The line stretched hundreds of people long down an industrial stretch of Esperanza Street, as throngs of Angelenos endured the baking heat Saturday to get into a Boyle Heights warehouse.
Inside, cannabis growers offered up their crop from glass jars labeled with gauzy names like "Blue Dream" and "Banana Kush." Shoppers sniffed each musky container discerningly. A dizzying assortment of marijuana-infused wares beckoned from dozens of booths: balms and sunblock, organic waffles and soft pretzels, chai tea, cooking oil, lollipops in salted caramel, watermelon or key lime flavors.
"What have you got?" one man asked gruffly at a booth lined with jars. A purple chalkboard behind the folding tables advertised, "HIGH QUALITY!!! TOP SHELF!!!"
"What do you like?" replied Anthony Guillen of Cal Hemp with a smile. "Everybody's got preferences."
Teenage and graying, tattooed and toting canes, the shoppers shared a simple goal: to cut out the marijuana middleman. Instead of heading to pot shops, they flocked to Boyle Heights to buy directly from growers — a marijuana marketplace akin to the farmers markets that speckle Los Angeles.
"The dispensary is so last decade," quipped Los Angeles-area grower John Moreaux.
Paizley Bradbury, executive director of the California Heritage Market, billed it as the first such market in Los Angeles County. As the city cracks down on pot shops that don't comply with Proposition D — a law passed by Los Angeles voters last year to restrict the number of marijuana businesses that can operate — local patients have had fewer choices when it comes to cannabis, Bradbury said.
"This opens it up for patients to reach lots of different cultivators," she said. "They'll be able to get flowers, concentrates, edibles, lotions.... And you can get 70% off the prices at a dispensary."
Rachel Hartje sweated out a 45-minute wait Saturday to seek out deals and quiz growers about whether their cannabis was lab-tested for mold or contaminants. Her breast cancer recently went into remission after more than two years of treatment. With money tight as she fends off her illness, Hartje said it was worth the trip from Glendale for even a small discount on the oils and tinctures that ease her pain.
"Every little bit helps," she said, toting a small bag at her side.
To get into the market, shoppers had to show documents and ID proving they were legally allowed to buy medicinal marijuana products. Bradbury estimated that roughly 2,500 patients packed the market when it opened Friday, more than twice as many as expected, and said the crowds seemed even bigger Saturday. As she fielded questions from a reporter, someone hurriedly handed Bradbury a cellphone.
"Sorry I haven't been able to get back to you," she told the caller quickly. "The market is crazy."
Many shoppers were wowed by the bargains: A 62-year-old military veteran raved about the prices, showing off a plastic bag loaded with fluffy buds as he waited in line for another vendor. "Fifteen dollars for this?" he told a young woman standing behind him. "Now where are you going to get this for $15?"
Others said they made the trek to speak one-on-one with growers about the kind of effect they wanted — or didn't want. "Sometimes the shops don't really know," said Saul Miranda, a 19-year-old who said he uses marijuana to ease pain in his leg. "Here you can tell they know their buds."
In a nearby booth labeled "Awakened Topicals," Levi Strom offered sample cups of creamy balms, "topicals" for customers who want to ease inflammation but aren't keen on getting high, he said. One woman studied the white containers, murmuring that her sister needed something after eye surgery.
"It's great for skin irritation as well," Strom added.
Across the sweltering building, Jamie Brown of First Choice Farms touted a tiny vial of dusky oil. The viscous, bitter oil "got me off a bag of pharmaceuticals," Brown said. A decade ago, he lost his left kidney, spleen and part of his pancreas to rocket shrapnel in Iraq. Cannabis soothed his pain, he said.
A market where marijuana growers can talk directly to customers "is absolute genius," Brown said. "We can find out what works for them and what doesn't" and recommend the right strains, he said.
As customers lined up by the hundreds early Saturday, a city building inspector stopped by the market and issued an order saying the warehouse needed a change-of-use permit to be used for retail.
Bradbury, who also serves as executive director of West Coast Collective at the Boyle Heights site, earlier said organizers were confident there were no legal problems with the market, which she plans to continue as a weekly event. Muscular security guards were stationed throughout the building, but cannabis vendors said the crowds were mostly mellow despite the long lines and pummeling heat.
"Next week, I'm going to bring my 6-year-old daughter," said Robert Tedders. At the Home Grown Tradition booth, he and his business partner Shane Coronado were busy hawking bottles of bhang chai, a tea with what Tedders called "a healthy dose of cannabis," to new customers.
"People are lining up and they're happy to be here," Tedders said, "and that feels really good."