MedMen, one of four operators of recreational cannabis stores in West Hollywood, has petitioned the Los Angeles County Superior Court to void the city’s lengthy, complex and expensive process for vetting applications for permanent recreational cannabis licenses, a process in which it and the other three failed to qualify.
In a petition filed yesterday, Farmacy Collective, the local entity through which MedMen operates in West Hollywood, asked that the court halt any action required to complete the application process for the winners of the eight recreational cannabis licenses, who still must obtain state cannabis licenses and local business licenses. It also asked that the court order the City of West Hollywood to dismiss the independent panel chosen to evaluate the applications and appoint a new one. And it asked that the evaluation panel be required to give priority in its assessments to existing cannabis businesses. MedMen argues that that was the intent of some of those who crafted the 2016 voter initiative to legalize cannabis in California known as Prop 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
The request, if granted, would have a major impact on the eight winners of recreational cannabis licenses, who have been securing retail space, hiring designers for those spaces and applying for the state and local business licenses. They include Aeon West Hollywood Inc., the Artist Tree LLC (The Artist Tree), Calma Weho LLC (Calma), Essence Weho LLC (Essence), J&P Consulting (Budberry), PDLP JV LLC (Greenwolf West Hollywood), Pleasure Med LLC (Pleasure Med), and Redwood Retail LLC (Lord Jones). Several prominent local residents and business people are associated with those winners. For example, Jason Illoulian of Faring, the real estate developer, is a partner in Calma. Soheil Yamini, the owner of Pink Dot on Sunset, is one of the owners of Greenwolf. And Brian Robinson, owner of the Pleasure Chest, is also the owner of Pleasure Med.
In 2017, the West Hollywood City Council agreed to a plan in which the city would grant eight cannabis licenses in five different categories. The city agreed to grandfather in existing medical cannabis dispensaries and give them temporary licenses to sell recreational cannabis, one of the most sought-after categories, while the application process continued. The medical cannabis retailers that were granted the temporary licenses are Alternative Herbal Health Services at 7828 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group at 7213 Santa Monica Blvd., MedMen WeHo at 8208 Santa Monica Blvd. and Zen Healing at 8464 Santa Monica Blvd. The City Council in February agreed to extend the temporary recreational cannabis licenses until the end of this year but did not set an absolute expiration date. It is widely expected that the holders of those temporary licenses, who have banded together to lobby under the name “the Originals,” will be major contributors to campaigns of candidates in the November 2020 general election, in which John Duran and John Heilman are expected to run for re-election. Duran has opposed the licensing process, arguing that West Hollywood should adopt a “free market” approach.
In its petition, MedMen not only criticized the city for failing to give any priority in the assessment to the existing cannabis business, but it also alleged bias on the part of Lynne Lyman, one of the five people who ranked the applicants. Lyman is the former California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, whose mission is to advance policies that reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition. The Drug Policy Alliance was one of the co-authors of Proposition 64. The petition says that Lyman, while working with Drug Policy Alliance, had had a falling out with MedMen. Ironically, in support of its argument, the petition cites Lyman’s statement as an author of Prop. 64 that existing medical cannabis businesses should be given priority in ranking.
MedMen has been particularly aggressive in pushing for getting a permanent recreational sales license. It was a major donor to the three incumbents who won re-election to the Council in the March 2019 election. Dozens of employees of the local MedMen shops organize to turn out at City Council meeting wearing their red t-shirts with the MedMen logo when a cannabis-related item is on the agenda.
Medmen and the rest of the Originals have garnered support from some unlikely places. United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770 has been a strong supporter of their effort to be granted permanent city licenses to sell adult cannabis. And the head of the Hollywood Chapter of the National Organization For Women, John Erickson, has addressed the City Council on NOW’s behalf asking that the Originals be given permanent licenses.
Under state law, MedMen and all cannabis businesses with 20 or more employees must have a “labor peace agreement” with a union. But while it has strong support from Local 770, MedMen is being sued by employees of its West Hollywood location for making them work more than eight hours a day without overtime pay, for not giving them state-required 30-minute lunch breaks and for not maintaining accurate pay records. MedMen also has been accused of taking tips away from its California employees. Equity Guru, a website that provides investment information about the tech and cannabis industries, reported in July 2018 that it employees of MedMen have complained that the company has subtracted tips given to employees from their take-home pay. In their various debates about whether to grant permanent recreational sales licenses to the Originals, these are not issues that members of the West Hollywood City Council raise
Despite it not being an obvious women’s rights issue, Erickson, who is widely believed to be a candidate in the November 2020 City Council elections, said that Hollywood NOW is supporting the Originals because they support unions.