward to December when, to area residents’ surprise, a medical marijuana clinic, Grateful Meds, suddenly opened one block south of where Ramirez sought to locate.

“The dispensary seemed to sneak in under the radar,” said Russell Roney, a resident of the nearby Barker Block and one of those strongly opposed to Ramirez Liquor’s permit application. “No one that I know of was aware of its opening until after it was operational.”

While Roney, the president of the board of the Barker Block’s homeowners association, is quick to point out he is less concerned about a dispensary than he was about a liquor store — one needs a medical marijuana prescription card to gain access, whereas anyone over 21 can walk into a liquor store, he noted — he believes the new business is attracting an “unwanted element” to the neighborhood.

He is not alone. A chorus of area residents have said the same thing to the Arts District’s LAPD Senior Lead Officer, Chris Jarvis, who began representing the area during the Ramirez kerfuffle. Walking the neighborhood last week, Jarvis spotted several white bags, used to carry the marijuana out of the clinic, tossed in the street and littering the sidewalk. 

 “When it’s not your community, you don’t care as much about keeping it clean,” Jarvis said, noting the dispensary hasn’t reached out to the community the way most businesses do when they’re new in the neighborhood.

A bigger concern, Jarvis said, is dispensary patients smoking marijuana on the street or in their cars — something residents have reported to him repeatedly.  

Grateful Meds CEO Justin Pearson said the piles of trash sprinkled throughout the neighborhood predate his business’ arrival. He attributes the refuse to area transients, and said he believes the clinic is a positive addition to the community. He said his associates are organizing a neighborhood cleanup.

Although Pearson did not meet with members of the Los Angeles River Artists and Business Association or other neighborhood groups before opening, he said he wants to connect with the community. He said those with concerns should email him at info@gratefulmeds.la.

 “This is a great area, it’s industrial, we’re next to a DWP yard and a recycling plant. We’re not a nuisance,” Pearson said. “The only comments I’ve heard from the community is they’re happy we’re here.”

No Plan to Leave

Pearson relocated to a 10,000-square-foot building at Palmetto and Seaton streets from a space on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, which the clinic was forced to leave because of Proposition D. Passed by city voters last May, Prop D dictates that medical marijuana dispensaries must be 1,000 feet away from a school and 600 feet from a public park, library or religious institution.

Grateful Meds is one of the 134 dispensaries in Los Angeles that, according to Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, "may have limited immunity from prosecution" under Prop D. In practice, the clinics, scattered across the city, are being allowed to operate. Also on that list is the Arts District Healing Collective, a dispensary on First Street.

Pearson said he doesn’t have any plans to leave the Arts District.

Although Pearson said his dispensary’s mission is to provide safe access to medical marijuana for approved patients, Roney said he has noticed a “gangster-type” element hanging around the neighborhood. If he had known Grateful Meds wanted to open down the street from his home, he would have opposed it as he did Ramirez Liquor, he said. 

Barker Block resident Myles McCarthy doesn’t have an issue with the dispensary, but he does find it ironic that a pot clinic was able to open “overnight” a block from where Ramirez Liquor encountered such vehement opposition.

“I actually take some delight in knowing the NIMBYs that were so against an upscale, family-run liquor store with longstanding ties in the neighborhood could do nothing to stop a pot dispensary from opening just down the street,” he said.

Scot Ezzell, who has lived in the Arts District for 16 years, said he isn’t upset that a pot clinic popped up. However, he too finds the governmental process for approving businesses “ridiculous and arbitrary.”

“We can’t have liquor, but we can have pot?” he said.

Ezzell, who runs a weekly Arts District Neighborhood Walk, recently strolled by Grateful Meds. He was surprised to see a man selling about 30 glass pipes and other smoking paraphernalia on the street.

“That’s not going to fly in this neighborhood,” he said. “It makes me think things are not going in the right direction.”

Given the parade of people who enter and leave Grateful Meds each day, Ezzell believes Pearson should enclose the parking. That, he said, would stop the streams of buyers traipsing up and down the street all day.

donna@downtownnews.com

Twitter: @donnadowntown