Geo-Combo: Phnom Penh and Cannabis City

This post features two very interesting lectures I attended, each representing two different areas of geography: urban and landscape respectively.  The first is about Phnom Penh and the Cambodian Genocide while the other discusses the locations and types of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles.

Here are some brief definitions of urban and landscape geography.

Urban Geography:

…is the study of areas which have a high concentration of buildings and infrastructure. Predominantly towns and cities, these are areas with a high population density and with the majority of economic activities in the secondary sector and tertiary sectors.  It is a sub-discipline of human geography. It often overlaps with other fields of study such as anthropology, urban planning and urban sociology. Urban geographers are primarily concerned with the ways in cities and towns are constructed, governed and experienced.   –

Landscape Geography:

In landscape geography we are interested in understanding what factors lead to change. These can be both human and natural. How is the landscape a result of the development of society? In order to answer such questions, we study policy, management and different human usages of the landscape.

Conflicts on how we should use our resources are increasingly solved through official planning. Landscape geographers attempt to understand such conflicts by viewing the landscape as an expression for difference.  —Norwegian University of Science and Technology

On Oct. 24th Dr. James Tyner, a CSULB alumni, came to our campus and gave a lecture on “Mapping Phnom Penh during the Cambodian Genocide”.  He discussed how previous literature had pictured Phnom Penh as abandoned after the genocide, but in truth the city had around 22,000 people living and working within it.

Image from CSULB Geography Department's website.

Image from CSULB Geography Department’s website.

You can download and listen to the lecture as well as the Q and A portion here.  (Note: the audio has been edited. These things have been removed: the intro about his time at CSULB, long pauses and audience clapping.  I’ve also increased the volume of some parts to better hear them.)

On Nov. 1st, the Los Angeles Geographical Society (LAGS) had a lecture titled “Cannabis City: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Los Angeles” by Dr. Steve Graves from CSU Northridge.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a recording of it, which I deeply regret because his lecture was both informative and highly entertaining.

This lecture was not necessarily to discuss whether marijuana dispensaries are right or wrong but to map out their locations and identify the types found in Los Angeles.

Types of medical marijuana dispensaries in LA.  Photos by Steve Graves.

Types of medical marijuana dispensaries in LA. Photos by Steve Graves.

Here are the highlights of Dr. Graves’ lecture:

Dr. Graves’ interest in medical marijuana dispensaries started several years ago when he heard that they all might be closing down because of changes in the law.  So he went out and started taking pictures of every one he could find.  This soon turned into a much more and now he has mapped the locations of dispensaries all over LA and categorized them.  One of the things he found was that such dispensaries have actually increased.  There are currently a little less than 500 in Los Angeles.  Around five hundred.

Fun Fact: Dr. Graves said that there are MORE marijuana dispensaries in LA than Starbucks.  Yep.  It was even mentioned on Jay Leno’s show.

Here are the categories:

Corporate: these looked like mainstream medical facilities and are particularly popular in middle-class neighborhoods, where potential opposition to marijuana distribution might be expected. About 30 % fell into this category.

Premier Medical Center, Northridge.  Photo by Steve Graves.

Premier Medical Center, Northridge. Photo by Steve Graves.

Compassionate: to quell opposition by reminding the public of the suffering of the clients for which these dispensaries were established.  About 17% fell into this category.

A subcategory (30 % of clinics) is “granola” clinics which have signs and symbols of alternative, holistic, natural healthcare facilities and a clean, hygienic look that evokes the marketing imagery used by start-up biotech companies. These are particularly popular on L.A.’s Westside. Another subcategory is “eco-care” (7% of clinics) because it appeals to both organic and compassionate care.

Bunker: they blend in with the background and are not easy to notice.  About 15 % fell into this category.

Name unknown, Chatsworth.  Photo by Steve Graves.

Name unknown, Chatsworth. Photo by Steve Graves.

Recreation: facilities that used recreational imagery or terminology, suggesting that marijuana is more than a medicine — it’s also fun. These dispensaries sometimes look as if they’ve stepped out of the 1960s, with bright colors and psychedelic patterns. Some of the “stoner recreation” dispensaries also included “in crowd” slang terms on their signs (bud, 420, THC), which could alienate patients unaware of the lingo.  About 23% fell into this category.

Recreation subcategories were fantasy stoner (dragons, moons, stars imagery), let’s party stoner (we’re here and not hiding it), etc.

Other ways of identifying the dispensaries is through green crosses, or just the color green, three letter acronyms (rarely are there four), bars on windows (though other shops around them tended to have bars too), having the word “meds” on the building (because a dentist or other medical facility would never write just meds), etc.

Fun Fact: while Dr. Graves was mapping the dispensaries he found that many of the SELF REPORTED addresses given were INCORRECT.  He had to find the correct addresses himself and while geocoding he had to remove notes about entrances saying, “to go around back”.  These entrances could be for privacy of the clients.

Near the end of the lecture Dr. Graves had us take a quiz to identify whether the building pictured was “pot or not”.  Surprisingly, some of the ones that surely seemed to be pot shops were in fact just plain old herbal shops.

After the lecture, Dr. Graves spotted a marijuana dispensary just down the street from LA City College (which he immediately went to take a photo of) and on my way home, I spotted two marijuana dispensaries.  As Dr. Graves said, it’s one of those things where once it’s pointed out to you, you start to see them everywhere.

Ah, landscape geography.  There is more everywhere than meets the eye.

Dr. Graves also wrote about this topic for the LA Times complete with a photo gallery.  The photos there are the same ones he showed in his LAGS lecture.

Note: the descriptions for the categories came from the LA Times article.

Dr. Graves has also done research on payday lenders (comparing them to the number of banks) and rock/rap music and other popular culture.  He was also the president of the LAGS at one time.


3 thoughts on “Geo-Combo: Phnom Penh and Cannabis City

    • Yeah, I had a lot of fun at his lecture. He’s a very engaging presenter. Usually I’m not someone who pays much attention to the marijuana issue, but he definitely made it interesting. He also had some good maps showing the location changes of dispensaries between 2010 and now, but I couldn’t find a copy to put up here.

  1. Pingback: Geography Awareness Week | GeoMaster

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