They descended on free-wheeling Venice Beach with clipboards and questions in hand. Their goal: to gauge humanity’s tolerance for the smell and sight of public pot smoking.
Akbar Karriem considered them ridiculous.
“Everybody be smoking,” Karriem said as he sat on the boardwalk and lit a marijuana pipe. “It’s part of the culture here. It’s like a religion.”
It wasn’t quite noon Wednesday when the women from the Institute for Public Strategies arrived. As sidewalk vendors set up their tables and laid out their wares, the women politely approached bystanders at the Venice Beach skate park and began their questioning.
Do you ever notice marijuana smoke in this location? How often? Do you or someone you know suffer an allergy or sensitivity to marijuana smoke? If yes, how much does it bother them on a scale of 0 to 4?
One of the goals of the survey, said Westside Impact Coalition Director Sarah Blanch, was to learn where people encounter marijuana smoke in public, what they think of it, and if anything can be done to minimize it if it’s a problem.
“There’s a pervasive view that it’s not harmful,” she said.
The surveys are being conducted countywide through March and the effort is funded by the county’s Department of Public Health. They hope to get feedback from 10,000 business owners, residents and visitors and then return next summer with a list of recommendations on how to notify and educate the public about marijuana laws and risks.
Some people they talked to were a bit skeptical of the survey.
When Blanch interviewed a man on a Bird scooter, her questions were met with befuddlement.
“Is there anything you can do?” Damian All’i asked Blanch. “I honestly don’t think anything can be done at this point. The floodgates are wide open.”
All’i, 29, said he grew up around the smell of marijuana in Long Beach. Even though he doesn’t smoke it, he said the smell doesn’t bother him.
“If it still bothers you, people got to get with the times,” he said. “It’s become the norm.”
Skateboarder Dominique Jones said while concerns over marijuana smoke might make sense in some places, the survey takers weren’t likely to hear much of that on the boardwalk Wednesday.
“That smell is a lot better than a lot of the other smells around here,” he said.
New Yorkers Andrea Georges and her boyfriend, Kevin Dolan, were visiting the skate park while house hunting in West L.A. Georges, 26, said she barely noticed the smell of marijuana as she walked through Venice. Compared with Brooklyn, it was nothing, she said.
“Who cares? It’s the same with cigarettes. People still do it,” she said.
David Guerci can attest to that. He’s one of the managers of Native American World, a clothing store that’s been on the boardwalk for 20 years and is now two doors down from the Green Doctors, a medicinal marijuana recommendation office.
There was a time when you’d occasionally see someone smoking a joint on the sand or down by the water line, but now it’s a daily occurrence, Guerci said. He said he thinks the increase in pot smoking is connected to an increase in homelessness.
“There’s places to do it, [like] in the privacy of your home,” he said. “But if you have no place and this is where you reside — you’re exposed.”
But there appear to be few complaints as long as you’re discreet, said Joe Killmeister, 33, of Sacramento.
An employee at another boardwalk storefront, Killmeister said he moved to Los Angeles two months ago and was busted for smoking a joint in public his first month on the job.
“I didn’t see him because he was plainclothes,” Killmeister said of the cop who handed him a $250 citation. “He wasn’t too harsh. But he wasn’t cool at all.”
For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.