An officer keeps watch on a group of people apprehended at an illegal marijuana shop in Compton, Calif., in 2018. | AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
In LA, people are getting arrested for what they think are legit jobs in the pot business. Will “decriminalization” just spread the problem nationwide?
LOS ANGELES — Everything about Kelvin’s job in a neighborhood southwest of downtown seemed like any other assignment, if not a little more exciting. The 40-year-old, who had previously worked as an electrician, had been employed since 2015 by a private security company that contracted him out to guard marijuana dispensaries.
In 2019, he was protecting one of the thousand or so cannabis stores in California’s biggest city—part of an industry that has grown less and less underground since 1996, when the state first legalized medical marijuana.
Kelvin, who asked not to be identified beyond his middle name to avoid professional retaliation, doesn’t smoke pot, but says the gig felt like the future. He grew up in a time when other Black people he knew in Los Angeles would go to jail for possessing even small amounts of the drug. Now, customers could walk into shops like the one he was guarding, many of which can be identified by green crosses on the outside and Bob Marley posters and music playing inside, to browse jars of bud on display before making a purchase over the counter.
But one day, he recounts, police dressed in camouflage showed up with guns drawn. They ordered everyone onto the floor. Kelvin was arrested, as were the employees of the store. The cops said the dispensary was unlawful.
Kelvin was confused, and furious. “I didn’t think we were doing anything wrong,” he says. He had no idea the city considered the business illegal. In the year and a half he’d been working at that location, he had even gotten to know the local cops, who would wave to him when he was walking down the street to get a snack. He had his security guard license, and a license for the firearm he carried while on the job. He’d been hired through a security contractor. How was he supposed to know the dispensary they’d sent him to didn’t have its license?
Published: February 09, 2021
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News