Los Angles City Councilman Herb Wesson roared into the news this week when he told the City of Los Angeles their cannabis licensing system was rigged against communities it was supposed to help.
He has a point.
Los Angeles has already approved 300 cannabis retailers and suppliers. The avalanche of first-round applicants buried city hall clerks in paperwork.
In an effort to avoid a repeat document gridlock, the applications for 100 new cannabis business were issued on a “first-come-first-served” system.
This “first-mover” idea has been met with “a torrent of criticism” from applicants, business leaders and City Council President, Mr. Wesson.
When the city website opened its digital doors, it received two applications per second for the first three minutes.
Adam Spiker, Executive Director of a cannabis industry coalition, declared that the application process had turned into a “fastest computer contest.”
“It’s a game of musical chairs with a horrifically low number of chairs in the middle,” Spiker told The L.A Times. “And when the music stopped, a lot of people were upset.”
The cannabis retail market was intended to give economic opportunities to “disadvantaged communities”, so Wesson was horrified to discover that the system was rigged to benefit digitally-savvy applicants with high-end computers and fast internet connections.
City officials defended the system, while admitting that two people had gained early access, due to a staff error.
But there is “no evidence of bots being deployed!” crowed the city.
It is “paramount that the application process has the utmost integrity, be transparent, and fair,” stated Wesson, “there appears to be no scenario in which this process [first-come-first-served] can meet those three principles.”
Another community leader, Mr. Grant, raised concerns about “the number of applicants with Armenian surnames who were at the front of the line, saying this “did not reflect the population in communities hit hardest by the war on drugs,” which L.A. had vowed to prioritize.
Grant was “ecstatic” that Wesson had intervened.
That sucks for local entrepreneurs who are paying for leases on warehouses or storefronts, in anticipation of a positive application outcome.
“There is a need for us to decriminalize [cannabis]” stated Wesson in a March 2019 Annenberg Media interview, “When you look at the consumption rate, it’s about the same from all different cultures. But when you look at the arrest rate, it’s higher in areas of color, and I believe that was by design.”
Despite Wesson’s championing of disadvantaged communities, he has a platoon of detractors in the Los Angeles press corps who claim “the diminutive Council President” fosters “failure and corruption”.
“Herb Wesson’s son received preferential treatment on his rent for years at an L.A. apartment building,” stated The L.A. Times last week, “while his father helped the building’s executives win approval of a controversial high-rise.”
“The councilman’s son, Herb Wesson III, went more than five years without a rent increase,” continued The Times breathlessly, “even as many other tenants saw their rents go up!”
In response, Wesson’s press aide stated that the Councilman “does not arrange rental agreements for his adult children.”
As a financial crime, a “preferential rent freeze” is the equivalent of shoplifting toothpicks.
This sweet-heart deal saved young Herb Wesson lll hundreds of dollars.
If the name, “Herb Wesson” sounds familiar, this may be the reason: in January, 2019 MedMen’s (MMEN.C) ex-CFO James Parker launched a salacious 55-page lawsuit against Adam Bierman and Andrew Modlin the CEO and President of MedMen, accusing them of various mis-deeds, including referencing L.A. City Councilman Herb Wesson as a “midget negro”.
MedMen owns a network of unprofitable cannabis dispensaries.
It’s clear, Wesson does a lot of good things for the City of Los Angles.
Right now, Wesson wants L.A. to stop processing applications, refund the fees, and start an independent audit to determine what went wrong.
That seems reasonable.
– Lukas Kane
Full Disclosure: This article has been amended to remove a quoted racist term from the title, and put the focus more on the L.A. cannabis dispensary application system.