They are on nearly every block in Los Angeles. You’ve passed by them a thousand times and, maybe, you’ve even stopped into one or two. They are instantly recognizable and inspire as many giggles as they do concern: they’re marijuana dispensaries, AKA pot shops. These stores are so common that they are blasé, Angelenos now immune to them and what they stand for. Occasionally news will pop up that the government is trying to shut them down but, hey, that’s a yearly occurrence. The green crosses have now faded into the sides of buildings and strip malls and are forgotten save for the one or two times you see a person entering or exiting the store. To highlight these strange California creatures, Ryan Mungia of Boyo Press has created a thoughtful zine around them: Pot Shots, a photographic tour of the varied pot shop storefronts in Los Angeles.
The zine is a small, discrete, and very cared for publication all about these stores. It’s 28 glossy pages and features an essay by Jim Heimann, author and Taschen Executive Editor (who actually edited the fantastic Los Angeles. Portrait of a City). The zine obviously reaches to the aesthetic touchstone of Ed Ruscha’s book work, just about everything about it harking to his famous Twentysix Gasoline Stations artist’s book.
Ryan sent us a zine to check out and it is really fantastic and shares how bizarre these stores and the culture surrounding them are. Some are so common and almost unnoticeable while others nearly induce a drug trip with just a glance. They employ neons and clever signage and claim to be doctors to legitimize their work. Ryan took all the photos, edited, and published the zine himself, which of course is no small feat. Heimann’s essay is also so, so, so great. We asked Ryan a few questions about the zine, tracing the process to what impressions the little zine will leave readers with.
Pot Shots really is an ingenious little zine that captures something we’re all so used to: pot dispensaries. What about them is so fascinating to you? What do they mean to us and LA?
The sheer volume of them is amazing. Technically, there is supposed to be a ceiling on the number of dispensaries operating within the city, but clearly that isn’t the case. There’s one stretch of Pico Boulevard between Fairfax and La Brea that has no less than 10 dispensaries, making it the “The Green Mile.” Some of them are practically next door to each other. You start to wonder how they are able to survive with such stiff competition. Like any other business, they customize their facades in order to attract a certain kind of customer–a niche audience, as it were. One dispensary has a vibrant graffiti logo of a drugged out octopus on the front of the building, which you assume brings in a younger, hipper demographic. Another one nearby has a wood-paneled facade with succulent-filled planters lining the sidewalk. Driving by, you could almost mistake it for an upscale sushi restaurant. This one suggests a more affluent clientele who places high value on discretion. In some ways, these dispensaries point toward L.A. being at the forefront of social change. They are a visual reminder that something unique is going on.
The zine notes that LA is “The New Amsterdam.” How do you find that manifests itself beyond the dispensaries?
The dispensaries signify a broader acceptance and visibility, which does not exist outside a few select states. That’s not to say that pot isn’t available to the rest of the country, but, as in Amsterdam, you have dispensaries in plain sight and people feel comfortable buying it in public.
What are you hoping zine readers gather from Pot Shots? Beyond local readers, what can non-Angelenos take from it? Do you think it’ll make them think of Angelenos any differently?
What we’re experiencing right now with all these dispensaries is a moment in time, which, in a way, parallels Prohibition. Speakeasies were everywhere, yet they were invisible, and eventually, of course, they disappeared. It would have been great if someone had documented speakeasies in Los Angeles during the 1920s. That is essentially what Pot Shots is about. For that reason, I think this book will strike a chord with non-Angelenos. I don’t think folks outside of the Golden State will be too surprised at what is happening here since L.A. is usually at the forefront of trends.
Ed Ruscha’s books are a very obvious influence on your zine. How do you feel Pot Shots builds on his legacy? What do you think Ed would think of it?
Ed Ruscha’s books are great documents and although Pot Shots has a similar feel, his books had a different purpose. They were more conceptual in nature and served to highlight the mundane whereas our book aims to document the L.A. streetscape in an effort capture a fleeting commerical enterprise.
Hopefully, Ed would enjoy it.
There are so many great, hysterical, and somewhat weird shops featured in the zine. Which is your favorite aesthetically, if you had to pick one?
There’s a dispensary called “West LA,” which I always thought was pretty great because it’s so unassuming. You could drive by it a hundred times and not figure out what it is, except, of course, for the ubiquitous green cross. It’s so sedate with its simple script typeface and muted grey-green color. It feels very West LA. I’m not sure if this visual treatment would work in other parts of the city.
Pot Shots is currently available for purchase through Boyo Press for only ten dollars. There are only 250 in this first edition so grab them while you can. You may even find them around town, them popping up in zine stores like little literary pot dispensaries themselves. You can also follow Ryan on Twitter via Boyo Press here.