On the cannabis trail in Hollywood

Marjorie Miller
California's pot industry is targeting tourists with tours, shops, lodging and ads

Recreational marijuana sales became legal in California this year, and the industry is targeting tourists as well as locals, with tours, shops, lodging and ads. "Just seconds from LAX," says an ad for the MedMen chain .

Yep, there are chains of marijuana stores here. And there are cannabis bus tours, too, like Green Line Trips , with stops at local pot dispensaries along with stops at attractions like Griffith Park. You can even smoke on the bus. (Funny thing about online reviews for Green Line and other tours: They're really, really positive, as in "the best," "coolest," "hella" and "man, o man".)

MedMen, one of several marijuana dispensaries in West Hollywood, scores 4.8 stars on weedmaps.com. At busy times, there are lines to get in, and you'll have to show ID proving you're 21 or over. But once inside, it's head shop meets Apple store. The air smells like pot. Tables display weed, oils, cookies and breath mints, along with iPads to swipe for details on different marijuana plants. The descriptions sound like wine: "good pungent nose" and "some will be piney".

Shelves and hooks display vapour pens, balms, tinctures, lollies. Refrigerators are filled with drinks and frozen pot food like cannabis-infused churros. The sales staff wear red T-shirts saying "Shop. It's legal". Their personal styles range from green hair to grey, dreadlocks to buzz cuts, some with tattoos and body piercings and some without. But they seem to have one thing in common: They're very mellow.

"This is the best job I've ever had," said Richard Horn, 26, as he gave me a tour of the store.

Horn said there are two types of products, those with THC, the mind-altering ingredient that makes you high, and those with CBD, which has no cognitive effects but is sold to treat anxiety, relieve pain and enhance sexual pleasure. I didn't quite get how the same ingredient could dim pain and enhance arousal, until he muttered something about "numbing" and "lasting longer" and it got a little awkward, since I was old enough to be his mother. The conversation quickly turned to cannabis products for pets, and taxes.

You'd think that the price of legal pot would be lower than when it was illicit, until you factor in the costs of doing business: real estate, staff, advertisements and taxes. Prices for legal weed can average 35 per cent higher than what users were paying on the street, depending on the city. Marijuana at MedMen sells for about $US10 to $US25 ($A12 to $A30) per gram, depending on the quality. Pre-rolled joints sell for $US5 to $US15, depending on the brand. Shoppers with state-issued cards for medical marijuana pay less because they're not charged state excise tax. You may purchase up to an ounce of cannabis per day, or up to 8 grams of cannabis concentrates (used in edibles).

Shoppers seemed unfazed by the cost. Dressed in casual and business attire, they browsed, sniffed containers and discussed products with staff. Horn is a fan of battery-powered vaporiser cartridges, "the best, most cost-effective way to get high," he said. "This defines America perfectly. On the go, ready, right now."

You can pay with cash or debit cards but not credit cards. (Credit card companies do not sanction pot purchases because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.)

Many customers leave with whole bags of pot products, but tourists face consumption challenges. The law prohibits smoking, vaporising or ingesting cannabis products in public or anywhere tobacco is banned - which in California, includes restaurants, bars, parks and beaches. Most big chain hotels in California are smoke-free, too, which may leave visitors back where they were before legalisation: looking for a place to smoke.

San Francisco has opened "consumption lounges" where smoking is permitted, and there's been talk of opening similar lounges in West Hollywood. For now, though, the best option for tourists looking to smoke may be to book lodging and home rentals that allow it. Often these are euphemistically advertised online as "420-friendly", a reference to April 20, the unofficial holiday for weed-smokers. KushTourism.com lists tours as well as marijuana-friendly resorts and other accommodations in weed-legal states.

But what do you do with pot leftovers when it's time to go home? You're not supposed to take marijuana on planes or across state lines, since it's illegal under federal law. That goes for CBD "apothecary" products, too, like the balms and oils that don't get you high and which are legal for medical purposes in a handful of states. Las Vegas and a couple of Colorado airports have installed "amnesty boxes" where travellers can dispose of drugs before going through security, but California airports don't have them yet.

Transportation Security Administration agents are focused on security threats, not marijuana, according to agency spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. If they happen to find marijuana in baggage during routine screenings, TSA refers the incident to local law enforcement at the airport, and they decide how to handle it, Farbstein said. But a traveller stopped by TSA with a legal amount of marijuana in California would not be charged because possession there is not a crime.

At the end of my MedMen tour, I ask one shopper if I might speak to her about pot shopping. Even though it's legal, she wouldn't talk, she said, because her daughter is a cop. Old habits die hard.

I asked another well-dressed woman why she came to MedMen and she looked at me quizzically. "I ran out of pot," said Bari Bogart, 62.

"Medicinal or recreational?" I asked.

She laughed. "Are you kidding?"

Oh, right. Nobody has to pretend anymore.