The Lowdown on Drugs in Los Angeles

BY Liam Casey

The Lowdown on Drugs in Los Angeles


Back in 2016, California legalised weed for recreational use. You’ll see dispensaries on nearly any major street in LA—identifiable by the green cross. Don’t get overwhelmed: display cases in dispensaries can be jarring, with oils, candies, vaporizers, traditional flower, keef, hash, and even bath-bombs mixed with CBD. The smell of weed is everywhere. In other words, you have free reign. You shouldn’t smoke or ingest cannabis if driving a car, however, and if a police officer suspects you’re under the influence, the violation is treated like an alcohol DUI: potential jail time, fines, suspension of a driver’s licence, and more. While most dispensaries are legitimate due to legalisation, some can look or feel under-the-radar, and it’s possible that places may sell weed alternatives, like synthetics, or other drugs like psilocybin mushrooms, if you ask them.

Like other cities, you can get cocaine, MDMA, amphetamines, and ketamine via friends, bars, or clubs. There’s no right way to procure these, but most people know someone who knows someone. This will often inform the potency or quality of the drugs, which ranges anywhere from baby powder to objectively good cocaine. These substances will almost always be available at underground raves which occupy the warehouses of the Fashion District or industrial areas of south Boyle Heights. Keep in mind that most of these spaces consist of tight-knit groups who know and support each other, so unless you know someone personally who can help in getting those substances, you may be seen as suspect or undercover law enforcement, which has been known to happen if asking around unsolicitedly.

It cannot be stressed enough that the United States is experiencing a devastating opioid epidemic from a variety of factors, including the ease with which pharmaceutical companies have produced Fentanyl—a powerful synthetic opioid—and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted global supply chains and caused dealers and producers to cut alternative substances into their products. While Fentanyl started to appear exclusively in heroin, it’s known to be mixed into cocaine, causing accidental overdoses to spike in Los Angeles and nationwide. Naloxone (aka Narcan), an emergency medicine to reverse acute overdoses, is recommended if you’re planning on using. LGBTQ+ centres across the city hand out free test strips to identify if drugs contain traces of Fentanyl.

While law enforcement can’t legally search a vehicle without probable cause (ie. if they smell marijuana or see paraphernalia), LAPD and LASD can intimidate or operate outside the law; people of colour are particularly at risk. If you’re caught with substances other than marijuana, you can face steep fines in the thousands of dollars, potentially be sentenced to County Jail, and experience a litany of other devastating aftereffects. If you do end up renting a car or find yourself behind the wheel, it’s common on weekend nights to see police checkpoints on main thoroughfares, so be attentive.

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