ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
All this week, we're reporting on the changing nature of marijuana use in this country. And today we go to California, where the use of medical marijuana has been legal for almost 15 years. That has created an industry of marijuana dispensaries, including high-end boutiques that pair pot with Pilates, massage and acupuncture.
NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports from Los Angeles.
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MANDALIT DEL BARCO: On a trendy street in super hip Venice, California, a neon-green sign with a baby marijuana leaf invites patients into the Farmacy. That's Farmacy with an F. Inside the stylish shop, herbalists wear lab coats made of hemp fabric. They offer various plant-based medicines, including Chinese and Amazonian herbs and, of course, cannabis.
Mr. BILL LEAHY (General Manager, The Farmacy): Everything in the store is organic.
DEL BARCO: General Manager Bill Leahy points out the sustainable wood ceilings and feng shui fountain. For patients with a doctor's recommendation, Leahy guarantees the purity of his marijuana.
Mr. LEAHY: If it's not holistic or in some way giving off that positive energy, we don't want it. We don't need it. It's not what we're looking for.
DEL BARCO: This is no ordinary pot shop, no sense of an illicit trade. Tidy glass jars display a variety of marijuana buds, and there's an entire children's section of natural medicines. From the Farmacy's own special kitchen, chefs whip up handmade, herbally enhanced, organic gelatos, biscottis and whipped butter, cannabis-infused lemonades and other goodies.
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Unidentified Woman: We have crispy treats - chocolate-covered pretzels with a little something extra.
Mr. LEAHY: Yeah, little tootsies. Here's some olive oil that's enhanced.
Ms. SUSAN LEAHY (Herbalist, The Farmacy): Nobody said that medicine has to taste bad.
DEL BARCO: Leahy's wife, Susan, is one of the Farmacy's herbalists.
Ms. LEAHY: We're not here for people to get high. We're here to offer medicine to alleve(ph) pain, stress, tension. We have medicines that will help knock off the nausea - you know, so that people can enjoy their lives again.
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DEL BARCO: At the Venice store, the entire upstairs floor is devoted to affordable acupuncture, massages, skin care and shamanic healings. Owner JoAnna LaForce says she'd like The Farmacy to be a role model for other dispensaries.
Ms. JOANNA LAFORCE (Owner, The Farmacy): We wanted to have an environment where people could come in and feel comfortable and not feel like a criminal, especially elderly. Our average age in our pharmacies is 42. Our oldest patient is 104.
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DEL BARCO: The Farmacy is perhaps the most talked about marijuana boutique in the country to date. But with 14 states now allowing medical marijuana, other high-end dispensaries are opening across the country, from the Bay Area to Portland, Maine.
Ms. DALE SKY CLARE (Executive Chancellor, Oaksterdam University): I would say that these are full-service, holistic-care facilities.
DEL BARCO: Dale Sky Clare is executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland-based trade school for the marijuana industry. She says some clinics offer Pilates with their pot, and even so-called vapor lounges for consuming on-site.
Mr. CLARE: These places are realizing, as we get into a market that is more competitive, that they have an opportunity to add, you know, value-added services to their patients.
DEL BARCO: Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron says the marijuana boutiques are trying to change the image of the shady, back-alley pot dealers.
Professor JEFFREY MIRON (Economist, Harvard University): I think they want to look as legitimate, as middle class, as sort of normal as possible because that, of course, makes it less likely that the neighborhood or someone will be upset and want to sort of move them out or close them down, or change the law against medical marijuana. If they just look like any other store, then they don't particularly raise red flags.
DEL BARCO: In Los Angeles, the proliferation of hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries has provoked a backlash. This week, law enforcement began shutting down collectives not registered with the city. But the Farmacy's general manager, Bill Leahy, isn't too worried.
Mr. LEAHY: Our staff are not just tattooed kids that are getting high all the time. You see that we have acupuncturists, herbalists, nutritionists. Our goal always has been that if they ever did away with cannabis, we would be able to survive on the other holistic medicines.
DEL BARCO: Still, it seems the boutique dispensaries are positioning themselves to prosper, especially if Californians vote to legalize all marijuana next fall.
Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.
SIEGEL: And our series on the changing nature of marijuana use continues tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, with a look at how laws permitting the use of pot for medical purposes are giving authorities headaches, and how illicit drug dealers are losing business to sanctioned marijuana dispensaries.