Uprooting Cannabis in Los Angeles: Racial Capitalism, Fugitive Economies and Policing as Urban Policy

Authors: Robert Chlala*, University of Southern California
Topics: Economic Geography, Urban Geography, Black Geographies
Keywords: urban political economy, racial capitalism, cannabis, fugitivity, policiing, abolition
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the last two decades, shuttered warehouse-manufacturing sites and small-scale retail across Los Angeles were repurposed into the largest indoor medical cannabis cultivation and dispensary economy in the US. Control of this growing economy has increasingly shifted from the hands of queer and/or Black, Latinx, Indigenous and API operated collectives to a smaller set of owners tied to real estate and finance capital. Through more than five years of in-depth ethnography in cannabis work sites, as well as with the city’s policymaking process for the recreational cannabis market launch, this paper explores how urbanized US racial capitalism and settler colonialism radically altered the development of cannabis economies. Entwined circuits of capital produce surplus value for landlords, real estate developers, and police agencies while evaporating the potential for alternative business survival. Within this, policing emerges as a factor in shaping the making of commercial land markets and police actors as significant public-policy actors pursuing their own rents and budgets. While contested through various movements, the pressures created alter the role of cannabis as a fugitive, relational space of care and mutual survival, one that at times has mirrored the geography of the “plot” described by Black radical scholars. Urban cannabis markets offer a critical means to both reckon with the ways racial capitalist and settler colonial logics affect urban economic development via even the most mundane zoning procedures (backed by police power) - and how these are contested through often-ignored fugitive practices that may even expand the bounds of abolition politics.

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