Category: California Cannabis News

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Cannabis Brand Sues Convicted Sheriff’s Captain Over Illegal Cannabis Trade 

terry roston

March & Ash, a dispensary chain in California, is pushing back against the unregulated cannabis market in unincorporated San Diego County with an anti-racketeering, false advertising, and unfair competition lawsuit, the Voice of San Diego reports. The suit is an attempt to punish the illegal cannabis trade in the county where licensed cannabis operators are banned and unlicensed dispensaries have thrived.

Modeling the suit after Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) actions, the lawsuit names ex-San Diego County Sheriff’s Captain Marco Garmowho is serving two years in prison on weapons and corruption chargesand the San Diego Reader, a local media outlet accused of hosting advertising for illegal cannabis dispensaries. The suit also names six other defendants, including ATM operators, landlords, and an unlicensed edibles brand, the report says.

“For people who don’t live here, it’s hard to grasp how out of control this got in Spring Valley and certain areas of El Cajon and Lakeside,” Bret Peace, the general counsel for March & Ash, told the Voice. “There were stores on seemingly every major street with blinking green lights, open 24 hours, with sign spinners and ads in the Reader.”

The former Sheriff’s Captain Garmo recently pleaded guilty to trafficking firearms out of his office and to an array of corruption charges associated with illegal cannabis shops around the county. One case involved Garmo tipping off his cousins to an upcoming enforcement raid, resulting in the dispensary facing no charges.

Attorney Cory Briggs told the Voice that “the purpose of the lawsuit is to put an end to the illegal competition” faced by licensed dispensaries.

“It’s law enforcement’s job to do that, but Marco Garmo had some sort of mob monopoly on the law enforcement and laws weren’t being enforced in his part of the county like they were supposed to be. So, entities like March & Ash are responding to unfair pressures.” Briggs, via the Voice

Briggs said his team hired their own investigator who used phone records and video surveillance to make their case.

“All of this was out in the open,” he said in the report. “They just got used to operating with impunity.”

In their own effort to push back on the illegal cannabis trade, county officials in January passed a draft ordinance allowing legal cannabis firms to open in unincorporated parts of the county; however, the final draft is not expected until early Fall.

The county is seeking more funding and receivership authority to combat the illegal dispensaries, the report says. According to a recent California State University, San Marcos study, San Diego has shut down 83 unlicensed shops since 2018. These enforcement numbers reflect a 2019 report that estimated the California illegal cannabis market makes up $9 billion of an 11.9 billion industry, putting legal cannabis at a nearly $3 billion deficit.

Underground Dispensary
Author: Lukas Barfield

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California Cannabis NewsCannabis Industry NewsFrom Our WritersLegal Issuespesticides

California Cannabis Companies Fined for Violating Environmental Laws

terry roston

Two California cannabis companies are facing steep fines for breaking state environmental laws, KSBY reports. 805 Agricultural Holdings, LLC is facing $40,000 in fines related to Fish and Game Code violations, including allegations that the firm polluted a stream with diesel fuel, hoop houses, pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, fertilizers, unconsolidated soil, and plastic irrigation pipes.

The company is also accused of removing vegetation from the stream and grading a road through the stream. The company is among the businesses operated by Helios Dayspring who was charged in federal court in July with bribery and income tax fraud.

The settlement between 805 Agricultural Holdings and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office requires the company to pay $23,000 to the county; $3,00 to the Santa Barbara County Treasurer to deposit in the County Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fund; $3,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to deposit in the Fish and Game Preservation Fund; $1,800 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife; $2,400 to the Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration Fund; $1,800 to the county to reimburse district attorney costs for investigation and prosecution; and $5,000 as cost reimbursement to California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Medical Investor Holdings LLC, which does business as Vertical Companies, also agreed to a $50,000 settlement with the county DA’s Office for Fish and Game Code violations, including grading a road through a river and preparing a five-acre area within the river for cannabis cultivation, which included hoop houses, underground piping, a generator, and containers of fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides.

Vertical will have to pay $30,000 to the county; $5,000 to the county treasurer, for deposit in the County Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fund; $5,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, for deposit in the Fish and Game Preservation Fund; $3,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife; $4,000 to the Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration Fund; $3,000 to the county for reimbursement of district attorney costs of investigation and prosecution; and $5,000 as cost reimbursement to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The landowner where the cultivation site was being set up also faces $5,250 in fines.

Underground Dispensary
Author: TG Branfalt

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California Cannabis NewsCannabis Industry NewsFrom Our WritersGrowing Cannabissocial equityTaxes

Humboldt County Announces $2M in Cannabis Industry Grants

terry roston

Humboldt County, California has announced more than $2 million in grants through Project Trellis, the county’s cannabis micro-grant, marketing, and local equity program, the Times-Standard reports. Eligible applicants can apply for up to $10,000 “per service” if they meet the program requirements.

The program is built into three tiers and designed to redirect cannabis-derived tax revenues back into the local economy.

Humboldt County Growers Alliance executive director Natalynne DeLapp said the county’s “independent cannabis farmers are in crisis” as “the wholesale price of cannabis has dropped below the cost of production.” She warned that “it is imperative for the county to maximize funding allocations directly into the hands of … farmers” to avoid “an extinction event” for Humboldt’s legacy farmers.

“It is great that the county developed Project Trellis…and (has) secured nearly $5 million in funding from the state to support communities most impacted by the War on Drugs in entering the regulated cannabis market, but now it is time to get serious. Perhaps 200 of Humboldt County’s 900-plus cultivation operators, who can prove the War on Drugs has negatively impacted them, could receive up to $10,000 in fee waivers for professional services like fee waivers, technical assistance or installing solar or water storage systems.”DeLapp to the Times-Stardard

The program required applicants to have a median income level at or below 2020 Department of Housing and Urban Development limits for the county, to be residents of the county, and have at least 20% ownership interest in a cannabusiness.

The business must also meet one criterion including being located in a community in the county with a poverty rate of 17% or above; have a cultivation site of 10,000 square feet or less; be a woman, person of color, or LGBTQ individual; have a previous cannabis-related arrest; experienced sexual assault, exploitation, domestic violence, and/or human trafficking as a result of participating in the cannabis industry; or was or is homeless or suffered a loss of housing as a result of cannabis enforcement.

Underground Dispensary
Author: TG Branfalt

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California Cannabis NewsCannabis Industry NewsFrom Our WritersLegal Issues

California Supreme Court Prohibits Cannabis Possession in Prison

terry roston

The California Supreme Court has ruled incarcerated individuals cannot possess cannabis under the state’s 2016 adult-use initiative, the Associated Press reports. Overturning a lower appellate court’s decision and siding with the state Attorney General, the justices said the 3rd District Court of Appeal’s ruling allowing people behind bars could possess up to an ounce of cannabis went beyond “common sense.”

“It seems implausible that the voters intended to essentially decriminalize marijuana in prisons. We agree with the Attorney General that if the drafters had intended to so dramatically change the laws regarding cannabis in prison, we would expect them to have been more explicit about their goals.”Associate Justice Joshua Groban in the decision

The case arose when five men were convicted of possessing cannabis in their cells, which was later overturned by the California Appeals Court saying although it was illegal to smoke or eat cannabis in prison, it was not illegal to possess. Other state appellate courts have disagreed with the 3rd District, however. Ultimately, the Supreme Court justices ruled against prisoners possessing cannabis in the 5-2 decision.

The lower court said prison authorities could outlaw cannabis like other substances such as alcohol, but an inmate’s sentence could not be increased for possessing cannabis behind bars. Groban disagreed, writing, “We are sympathetic to the view that (existing law) creates an extreme disparity between how our legal system treats the possession of cannabis generally versus the possession of such a substance inside a correctional facility. That is also true of many other substances, including alcohol.”

In a partial dissent, Associate Justice Leondra Kruger, said she believed prosecutors would have to change the way they filed charges for cannabis possession behind bars, describing the conundrum as a choice between two overlapping felony statutes with different penalties. In the dissent, she wrote that voters may have intended a “limited measure of leniency” for incarcerated persons despite the electorate not explicitly decriminalizing cannabis in prison. Additionally, she wrote that the court should have ignored the legality question based on how the appeal was presented, the AP reports. Only one other judge, Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, dissented from the majority.

Attempting to explain his decision, Groban said, “Some may well view an eight-year prison sentence for the possession of less than one gram of cannabis (one gram is the approximate weight of a single paper clip or a quarter teaspoon of sugar) as unduly harsh. The wisdom of those policy judgments, however, are not relevant to our interpretation of the statutory language.”

Underground Dispensary
Author: Lukas Barfield

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California Cannabis Newssocial equitySpotlight

40 Tons: Cannabis & Apparel for Restorative Justice

terry roston

If you ask 40 Tons founding member Anthony Alegrete about the very beginning of the brand, he would go back to 20 years ago when he and Corvain Cooper sold their first gram of cannabis together — but 40 Tons was only officially founded in the last few years by Anthony and his wife Loriel Alegrete, and their friend Corvain. Currently, 40 Tons is an equity-focused social impact cannabis brand in California’s adult-use cannabis market that sells apparel and accessories to support those behind bars for cannabis charges, and goes further to provide support as they re-enter society.

Corvain Cooper’s story touched a lot of people in the months before he was granted clemency. He was arrested just before the statute of limitations was up on a conspiracy to traffic cannabis and financial crimes. Despite the small amounts of cannabis that he had shipped years prior, he was tried for more than 40 tons of cannabis that was trafficked throughout the entire operation. Corvain was given a life sentence in 2014 — worse, he was to serve that sentence across the country in Louisiana, far from his family and support system. By 2020, social justice was finally being widely discussed in the cannabis industry and Corvain’s story started gaining attention. At the end of January 2021, with the help of many individuals and organizations, Corvain was finally granted clemency and released from prison back to his family home in Los Angeles.

Now, Corvain makes up one-third of the founding team of 40 Tons, a brand named after the amount of cannabis that was used against him and others caught up in the conspiracy. The brand first picked up steam when organizations and charities reached out to Loriel and Anthony in the months leading up to Corvain’s release to help them establish a foundation for a business. That is when the first pitch deck for 40 Tons was born, and the mission went beyond freedom for Corvain: 40 Tons is a brand focused on helping those who are unjustly sentenced behind bars for cannabis crimes.

“There’s still so much work to be done. We made a huge win championing behind our friend Corvain and we’re on to our next one,” said CEO Loriel Alegrete. “We just won’t stop until everyone is home who has gotten these horrific sentences for a plant.”

The brand operates in a legally compliant fashion which allows Corvain to participate as a brand ambassador without risking the conditions of his parole. As the incarcerated come home, 40 Tons will have a piece of merchandise designed for them along with some funds to promote on social media. This provides a true foundation for individuals to get back into the industry and gain access to real commerce. Additionally, a part of each purchase on the site will be donated to people still behind bars to help offset the costs of imprisonment. And the cost on the incarcerated is higher than most citizens realize: every phone call a prisoner makes incurs costs on the person calling and the family member who picks up, not to mention that many essential items like reading glasses aren’t provided to inmates. The team also spends funds providing postage for letter-writing campaigns, which brings joy to people serving time.

These are the reintegration efforts carried out by 40 Tons, but it goes without saying that everyone who does business in the cannabis industry should focus on social equity and reintegration. Amplifying the cause on social media, signing petitions, listening to people like Corvain, and educating those who haven’t woken up to the hypocrisy are only the first steps into this work. Taking action one step further would be to put income from a cannabis brand directly into the cause. Mentoring is another viable method of helping provide a start for those reentering society after being incarcerated for cannabis entrepreneurship.

Anthony, Corvain, and Loriel are eternally grateful for the mentors that have guided them as they forge ahead with 40 Tons. When the company was just an idea, Brittany Barnett from the Buried Alive Project followed through with a loan on favorable terms that helped them get the website up and running, and many other industry vets have stepped up for the trio. Other mentors include Doc Ray, who has been teaching them about cultivation; Marie Montmarquet and her brother Allen Hackett of MD Numbers, who provide insights into the economics of the space and into cannabis licensing, product sourcing, and other operations; and Kamel Jacot of Weedmaps. Zoe Wilder has also been great for press and media, and Nathan Cozzolino of Rose has been a huge help. Naphtali Rodriguez and Aaron Silverman were instrumental in the building of the brand and provided pro bono services to launch the 40 Tons brand in the very beginning. When asked about mentorship, they couldn’t leave Dr. E. Lance McCarthy out, a man that has worked closely with them to bring economic development to Los Angeles through a partnership with the Urban Hip Tech Foundation. These unsung heroes didn’t ask for recognition, but Loriel and Anthony say it’s important that people know it took mentorship and guidance for them to step into the power of their brand.

As the brand continues to build a following, 40 Tons is close to releasing collaboration gummy with the Evidence line that will be available in Cookies California stores. But their goals go further than white labeling one product — their true interest is in acquiring their own license and eventually achieve full vertical integration. The 40 Tons brand is working on some large endeavors and will have an entire line of Cannabis products that will release Summer 2021. The brand is specifically looking to operate in Hawthorne, California, due to local support for social equity cannabis businesses.

“Hawthorne is doing some really great things in their community and we’d love to work with that city as it relates to social equity in cannabis,” said Anthony Alegrete.

On top of all of these endeavors, the 40 Tons team is constantly grinding. Loriel is just over a year away from acquiring her nursing degree, which she intends to use to raise awareness about the benefits of the cannabis plant. She also serves as a member of the advisory board for Marijuana Matters DC, an organization that acclimates people to society by teaching about job interviews, computers, and other life skills that aren’t available while incarcerated. Their work never stops, and their execution is evolving, but the mission of 40 Tons remains steady.

“We just want to bring fair light to these unjust laws, not because we’re victims but because they’re legitimately not right,” said Anthony Alegrete. “We just want what’s right, we want to earn our way and start at the same point as everyone else and receive based on the merits that we put into the work.”

There are many ways to support 40 Tons and Corvain Cooper as he continues to rebuild his life after receiving clemency. First, visit the 40 Tons website to buy merchandise and apparel; also, visit Corvain’s GoFundMe to support his family and reentry. People in California can visit Cookies retail stores which currently carry Amplifier Art-branded flower with Corvain on the package, and soon the brand’s Evidence gummies. These actions will support the cannabis-incarcerated and their reentry as Loriel, Anthony, and Corvain continue their fight for justice against the unjust drug war.

40 Tons is currently focused on bringing awareness and providing support to Parker Coleman, Luke Scarmazzo, Pedro Moreno, Ismael Lira, Michael Woods, Damion Sleugh, and many others. Follow the links to a social share to learn more about their unjust sentences and to get each person’s address to write letters in solidarity as they fight for freedom.

Underground Dispensary
Author: Cara Wietstock

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