By Samantha Joson
The Buffalo Wild Wings I’m sitting in is playing Sia rather loudly. Along the walls there are tiny yellow flags strung up, all with the company logo, and on every ledge that separates the dining area from the bar sits dozens of yellow paper crowns.
A little bit obnoxious in my opinion, but judging from the four giant screens playing football on all sides of the dining area and the football jersey themed staff uniforms, people aren’t coming to Buffalo Wild Wings for the decor.
A Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t the first place I’d choose to interview someone, but it’d have to do. Especially when the person you’re interviewing is on a strict schedule — for delivering medical marijuana to people in the Santa Clarita Valley, that is. And he happened to be in town during lunch. Near a Buffalo Wild Wings. Near a bank he needed to stop by.
And so, here I am.
Los Angeles county has been one of the most progressive areas for marijuana in the state, and it seems like in 2016 that views of marijuana have softened even in areas like Orange County where people being against the idea of medical marijuana were not few and far between.
So why, in this bubble of L.A. county called Santa Clarita does there still seem to be a significant amount of pushback against medical marijuana?
Josh Eisenberg, 29, was born and raised in Santa Clarita and is the owner of On Deck Cooperative, a delivery service medical marijuana dispensary. Since being established in 2011, On Deck Cooperative has managed to be the longest operating medical marijuana delivery service for a city that keeps the number of bars to a minimum and doesn’t even have a single nightclub or stripclub, let alone a storefront location for any medical marijuana dispensary.
“Santa Clarita keeps them out,” Eisenberg says nonchalantly. Our waitress comes by and he orders lemon pepper and spicy buffalo wings for himself and his associate, Joey. “They have, I would say, zoned out [dispensaries] the same way they have strip clubs.”
Although there are city ordinances that prohibit storefront dispensaries as well as delivery services in Santa Clarita, those ordinances only allow for city control on a commercial basis. In other words, medical marijuana delivered in a clearly marked vehicle? Not allowed. Medical marijuana delivered using someone’s private car? Huge gray area.
Santa Clarita has a long history of being anti-medical marijuana. For a town built around the idea of family and family values – the epitome of Suburbia – this isn’t surprising. Santa Clarita Councilwoman Marsha Mclean expressed “[concern] about young people having access to marijuana” as well as people using medical marijuana as a guise to smoke it recreationally.
“Parents groups, and church groups, and educational groups are very much opposed to having marijuana establishments opened in the city,” Mclean continued.
From 2010 to 2014, the number of arrests for narcotics in Santa Clarita outnumbered arrests for literally everything else, according to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
Until 2015, that is, when the number of narcotics arrests was outnumbered by only those arrested under arrest warrants. In 2015, 553 total people were arrested for a narcotics violation in Santa Clarita. In Malibu the same year, the number of people arrested for a narcotics violation was a whopping 53.
So when a city’s mayor says that marijuana is, in fact, a problem, it’s hard to imagine that operating a delivery service for medical marijuana there would be a particularly smart business move.
Or is it?
For Eisenberg and On Deck Cooperative, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
According to Eisenberg, On Deck Cooperative has served thousands of people in Santa Clarita, and they keep about 500-600 active patients at any one time.
With products ranging from edible gummies, brownies, cookies, hash, cannabis ready to be smoked, and more, On Deck Cooperative probably has whatever you might be looking for.
So obviously, there’s some demand for medical marijuana in Santa Clarita then. From who, might surprise you though.
“As much as you grow up, like, kids hiding it from the parents, we deal more with the Baby Boomer generation — parents hiding it from their kids,” says Eisenberg. For On Deck Cooperative, the number of patients between ages 45-60 has exploded.
As of 2014, 49 percent of all medical marijuana users were ages 40-55, while 24 percent were age 55 and up.
Joey, who had only piped into the conversation a few times before, chimed in.
“This is the first time I’ve seen old people be like, ‘Not only did I realize stuff like this might not be that bad, it could be helping me for something like my fibromyalgia, my cataracts, whatever,’” he states. “So Santa Clarita’s outwardly very conservative, but there is a lot of older patients that are like ‘I’d much rather be taking [medical marijuana] than this crazy painkiller that my doctors gave me.’”
Studies have shown that marijuana is especially effective in treating neuropathic pain that involves nerve damage. Both doctors and patients sometimes choose to opt toward medical marijuana because it is less habit-forming than opiates and has virtually no risk for a fatal overdose — unlike its opiate counterparts.
Eisenberg also mentioned other possible reasons that Santa Clarita might be lacking medical marijuana dispensaries. Others who’ve tried to set up a delivery service in town might have found that it wasn’t as lucrative as they thought it would be or, sadly but true, may have been robbed and could not afford to seek help from the authorities in a city that cares little to create legislation that protects the medical marijuana business and the people in it.
“I believe that people who legitimately need marijuana for medical purposes should be able to have access to it,” Mclean said. “I’m not necessarily opposed to using marijuana for medical purposes, and if it helps a person then they should have access to it. But as far as having shops on every street corner, I don’t know if that would be a good idea.”
So whether or not the people of Santa Clarita are operating under a herd mentality based on the false assumption that everyone (or most everyone) around them is still against the idea of having medical marijuana in town, or have begun to begrudingly accept the benefits of medical marijuana, or simply are still against it altogether, the fate of the medical marijuana industry in Santa Clarita has time yet to reveal itself.
In the meantime, both delivery dispensary workers and patients will benefit from legislation that protects medical marijuana delivery workers.
According to Eisenberg, because On Deck Cooperative is strictly a delivery dispensary that doesn’t have an actual location, their client base naturally has more people who physically cannot travel to a dispensary themselves due to complications from their medical conditions.
For others, they feel that having their medical marijuana delivered to their homes is safer because they are more likely to be robbed coming out of a physical dispensary. And reasonably, some people just prefer the privacy that encompasses the nature of a delivery service.
Therefore, having protections in place for the dispensary workers not only keeps them safe while on the job, but it ensures that everyone gets their medication safely and efficiently — especially those who can’t get it otherwise.
Marijuana is no longer just the party drug that it used to be. Countless studies have shown that marijuana has real medicinal value.
“The fun part is we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface,” Eisenberg says of the growing number of benefits medical marijuana continues to have.
More research needs to be conducted, and legalizing marijuana brings us one step closer. Slowly but surely, legislation around the nation is starting to reflect the changing times.
Perhaps it’s time for a change in Santa Clarita as well.