Were you spammed this weekend with text messages asking you to “save legal cannabis” in West Hollywood? Who knew legal cannabis was endangered?
During Pride some earnest young canvassers handed me a card graced with a rainbow pot leaf logo, seeking signatures supporting “the Original 4.” While the young men seemed a bit confused as to the facts and history of why the Original 4 needed my support, it was obvious that this was another heavy-handed attempt to undermine the city’s thoughtful process for licensing recreational marijuana dispensaries.
After the passage of Prop. 64 in 2016, West Hollywood embraced recreational marijuana sales while challenging the city’s dispensaries to up their game and ensure that WeHo would re-invent the industry, creating new standards and fostering creativity. The goal was not simply to sell merchandise but sell an experience that would enhance West Hollywood’s position as an entertainment destination center.
The other part of this strategy was to ensure that the licensing process would be immune from lobbying and political influence. The licensing process would be free of City Council influence in order to ensure the integrity of the process. This was a widely applauded decision.
Apparently, the “Original 4” — MedMen, Zen, Alternative Herbal Health Services and LA Patients/Caregivers — were complacent or overconfident. They had relationships with Council members and the Chamber of Commerce. Maybe they did not take this process as seriously as they should have. In the competition for the eight recreational licenses, the city was issuing, the closest two of the Original 4 came was 9th and 15th. Having lost in the objective, independent process, the Original 4 are now trotting out employees to Council meetings and they have hired some of the city’s most well-connected lobbyists to undermine that process. If anything needs to be “saved” it is the integrity of the city’s selection process.
Essentially the Original 4 want the city to change the outcome for them and grant them recreational licenses, raising the number from eight to 12 in our small city and diluting the value of the eight licenses the city has already issued.
In the meantime, the newly licensed recreational distributors have been securing leases, submitted architectural plans and are creating incredibly creative new retail spaces that will be light years ahead of the Original 4, whose dated facilities are simply a step removed from the old head shops that popped up in the 1970s. The new licensees are investing millions in our community and will be economic engines that will make substantial increases in the city’s revenues.
During the two-year selection process, the city received more than 300 applications with each applicant paying fees up to $9,880. The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to work through this process to ensure that the most innovative and economically credible applicants would receive the licenses. For whatever reason, the Original 4 didn’t make the grade. Now they want to reshuffle the deck and are demanding the city change the rules to accommodate their situation.
While drafting the selection process the City Council had discussed grandfathering the existing medical dispensaries so that they would automatically get recreational licenses. They debated that issue and decided that everyone would play by the same rules for the new recreational marijuana licenses. The Council did grant the Original 4 an automatic right to operate as medical dispensaries as they have for more than a decade.
The Original 4 are now claiming that West Hollywood is ignoring their “pioneering” efforts. They want us to forget that they have made millions when the received their medical licenses from the city. The Original 4 have made piles of money and their principals have become millionaires. WeHo has been very good to them. But now they expect the city to lower the new standards simply because they didn’t take the new process seriously and failed to submit new incarnations of their businesses. The city granted them a path to stay open as less lucrative medical dispensaries so they are not being totally written off and they will not be mandated to “close their doors.”
I don’t want to sound hard-hearted about the employees of the Original 4 who may face layoffs. But we have expanded the number of recreational facilities from four to eight so there will be plenty of employment opportunities for qualified employees of existing businesses. The new licensees have committed themselves to working with the city to help any employees who may be laid off as a result of this process.
The City Council wisely crafted its cannabis ordinance, creating an independent and objective evaluation process, free of political influence. To change course now under pressure from the losers would confirm the worst suspicions of many residents regarding City Hall’s integrity. I trust our City Council will honor their word and stand by the process they designed. Do you?