Opinion: The vernacular landscape of medical marijuana dispensaries


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Geographer Peirce Lewis once called the vernacular landscape our ‘unwitting autobiography.’ That got me thinking about one aspect of Southern California’s vernacular landscape: the medical marijuana dispensaries that have proliferated in recent years.

Over the last several years, my students at Cal State Northridge and I have built a large photographic database of medical marijuana dispensaries. We documented the buildings and their signs and parking lots. Then, working from a list of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries compiled by The Times, we performed a content analysis of trends and patterns among dispensaries.


In the end, we identified four main dispensary types: ones that project the image of mainstream medical providers; ones that project a holistic ‘granola’ vibe; ones that look like bunkers and appear to want to go unnoticed; and ones that make a clear appeal to ‘stoners,’ casting themselves as dispensing recreation rather than medicine.

You can see them for yourself in this collection of photos from our database taken between 2009 and now, with most of the photos snapped in spring 2010. They capture a moment in time when there was a proliferation of dispensaries.

PHOTO GALLERY: L.A.’s marijuana dispensaries by type


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--Steven M. Graves

Dr. Steven M. Graves is a professor at Cal State Northridge in the Department of Geography. He is also president of the California Geographical Society.