It’s not easy to get André Soltani to talk about the medical marijuana industry, not least because he’s “adamant,” as he puts it, about not being identified with the Eagle Rock dispensary he helps run.
Soltani is not averse, however, to saying this much: “I think it’s unfair to people who want safe access—and to people who have been operating for so many years.”
Anyone following the highly contested medical marijuana debate would know instantly just what Soltani means by the words “unfair to people who want safe access” and “people who have been operating for so many years.”
The first phrase refers to the impending ban on medical marijuana storefronts, which goes into effect Thursday, likely making it difficult for those who need pot for medical reasons to procure it. And the second phrase alludes to clinics that have been catering to patients for several years now, including the longtime clinic that Soltani is part of.
Tall, muscular and blue-eyed, Soltani is an ethnic Armenian who emigrated to the U.S. from Denmark at the age of three. He’s concerned, he says, about the prospect that patients will suffer if pot storefronts are banned. Yet he insists he does not categorically support preserving the medical marijuana status quo.
“In a way I’m for it,” he explains, referring to the Los Angeles City Council’s efforts to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana. “Let’s clean up the bad guys and the neighborhood.”
In May 2012, the Los Angeles Police Department shut down American Eagle Collective, a major medial marijuana facility located at 2501 Colorado Blvd., citing narcotics-related charges filed by the District Attorney’s office. The storefront was occupied less than a month later by Together For Change, another pot clinic run by several employees from AEC.
Tim Ryder, a veteran Eagle Rocker who knows Soltani well, is always ready to clear any misunderstandings about pot clinics that might exist in the public eye. As the founder and head of Cannabis Clubs United With the Community, Ryder works with many clinics to help them improve their social image and function better in Eagle Rock.
Ryder took Eagle Rock Patch on a tour recently of the neighborhood’s dispensaries, hoping that at least some of them would talk to the media, thereby helping overcome some of the stereotypes about the clinics, particularly the idea that their presence contributes to incidents of crime that are said to not always show up in LAPD statistics because they tend to go unreported.
Several managers of the dispensaries that Ryder called on along with Eagle Rock Patch, however, refused flat-out to talk to the media.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that these clinics are shady—and Ryder made sure to press that point home. After visiting several clinics, he asked: “Did you see any crimes being committed?”
The only clinic where Ryder had any luck getting employees to open up to the media was Colorado Quality Pain Relief, a relatively recent storefront that relocated from Eagle Rock's main boulevard and opened on 4740 Eagle Rock Blvd., right next to a store where a massage parlor was busted in May 2011 by the LAPD for alleged prostitution.
We were greeted by a strapping African American man who had the build of a professional basketball player. But there was nobody around to answer questions, we were told. We asked the man what he thought might occur when the Sept. 6 deadline comes for pot clinics to shut shop.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” he said, looking genuinely concerned. “The patients are all nervous.”