Medical marijuana dispensaries have been cropping up across the country for years. Nearly every city has one. In Minnesota, construction is underway for the state’s first dispensary, and Washington, D.C., opened its first medical marijuana dispensary two years before legislation made the substance legal in the District.
Three years ago, Rick Bolton, a self described “long-suffering Los Angelino,” came across what was then a new business in Los Angeles — a medical marijuana dispensary — opening near his office in Hollywood.
“Not long afterwards, I noticed one in my neighborhood, on a residential street in Northeast Los Angeles,” Bolton tells In Sight. “Soon, I was noticing them everywhere. Confusing legislation at the city level had created a gold rush. At one point, there were more than 800 dispensaries in the greater Los Angeles area. There were more pot shops than there were Starbucks outlets.”
And so he began to photograph them.
“I love Los Angeles, and this phenomenon was unique to our city,” he says. “Due to legal uncertainties, most of the dispensaries were to be found in provisional areas, “in-between” sections of the city, not completely poor, but not rich, either. In the time since I started this project, I’ve photographed over 250 dispensaries, watching as they open, and close, and open again. Some of these shops have changed hands — and facades — several times. Others have moved from neighborhood to neighborhood. Still others, well-located, with their paperwork in order, haven’t moved.”
This series of images stretches from south central Los Angeles to North Hollywood, from northeast LA to Venice Beach. It is, in a curious sort of way, a portrait of a city. The shops themselves, of course, are an important part of the story, and many of the dispensaries in these images no longer exist. But the neighborhoods, the environments around the shops, and the adjacent stores help complete the portrait.
As new dispensaries open and the city tries to limit the number of shops, Bolton continues to document the changing landscape.