High Architecture: Marijuana Legalization and Architectural Intervention
Washington and Colorado, United States
Evie Soileau and Jon Anthony
In August 2013, the United States Justice Department maintained that they would not challenge state laws that legalized recreational marijuana for adults in Washington and Colorado. Twenty states already currently allow the use of medical marijuana. Opponents mention increased impaired driving and the expansion of criminal drug operations as unintended consequences of such policy changes. Proponents of decriminalization cite jail population reduction, job creation, and increased tax revenues as benefits of marijuana legalization, notwithstanding the creation of legitimate business opportunities for those involved in the various phases of production (Southall and Healy, August 29, 2013). The legalization of recreational marijuana, and the possibility of the subsequent spread of such policies, gives rise to a host of architectural questions. In the social and urban context, what is the current image of cannabis retail? How do these venues influence the urban fabric? What is the future of marijuana retail typology, and how can we, as architects, make this introduction of marijuana commercialization a positive one with the knowledge that it is happening no matter what? We will explore the issues of cannabis retail both in the development of its own image typology and its place within the urban, suburban, and rural context.
Marijuana retail stores and dispensaries in the United States currently have a rather negative image. Though cannabis is, for many Americans, a familiar aspect of life, all the interactions associated with the drug are largely underground (Sand, December 2010). Many of the current dispensaries are seedy and located in bad parts of town with poor spatiality, forcing those with health needs to visit unwholesome venues and perpetuating the deprecatory image of medical marijuana (Dollaghan, September 4, 2013). Kind for Cures is a quasi-infamous medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California that was minimally-converted from a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Its dingy-tacky storefront has become an image of sorts of the marijuana dispensary stereotype and was referenced in an episode of South Park, inquiring into the programmatic significance of the situational irony created by the conversion of an American consumption symbol into a stigmatized form of health care (South Park, March 31, 2010).
In 2011, the AIA San Francisco awarded Sand Studios for their design of a medical marijuana dispensary for the non-profit SPARC. The goal of Sand Studios was to reimagine the status quo for dispensaries, bringing the taboo form of healthcare “into the light”. The interiors feature local oak fixtures and glass pendant lamps, while the products themselves are displayed in chic glass jars, giving the retail space the air of an upscale apothecary. The decorative glass façade suggests transparency and legitimacy (Dollaghan, September 4, 2013). The SPARC experiment suggests the potential of cannabis retail to be uplifted from its status as a pejorative venue and perceived negative influence on the surrounding community (Sand, December 2010).
Cannabis commercialization highly influences the urban context, varying according to local culture and legislation. Though studies have found that there are increased levels of marijuana usage in urban areas versus the suburban or rural, the relationship between place size and usage is seen as incidental (Ousey and Maume, 1997). Thus, marijuana retail ventures are not limited to the urban setting. In California, city officials look back with scorn on the way Los Angeles marijuana dispensaries cropped up with no planning, proliferating as a broad range of venues from the upscale to the more common seedy, back-alley type. However, today, planners look to cannabis legalization as a potential for economic growth through the creation of a tourist industry, built upon mixed-used pedestrian development and, for some towns, the wine country model. The advantages of incorporating marijuana into city planning include the creation of recreational tourist sectors that allow for walkability and neighborhood-centricity, bringing in redevelopment and revenue. The Oaksterdam neighborhood of Oakland, California experienced a minor economic boom through its embrace of marijuana legalization by developing an area of retail, hotels, restaurants, and social gathering spaces. $2 billion is planned to be diverted from these redevelopment resources to fund local schools, a major feat in a state largely in debt (Stephens, June 28, 2010). Rather than avoiding marijuana legalization and face unplanned proliferation, many developers in California are embracing the possibilities for economic growth and neighborhood redevelopment, working to devise land-use models that would successfully incorporate a program traditionally confined to disreputable locations.
However, not all communities see the expansion of marijuana retail as a positive phenomenon. In San Pedro, California, many merchants find the propagation of clinics to hinder their efforts towards the creation of a high-end tourist industry. The proliferation of medical marijuana clinics in San Pedro’s historic downtown has provoked complaints about increased crime and loitering. Drug dealing outside of dispensaries has been noted as a significant issue, where “one person will go into the clinic, purchase the product, then pass it out to people on the street”. City initiatives have proposed to place restrictions to distance the clinics from schools, churches, public gathering spots, and parks. Recently the community in San Pedro, California is in the process of trying to relocate a transformed cannabis dispensary that currently sits next to a church (LittleJohn, May 17, 2013). In Colorado, local governments are given the jurisdiction to determine whether or not to allow recreational marijuana shops, which have recently been legalized by Amendment 64, to open in their communities. City officials in Colorado Springs, for example, voted to ban recreational pot shops, expressing the fear of hurting existing local businesses and the problems with having military base Fort Carson nearby (Ingold, July 25, 2013). Locals hope to have marijuana dispensaries regulated at the same standard as alcohol establishments with conditional-use permits, allowing the neighborhoods to decide (Littlejohn, May 17, 2013). The incorporation of marijuana programs at the city-scale is further determined by authority at the community level.
As a formerly illicit substance, marijuana has been extensively associated with alcohol, and dispensaries compared to bars. Land use regulations, controlled by local legislation, historically have had great influence in the improvement of public health within cities. In the 1890s, New York City was the forerunner of zoning regulation with laws that ensured basic amenities to tenement housing residents like sufficient light and air, as well as sewerage and water. The Standard State Zoning Enabling Act of 1920 brought zoning responsibilities to the local level with the goal to improve the health and well-being of citizens. Researchers have found that public health can be improved by using land use laws to limit and regulate the availability and location of alcohol and tobacco outlets (Ashe, Jernigan, Kline, Galaz, September 2003). Through zoning laws, communities are able to have agency and control in the development and integration of cannabis commercialization. With the rise of recreational cannabis dispensaries, communities now look towards alcohol establishments and their developed history as a paradigm for the future of cannabis retail in their neighborhood or city. Some propose to follow similar laws and conditional use permits that is controlled and regulated on an individual community basis. Yet a different view of marijuana retail as pharmaceutical, rather than a public health threat like alcohol or tobacco establishments, would bring a different zoning treatment of the typology that remains to be seen. These two distinctly different ways of categorizing marijuana retail–alcohol versus pharmaceutical– would thus create vastly different typologies within the urban fabric, with correspondingly different levels of receptiveness. In the San Pedro example, merchants of the downtown shopping district wished to push marijuana dispensaries to the same category of alcohol outlets with their associated conditional-use zoning laws, limiting their quantity and placement to specific kinds of neighborhoods. The treatment of the marijuana retail typology like that of a pharmacy would suggest a different development. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino suggests, rather than selling pot from its own dispensary or store, the drug should be handled through licensed pharmacies, a reality that is out of reach when marijuana is regarded by federal laws as illegal and dangerous (LittleJohn, May 17, 2013). A pharmaceutical approach to marijuana would develop a typology similar to that of healthcare and could be less restricted, from a zoning standpoint. Culturally viewing marijuana retail as a pharmacy rather than a bar would change the entire meaning of its place within the city, and communities would have to decide how this typology would fit into the development of the city’s image. Because zoning laws are local,local culture and legislation would dictate the development of marijuana retail in the urban context, and subsequently the identity of these establishments as either recreational or health care(Encyclopedia of Urban America: The Cities and Suburbs, 1998).
Though a growing national phenomenon, local cultures and needs largely dictate the development of marijuana retail. The architectural response to changing laws calls for the development of marijuana retail typology and subsequently the integration of this kind of retail into the urban fabric in a way that would benefit the community from both an economic and public health point of view. Cultural and legislative choices need to be made to view marijuana retail as a form of health care or as a form of adult recreation, like alcohol. In some communities, the proliferation of pot shops has maintained the seedy image of cannabis “health care”, bringing down the value of the surrounding economic and cultural community. In others, public officials seek to maximize the tax revenue benefits and recreational development potential. There also exist individual cases of agency to change the commercialization of marijuana to one sensitive to good spacial design, like San Francisco’s Sands Studios case. Yet the relationship between local laws and the image establishment of cannabis retail remains highly influential. Zoning laws that continue to treat it as a threat would perpetuate a negative architectural typology with an inferred negative influence on the community, while perhaps the integration of cannabis retail into the urban fabric would create something positive out of the inevitable.
Dollaghan, Kelsey Campbell, “Medical Marijuana Dispensary Wins with AIA-SF”, Architizer, (date), accessed September 4, 2013, http://www.architizer.com/blog/medical-marijuana-dispensary-wins-with-aia-sf/
This article highlights a medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco that recently won an AIA award. When thinking about medical cannabis dispensaries what comes to many people’s minds are seedy shops. However this project attempts to dispel negative associations with the purchase and use of medical cannabis through architecture. The shop is described as having the “charm of an Anthropologie store.” As a higher class retail venue, this piece of architecture reveals the possible future of cannabis dispensaries. Will they all have the cozy charm of an Anthropolgie? Or is this an exception to many future “seedy” dispensaries? And lastly this article explores the merit of the dispensary and its position in the community: regardless of this dispensaries’ attempt for a higher class look, what or how much will its effect be on the community?
Littlejohn, Donna. “Proliferation of Pot Shops frustrate some San Pedro merchants” May 17, 2013. Accessed September 13, 2013. http://www.dailybreeze.com/general-news/20130518/proliferation-of-pot-shops-frustrate-some-san-pedro-merchants
In San Pedro, cannabis dispensaries are proliferating like “weeds across the city”, making it apparently harder for the city to control them. Specifically noted the locals of the historic area are frustrated with the popularity of cannabis dispensaries in this area of San Pedro. Local merchants explain how areas outside of the cannabis shops now have become a magnet for crime. One local shop owner explains how, “One person will go into the clinic, purchase the product, then pass it out to people on the street, so there’s drug dealing going on.” In addition towns are becoming increasingly strict of where cannabis dispensaries are located- restricting proximity to schools, churches, public gathering spots and parks.
Southall, Ashley and Jack Healy, “U.S. Won’t Sue to Reverse States’ Legalization of Marijuana.” New York Times, August 29, 2013. Accessed September 4, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/30/us/politics/us-says-it-wont-sue-to-undo-state-marijuana-laws.html?smid=pl-share.
This article explains the current legal status of marijuana in the United States, identifying the potential conflicts between state and federal laws. New laws in Washington and Colorado make recreational marijuana legal for adults, and the federal government has decided not to block these laws, yet expect state laws to continue regulation of the drug. Proponents cite jail population reduction, job creation, and increased tax revenues as benefits of marijuana legalization, notwithstanding the creation of legitimate business opportunities for those involved in the various phases of production. This article sets up the basis of our controversy and the question concerning the development of marijuana architectural typologies.
Stephens, Josh. “Cities Consider How to Plan for Legalized Marijuana.” California Planning and Development Report, June 28, 2010. Accessed September 8, 2013. http://www.cp-dr.com/node/2709.
California city officials look back on the way Los Angeles marijuana dispensaries cropped up with no planning, proliferating as a broad range of venues from the upscale to the more common seedy, back-alley type. Planners look to cannabis legalization as a potential for economic growth through the creation of a tourist industry, built upon mixed-used pedestrian development and, for some towns, the wine country model. The article discusses the difficulty of devising land-use models that would successfully incorporate a program traditionally confined to disreputable locations.
Zoning. (1998). In Encyclopedia of Urban America: The Cities and Suburbs. accessed September 23, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/abcurban/zoning
American zoning laws began in New York City in 1916, and soon spread to the rest of the country, utilized by local governments to divide districts by land use. In the situation of the development of marijuana retail typology, zoning would dictate the placement of such establishments. Zoning laws are local, so local culture and legislation would dictate the development of marijuana retail in the urban context, and subsequently the identity of these establishments as either recreational or health care.
Ousey, Graham C. and Michael O. Maume, “The Grass is Always Greener: Explaining Rural and Urban Differences in Marijuana Use,” Sociological Focus 30, no. 3 (1997), doi:10.1080/00380237.1997.10571080.
This article studies the differences in recreational marijuana use between American rural and urban youths. Variables of subcultural theory are attributed to the higher occurrence of marijuana use among urban youths rather than those who reside in rural and suburban areas. This is significant to our topic in the role of urbanization and marijuana use and the prevalence of pre-existing cultural subtext in marijuana use. This would determine the locality and prevalence of marijuana retail/production venues.
John Ingold, ‘Colorado marijuana stores likely to be concentrated in few cities’ Table 1. http://www.denverpost.com/ci_23733574/colorado-marijuana-stores-likely-be-concentrated-few-cities
John Ingold, ‘Colorado marijuana stores likely to be concentrated in few cities’ Map 1. http://www.denverpost.com/ci_23733574/colorado-marijuana-stores-likely-be-concentrated-few-cities
John Ingold uses both a table and a map to illustrate the position on individual counties and cities in Colorado on the subject of selling recreational marijuana. Regardless of the legalization of retailing marijuana for recreation, many places in Colorado have decided to ban shops from any marijuana product in their community. This has created this patchwork of segregated positions across Colorado that sets up an interesting dynamic: one might be in a town that allows marijuana retail while ten minutes away it is strictly prohibited. With an interest of how a marijuana shop may change the urban fabric of a community, these two communities- one for and one against- gives an intriguing and insightful comparison on how two similar communities will be affected by these decriminalization laws.
Video and Audio
Sand, Larissa. “A Modern Speakeasy.” Filmed December 2010. TEDx video, 6:05. Posted April 2011. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxAlcatraz-Larissa-Sand-A-Mod.
Architect Larissa Sand, principal of Sand Studios in San Francisco, delivers a TEDx talk about one of her most recent projects, a marijuana dispensary. This project breaks the mold of traditional dispensary typology as that of a negative condition. Sand looked to create a new conscientious attitude towards the dispensary environment as a retail store and clinic with a positive integration into the surrounding community.
South Park. “We Only Sell Marijuana Here.” South Park Studios video, 2:15. March 31, 2010. http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/269211/we-only-sell-marijuana-here.
This video clip is from South Park’s Season 14 Episode 3: Medicinal Fried Chicken. The episode stems from a quasi-infamous Los Angeles marijuana dispensary located in a converted KFC building. South Park brings up, in a crude and satirical manner, the issues of marijuana retail within the urban context. What happens when a pot store opens up in a “friendly” neighborhood? What are the implications for different age groups? What is the programmatic significance of the situational irony created by the conversion of an American consumption symbol into a stigmatized form of health care?