Anaheim man arrested after Placentia fire linked to marijuana honey oil operation

PLACENTIA — A 41-year-old Anaheim man was booked Wednesday on suspicion of manufacturing a controlled substance stemming from a blaze at a marijuana honey oil operation in Placentia, police said.

David Hoffman was found in front of a business that caught fire in the 700 block of Dunn Way about 8:40 a.m., Placentia police said.

Police said he told first responders there was a marijuana honey oil operation in the burning building and that there were several flammable chemicals on the premises, leading firefighters to evacuate workers in the Dunn Way Business Park as well as businesses on the 700 block of Orangethorpe Avenue.

No injuries were reported.

Anyone with information helpful to investigators was asked to call police at 714-993-8146. Orange County Crime Stoppers will accept anonymous tips at 855-TIP-OCCS.

Marijuana concentrates are a highly potent THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) concentrated mass that is similar in appearance to honey or butter, which is why it is sometimes referred to or known on the street as “honey oil” or “budder,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. It’s also known as “butane hash oil.” One method of manufacturing concentrates uses highly flammable butane to extract the THC from the cannabis plant.

The Register contributed to this story.

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7 fatally shot at illegal marijuana grow in Riverside County

Seven people were shot to death early Monday, Sept. 7, at a home in the unincorporated Riverside County community of Aguanga, authorities reported.

The victims were found in a residence in the 45000 block of Highway 371 in what was reportedly a house being used to grow illegal marijuana, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department reported.

Investigators found more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana and several hundred marijuana plants at the location, the Sheriff’s Department reported.

At 12:33 a.m., deputies were called to investigate a possible deadly assault when they entered the home and found a woman with severe gunshot wounds. The sheriff deputies then discovered six victims at the same home with gunshot wounds; all six died at the location, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department reported.

The woman was taken by paramedics to a local hospital where she later died from her injuries, the department reported.

A suspect or suspects in the killings had not been found and remained at large Monday night. Detectives from the Sheriff’s Central Homicide Unit and from its Hemet Station were gathering evidence.

“Investigators are currently working on leads,” read a statement from the sheriff’s department.

Cpl. Lionel Murphy of the Sheriff’s Department would not provide further details on Monday night. “It is an ongoing investigation,” Murphy said.

In a press release, attributed to Sgt. Richard Carroll, the authorities said the killings “appears to have been an isolated incident, and there is no threat to the general public.”

The names of those killed were not immediately released.

Aguanga is a remote community located 18 miles east of Temecula and 22 miles southeast of Hemet, with a population of 1,128.

The Sheriff’s Department is asking the public for help in solving the crimes. Anyone with information should contact Investigator Paz at (951) 955-2777.




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Deputies shut down alleged butane honey oil drug lab in Anaheim

Authorities on Thursday shut down a suspected drug lab in a residential neighborhood in Anaheim that allegedly used explosive butane gas to manufacture a concentrated form of cannabis.

After serving a search warrant around noon inside a house at 113 N. Tustin Ave., deputies found evidence of the illicit production of butane honey oil (BHO), a highly potent extract of marijuana, Orange County sheriff’s Sgt. Joses Walehwa said.

Deputies took two people into custody in connection with the alleged drug lab on suspicion of narcotics-related charges. Their names were not immediately released.

#OCSDPIO Today at approximately noon, deputies executed a narcotics-related search warrant in the 100 block of N. Tustin Ave in Anaheim. During the search, deputies located materials and chemicals consistent with a butane honey oil lab. Two suspects are in custody.

— OC Sheriff, CA (@OCSheriff) October 17, 2019

BHO is produced by using flammable butane or propane gas as a solvent to extract and distill that plant’s active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The unlicensed manufacture of the drug has been linked to multiple fires and explosions in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California.

Details regarding the amount of finished BHO was recovered from the home searched Thursday was not immediately released. The building is in a residential area near the intersection of North Tustin Avenue and East Santa Ana Canyon Road, and surrounded by other houses.

No injuries were reported during the search.

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Here’s what pot smokers think about driving while high

Many cannabis-culture celebrations will take place on 4/20 (April 20), so here’s a look at some pot smokers’ opinions on driving and tips to self-assess if you are too high.

Statistics show that alcohol and opiates are involved in more automobile accidents and fatalities than cannabis. But cannabis can still impair drivers, and it’s against the law to drive while high.

If a California police officer suspects any driver is impaired by any intoxicant, that driver may get locked up and that’s the ultimate downer.

A 2017 AAA report surveyed American drivers age 16 or older and found 65.8% felt it was unacceptable to drive after using marijuana.

Detection of marijuana in drivers involved in crashes has become more common. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12.6% of weekend nighttime drivers in 2013-2014 tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, and that’s before recreational use was legalized in California.

NHTSA study on weedWith 4/20 on a weekend the percentage of buzzed drivers might be substantially higher.A survey of cannabis users that came out this month sheds some light on attitudes about driving and weed.

Rolling on the road

Researchers are still exploring how marijuana affects drivers, and users don’t have many methods of knowing how long it takes for them to become safe to drive.

The Zebra, an insurance comparison site, released a survey of 811 drivers who smoke pot from the 10 states where recreational use is legal. Here are some of the questions and responses.

marijuana and drive

How do you decide whether or not you’re OK to drive after consuming marijuana?

pot smokers decide to drive

Length of high?

Inhaling weed: expect about one to two hours.

Edible: about three to four hours, maybe longer.

Impairment from weed

A little more than half the people in the Zebra survey felt they had no driving impairment after using cannabis.

Here are the top responses to the question: Which of the following do you recall experiencing when driving after consuming marijuana?

High wait to drive

Field tests

Some police agencies have roadside tests than can detect marijuana and other drugs in saliva and take about eight minutes for a result. But failing field tests on the side of the road can be enough to get a ride to the clink.Police have many ways to test for impaired driving, but see if you can pass these three tests.

Horizontal gaze nystagmus test

The NHTSA estimates that these tests are 77% reliable.

In the horizontal gaze test, an officer moves an object, from side to side. It’s done to try to detect an involuntary jerking of the eye associated with high levels of intoxication. A person’s eye will reportedly jerk naturally after being strained beyond a 45 degree angle, but if the eye begins to jerk before, it can indicate a driver is under the influence.

Walk and turn test

The NHTSA estimates this test is accurate 68% of the time.

The walk and turn test splits attention between physical and mental tasks. The officer provides instructions such as, “When I say go, walk nine steps, heel to toe on the line, then turn around and walk back.”

The officer will look for:

  • Loss of balance
  • Wrong number of steps
  • Inability to stay on the line
  • Breaks in walking
  • Beginning before instructed

One leg stand test

The NHTSA estimates this test is accurate 65% of the time.

During the “one leg stand,” an officer will instruct the suspect to raise a foot, hold still, count and look down.

An officer may arrest the suspect if any of the following behaviors are observed:

  • Swaying
  • Hopping
  • Putting foot down

Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, The Zebra, AAA,

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Marijuana landlord turns activist, arguing local policies are slowing legal weed

Stephanie Smith was balancing one of her 2-year-old twins on a hip during a quiet morning in December when she heard a commotion outside her home in Los Angeles’ affluent Pacific Palisades neighborhood.

Someone began banging on her front door. As she moved to open it, she saw a line of police officers in her front yard and red laser gun sights coming through the windows, bouncing off her and her children.

Officers searched her home. They found and took blueprints for a kitchen remodel project and her cell phone.

At the same time, 80 miles due east in San Bernardino, dozens of officers were raiding two warehouses and another home owned by Smith. They seized nearly 25,000 marijuana plants and arrested eight men for growing cannabis in the three locations without city permits.

Smith wasn’t arrested or fined. But headlines the next day painted the 43-year-old as a “queenpin” and the “mastermind” of a multimillion-dollar illegal marijuana-growing operation.

“To be labeled a ‘drug lord’ in international press was a surprise,” she said.

“I don’t even have house plants.”

Though the mother of five boasts that she’s the biggest cannabis landlord in California, Smith insists she’s just that, a landlord. She says she isn’t involved with the marijuana businesses ran by her tenants.

Smith also insists her San Bernardino clients weren’t hiding. She says they’re part of California’s entrenched cannabis industry that’s struggling to join the emerging legal market, and that those efforts are being hampered by “corrupt” and “regressive” city policies.

Smith shrank from public attention when she was part of a very different scandal a decade ago, legally changing her last name to something that’s as anonymous as it can get.

This time, she says she’s fighting back.

Smith has filed lawsuits against San Bernardino and three other Inland Empire cities over their marijuana policies. And she’s floating marijuana ballot measures in six communities, determined to make conditions fairer for the industry that’s been so good to her.

First brush with infamy

Smith, whose name at birth was Stephanie Darcy, was raised in Minneapolis by a single working mom. She grew up dreaming of being an artist, and she still nurses a passion for painting.

After studying marketing in Boston, and using her artist’s eye to flip houses in the Phoenix area, she moved to Southern California in 2005 to attend business school at UCLA.

She was dating and working for Dr. Craig Alan Bittner, who had a successful liposuction practice in Beverly Hills. Things were going well until 2008, when a trio of lawsuits claimed Bittner had let Smith perform botched liposuction procedures even though she had no medical training. The lawsuits were eventually dismissed.

“At the end of the day, I made a regulatory mistake a decade ago and paid a $242 fine,” Smith said.

Things got more complicated when authorities caught wind that Bittner was violating medical waste laws by using fat removed from his patients to power his and Smith’s cars.

Smith said the intent with “LipoDiesel” was never to suggest that people could actually run their vehicles on human fat. She said it was simply a way to illustrate what was possible if people opened their minds to alternative energy sources. And she said they asked permission from every client, with all but one of some 8,000 patients enthusiastically consenting.

There was no word for internet “trolls” then, but Smith said she was intimidated into silence.

“If I could go back in time, I would have talked very openly about our goals for changing our view of energy,” she said. “I would have talked about my passion for the environment instead of being afraid.”

Becoming a cannabis landlord

Smith’s foray into another controversial industry started as a favor.

With the housing market in crisis a decade ago, Smith dove into commercial real estate.

A friend of a friend was growing cannabis under California’s loose medical marijuana laws as he put himself through law school in 2009. But he was struggling to find space to house his operation, with local and federal policies that made it risky for landlords to take on marijuana tenants.

Smith says she’s never been a “hardcore” marijuana consumer herself. “But like a lot of people, I wanted the laws changed.” So she let the small-time grower lease one of her L.A. properties.

The tenant finished law school and moved on. So Smith put the site back on the market, thinking its water and power stations would make for a good laundromat or nail salon.

She said she had no idea then that anyone would recognize signs of a grow house. But 45 minutes after the property went up on Craigslist, a cultivator offered double the asking price. Soon, she was in a bidding war, eventually landing a grower who paid three times the requested rent.

  • Stephanie Smith in San Bernardino, CA., Friday, May 18, 2018. Smith is the self-proclaimed largest cannabis landlord in California and has become a major advocate for the industry. (Staff photo by Jennifer Cappuccio Maher, The Sun/SCNG)

    Stephanie Smith in San Bernardino, CA., Friday, May 18, 2018. Smith is the self-proclaimed largest cannabis landlord in California and has become a major advocate for the industry. (Staff photo by Jennifer Cappuccio Maher, The Sun/SCNG)

  • Stephanie Smith helps canvas for signatures, for a San Bernardino ballot initiative, with Alexander Navarrette in the Verdemont neighborhood of San Bernardino, CA., Friday, May 18, 2018. (Staff photo by Jennifer Cappuccio Maher, The Sun/SCNG)

    Stephanie Smith helps canvas for signatures, for a San Bernardino ballot initiative, with Alexander Navarrette in the Verdemont neighborhood of San Bernardino, CA., Friday, May 18, 2018. (Staff photo by Jennifer Cappuccio Maher, The Sun/SCNG)

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Today, she said her company, Industrial Partners Group, owns two million square feet of industrial space. Most of it is in Southern California, but she has property as far north as Sacramento. And, while she rents buildings to Walmart and bakeries, many of her warehouses are leased to cannabis growers and manufacturers.

One reason Smith believes she’s been so successful is that many cannabis entrepreneurs were accustomed to dealing with landlords who refused to sign leases or made them use fake names so they could feign ignorance. Smith said she tried to “inject some professionalism” by treating them like other valuable tenants.

She’s also discreet.

B-Real, stage name for lead Cypress Hill rapper Louis Freese, leases a Downtown L.A. warehouse from Smith. When asked if she has any other famous tenants, Smith pauses, flashes her frequent smile and says: “I have a nice reputation among hip-hop and sports celebrities.”

Smith considers her work with the industry a form of activism. But this election cycle, she says, is different.

“This is my first time taking it to the streets.”

Raid prompts activism

Smith wore a gray cotton shirt, jeans and colorful sneakers on a recent Friday evening as she joined a political support team canvassing San Bernardino’s Verdemont neighborhood. The goal is to collect the 8,602 signatures needed to get her proposed cannabis measure on the November ballot.

Residents seemed largely receptive, though they’ve been through this before.

When Californians voted to legalize recreational marijuana under Proposition 64 in 2016, San Bernardino voters also approved Measure O, which laid out a framework for cannabis businesses to operate in town.

The measure was needed because Prop. 64 gives cities the rights to regulate businesses in their borders. And a study of local marijuana policies shows more than two-thirds of cities in California still bans all marijuana ventures.

San Bernardino awarded its first business permit under Measure O last year, to the owners of Flesh Showgirls. They now run a strip club in one half of the building and Captain Jack’s marijuana dispensary in the other.

But multiple lawsuits were filed over Measure O, and in December a judge threw the initiative out because, he said, it used spot zoning to create a monopoly that allowed just two shops in town. That ruling is being appealed.

Smith says her San Bernardino tenants had applied at least eight times for licenses to operate their businesses legally under Measure O, inviting city officials to inspect their high-end security and odor filtration systems.

A week after the raids, she said two of the tenants received letters from the city saying they could legally grow marijuana if they paid $140,000 in fees. Smith said they paid up but still haven’t been cleared to operate, leaving 100 people out of work. And she said police have been called 10 times since the raids over reports of vandalism and homeless people squatting in the vacant buildings.

The city is now accepting applications under its own licensing scheme. But a new policy says companies previously deemed to be operating illegally aren’t eligible for permits, leaving Smith’s clients with no route to run legal cannabis businesses in San Bernardino.

City and police officials declined to comment on any of Smith’s claims, citing pending and potential litigation.

Branching out

Spurred by what happened in San Bernardino, Smith has filed additional lawsuits against Colton, Hemet and Moreno Valley.

Concerns raised in the suits include Colton’s requirement that residents get permission from the city if they want to grow marijuana plants at home for personal use, as allowed under Prop. 64. And that anyone working for a marijuana business in Moreno Valley, from contractors to janitors, first get a city permit.

Her team is also collecting signatures for marijuana ballot measures in Colton, Hemet, Upland, Bakersfield and Kern County.

The initiatives are tailored for each area, Smith said. That means Central Valley policies support a cultivation-heavy market while San Bernardino is encouraged to put its affordable industrial properties to work by becoming a manufacturing hub, making vape pens and edibles popular with cannabis consumers.

California is close to an inflection point, Smith believes, where marijuana businesses won’t have to hide or beg cities to let them in. When that happens, Smith said she hopes Southern California cities will have fair policies in place that position them to compete for the jobs and tax revenue the cannabis industry can generate.

And Smith, of course, will have properties ready to house those valuable tenants.

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Marijuana laws for every city and county? Our database shows California slow to accept Prop. 64

Fewer than one in three California cities (144 out of 482) allow any kind of cannabis business to operate in their borders. And just 18 of the state’s 58 counties permit cannabis businesses in their unincorporated areas.

Also, fewer than one in five California cities welcome medical marijuana dispensaries, while fewer than one in seven allow recreational cannabis stores, where anyone 21 and older has been able to shop for legal weed since Jan. 1.

These are some of the findings in a first-of-its-kind investigation, tracking and compiling the cannabis ordinances in all 540 city and county jurisdictions in California, a study conducted by Southern California News Group and other Digital First newspapers.

The information opens a window into how the industry is taking shape three months after California began licensing marijuana businesses and permitting the sale of recreational marijuana.

The study is needed because of a simple rule in California: While Proposition 64 (approved by 57 percent of state voters in November 2016) makes it legal for people to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow it at home and consume it for pleasure, the law also gives cities and counties a strong say in how that law is implemented within their jurisdictions.

That dichotomy has led to a crazy quilt of policies across the state. Some towns are cannabis friendly, allowing a wide range of businesses related to a product that residents are free to use at their discretion. Other cities are less enthusiastic, with some blocking virtually every type of marijuana-related enterprise and, in some cases, passing ordinances that seem aimed at regulating personal use as much as possible.

Last year, to help everyone from pot consumers and would-be pot entrepreneurs to people who simply are curious about the progress of a new state law, we began gathering details on local marijuana policies. In January, we launched a database with some of that information, offering cannabis rules from about half the cities in the state. Today, we’ve upgraded that work, with rules from every city and county in California.

The information is included in our online database, where readers can search policies by location or by business type. And, based on an analysis of that data, we’ve ranked each community on our 100-point scale of marijuana friendliness.

The data reveals some interesting trends, conflicts and anomalies. It also shows that leaders in some communities are far less enthusiastic (or, in some cases, more enthusiastic) about cannabis than the residents who voted for or against Prop 64. That’s one reason the database shows city-by-city voting results, too.

Today’s story is the first in a three-part series. Next up is a story about how some city laws seem to paint cannabis as a barely-legal product, and after that will come a story about how a few cities are particularly eager to make money off the cannabis industry.

We’ll continue exploring and expanding the data so, down the road, we can offer more insights about the multi-billion-dollar world of legal cannabis in California.

California hasn’t gone green

Many people seem to think it’s a free-for-all when it comes to cannabis in California now that recreational marijuana is legal. But that’s far from the case, as many cities are setting up strict rules on what types of cannabis businesses — if any — can open in their town.


And even the numbers that seem to indicate where the cannabis industry is being welcomed can paint an overly enthusiastic picture. A couple dozen cities on the chart — places such as Moreno Valley and Davis — have passed rules to allow marijuana businesses. But that data doesn’t show how those cities have yet to fully develop the regulations, or issue permits, to let those businesses start.

That’s why even though 61 cities and nine counties have ordinances on the books that allow recreational marijuana stores, as of April 6, 2018, the state Bureau of Cannabis Control had licensed recreational shops in only 34 cities and five unincorporated county areas of California.

Here’s a map of shops licensed to sell recreational cannabis.

Most cannabis-friendly cities in California

A couple dozen cities are leading the pack for the most points we’ve doled out so far, meaning they’re the most lenient cities in the state when it comes to cannabis policy.

(If the graphics with this story are unresponsive, refresh this page.)

Riverside County has by far the highest number of permissive cities, with six that score above 96 points on our scale. A few other counties have two 96-point cities each, including Los Angeles and Sonoma.

Four counties are also racking up points when it comes to their lenient policies for unincorporated areas: Humboldt, Inyo, Del Norte and Monterey.

To get above 96 points, cities and counties must allow every type of marijuana business licensed by the state. That means permitting medical and recreational licenses for cannabis sales, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and testing. They would also have to allow their residents to grow marijuana at home, both indoors and outdoors.

No one yet has a score of 100 is because we reserved a few points in our scale for cities that go a step further and allow, say, cannabis lounges or festivals. We’ll be incorporating these factors as we continue to build out the database, with cities such as Palm Springs and San Francisco — which permit cannabis lounges — expected to jump even higher.

(Note: We don’t mean to imply that “high” scores are better or worse than “low” scores. If you support cannabis rights, you’ll likely see a high score as a good thing. If you oppose them, you’ll likely see a low score as preferable. Our scoring system is simply a mathematical way to compare city and county policies.)

Least cannabis-friendly cities in California

More than five dozen cities score a zero on our scale of cannabis friendliness.

These cities are spread over 26 counties. The highest number is predictably in the county with by far the most cities: Los Angeles. But just 19 percent of L.A. County cities are super strict on cannabis, while every city in the tiny counties of Madera and Sutter have passed the toughest rules possible.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is in Humboldt County, which is famous for cannabis production. Despite the region’s reputation as a cannabis hotbed, and despite having a couple cities where cannabis ordinances are lenient, four of the seven cities in Humboldt County earn zero points on our scale.

To get a zero score, a city has to ban all marijuana businesses, block residents from growing marijuana for personal use outdoors and require them to get a permit to grow it inside their homes.

County policies sometimes conflict with cities

So far, counties have been slightly more likely than cities to welcome marijuana businesses.

The gap is most pronounced when it comes to shops and cultivation. More than 15 percent of California counties allow recreational stores in unincorporated areas, for example, compared with 12 percent of cities. And 27 percent of counties allow medical marijuana cultivation, compared with just 20 percent of cities.

In some places, county policies contrast sharply with some of the rules passed by cities within that county.

Imperial County, for example, permits all types of marijuana businesses in its unincorporated areas, mostly near the Arizona and Mexico borders. Yet most cities in Imperial County (the three biggest are El Centro, Calexico and Brawley) have banned the industry, and none allow recreational shops.

There are also state-licensed marijuana stores that claim addresses in Carmel and Monterey, even though both of those cities block all marijuana businesses.

The shops are technically in unincorporated Monterey County, which allows all types of marijuana businesses. Same goes for a recreational shop “in Crescent City” that’s actually in unincorporated Del Norte County, and another with an address “in Fort Bragg” though it’s officially in unincorporated Mendocino County.

Local policies vs. voter wishes

In some cities and counties, cannabis industry rules contrast sharply with how residents there voted on Prop. 64.

In the top left corner of the chart you’ll find cities and counties where local leaders have passed liberal marijuana policies even though most of their constituents voted against Prop. 64.

Imperial County again stands out. Only 45 percent of unincorporated county residents there voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. But the Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted in November to welcome every type of cannabis business, giving the area a score of 95.9 on our scale of permissiveness.

Oakdale and Riverbank, in Stanislaus County, are the only two cities in the state that welcome every type of recreational marijuana business even though a majority of residents in both cities voted against Prop. 64.

The opposite can be seen in the bottom right corner of the chart, which shows cities and counties where local leaders are sticking with strict cannabis policies even though more than two thirds of the voters in their communities were in favor of Prop. 64.

In Sausalito, in Marin County, 77 percent of voters supported legal weed, but city council members there have blocked all businesses and outdoor home gardens. The numbers are similar in the Bay Area city of Albany.

In other places, local policies are very much in line with voter wishes.

West Hollywood and Berkeley voters, for example, tied with a high of 83 percent of residents approving Prop. 64. Both cities also have liberal cannabis policies, just missing the leader board for most permissive cities in the state because they block commercial cultivation and other behind-the-scenes businesses.

Kingsburg, in Fresno County, also has policies that align with election numbers. Residents of the farming town opposed Prop. 64 more than anywhere else in California, with only 35 percent favoring marijuana legalization. And city council members have taken a similar stance, with policies that earn Kingsburg 0.5 out of 100 points on our scale of marijuana friendliness.

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Cannabis business, and cannabis’ political clout, are growing up quickly

As they work to grow their newly legal industry, many in California’s cannabis business are looking to grow their political clout.

And, at all levels of politics, candidates and backers of many causes are likely to help them do just that.

  • Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, left, gets a tour of Bud and Bloom dispensary from Kyle Kazan, a partner and board member, in Santa Ana on Friday, May 5, 2017 during a “meet and greet” and Cinco del Mayo celebration at the dispensary. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, left, gets a tour of Bud and Bloom dispensary from Kyle Kazan, a partner and board member, in Santa Ana on Friday, May 5, 2017 during a “meet and greet” and Cinco del Mayo celebration at the dispensary. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Jeff Bleich, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

    Jeff Bleich, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

  • Christopher Beals, left, President and general counsel, and Dustin McDonald, Vice President of government relations for Weedmaps, the Orange County and Denver based online cannabis community. in Irvine on Friday, February 16, 2018. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

    Christopher Beals, left, President and general counsel, and Dustin McDonald, Vice President of government relations for Weedmaps, the Orange County and Denver based online cannabis community. in Irvine on Friday, February 16, 2018. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)



Once quick to say “I didn’t inhale,” California politicians today are quick to accept campaign contributions from donors with ties to marijuana commerce or the drug legalization movement. Since 2001, campaign finance records show, cannabis-connected donors have given more than $831,000 to people running for state offices, with about a third of the contributions coming over the past three years.

But that $831,000 is almost certainly just a fraction of what’s been given. It doesn’t count cannabis donations to local government leaders, or to people running for federal office. What’s more, it’s hard to track every contribution by every marijuana-minded donor.

With recreational marijuana now legal in California, observers wonder if cannabis will rival labor unions, developers and other traditional sources of campaign cash. Some look to the rise of Indian gaming money — which has become a powerful force in California politics — and see a possible template for cannabis.

“There are some parallels with Indian gaming interests,” said Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne. “In that area, there were large… political donations ahead of the ballot measures that set up the current legal framework.”

Supporters of Proposition 64, the voter-approved 2016 ballot measure that legalized recreational cannabis, pumped $23.5 million into promoting the initiative.

Godwin sees the rise of a new era of cannabis in state politics.

“The first phase mostly consisted of a few wealthy donors, in the 1990s, who supported medical marijuana legalization,” she said. “Next, we had the emergence of more active interest groups that were related to owners of medical marijuana dispensaries. Now, we are moving into more corporate-type donations.”

Godwin and Rick Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor who specializes in elections, see parallels between marijuana and industries like alcohol and tobacco when it comes to campaign donations.

“They depend on government regulation to be able to proposer, so they participate in the political process by throwing money around,” Hasen said.

The fact that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level gives industry insiders more incentive to influence state and local politicians, hoping to sway state and local cannabis regulations.

“It’s just an absolute necessity to get politically involved in this space,” said Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, an Irvine company that owns cannabis businesses in California and Nevada. “If we’re not politically engaged, they’re not going to see us as a formidable industry that they need to stop and pay attention to.”

Cannabis industry players

Perhaps the biggest cannabis industry player in California politics is Weedmaps, which runs a Yelp-like website that tracks marijuana shops. The Irvine-based company donates tens of thousands of dollars each year to candidates at the federal, state and local levels.

Fighting against marijuana prohibition has been “part of the company DNA” since the startup was founded 10 years ago, said Christopher Beals, Weedmaps’ president and general counsel. Over the past five years, the company has developed a sophisticated lobbying team that drafts white papers on potential regulations, and tries to educate lawmakers across the United States, Canada and Europe.

Beals and Peterson said they generally donate to candidates who’ve been supportive of the cannabis industry so they can encourage them to continue that support and to make their voices heard.

“A big part of it is making sure we have access and we have the ear of policymakers so we can tell them what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to regulations,” said Peterson, who personally gave $30,000 to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Newsom was a key promoter of Prop 64.

Those efforts aren’t slowing now that California has opened its recreational cannabis market. “There are more issues to be solved going forward than I think are settled,” Beals said, with concern over stringent lab testing standards, limited banking access and more.

Once marijuana businesses in California adjust to the evolving regulations, Peterson hopes to see an upturn in cannabis-backed political action.

“More players in the industry need to put their money where their mouth is.”

State candidates court industry

Candidates for the state’s top elected offices are courting cannabis-oriented money and voters.

During a recent cannabis investment forum in Santa Monica, guests heard a speech from Jeff Bleich, a former U.S. ambassador to Australia and Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor.

They also heard from State Treasurer John Chiang, who is running, as a Democrat, for governor. Chiang, who has been a guest at other cannabis conferences, is spearheading an effort to give the industry access to banking services.

In 2017, Weedmaps contributed $10,000 to his campaign for governor.

In an emailed statement, Chiang spokesman Nicholas Jordan said: “John Chiang is the only candidate for governor working to fill the gaps left by Prop 64. As treasurer, John partnered with our state Attorney General to explore the idea of a state bank with a focus on cannabis.”

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, speaks at a visit to a labor union office in Riverside in this January file photo (John Valenzuela/Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, speaks at a visit to a labor union office in Riverside in this January file photo (John Valenzuela/Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

But perhaps the biggest beneficiary of cannabis industry support is Newsom, a Democrat who was the most high-profile figure to support Prop. 64.

In an emailed response, Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click said: “Proponents of marijuana decriminalization and criminal justice reform overwhelmingly support Gavin Newsom for governor because, unlike the other candidates, he doesn’t just talk the talk. He helped pass Prop. 64 and is the only candidate for governor who supported all five major criminal justice ballot measures.”

Local lawmakers are key

More so than with most other businesses, local politicians have a great deal of power over how the cannabis industry develops in California.

Prop. 64 gave city and county leaders full authority to regulate the industry within their boundaries. Unless voters pass their own ballot initiative, city council members can decide how many businesses of which type can locate where, set restrictive hours of operation and more. And most cities are so far choosing to shut out the marijuana industry entirely.

A review of campaign finance records filed with city clerks across Southern California show marijuana industry donations at the local level.

In Santa Ana – the only Orange County city that allows marijuana shops – Councilman Vincente Sarmiento received more than $1,000 in donations from the industry in 2015 and 2016.

In 2017, the Santa Ana City Council voted to extend hours of operation for shops, lift signage restrictions and loosen other rules for the city’s dispensaries. Sarmiento led those efforts.

In Compton, where marijuana businesses are banned, HerbalCure Hemp Seed Oil Company donated $500 to City Councilwoman Tana McCoy’s 2017 election campaign.

In cannabis-friendly Culver City, ERBA dispensary owner Jay Handal donated $250 to council candidate Marcus Tiggs.

Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce. (File photo by Brad Graverson/Southern California News Group)
Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce. (File photo by Brad Graverson/Southern California News Group)

Marijuana donors also are rallying around Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who faces a recall campaign. Cannabis interests are waiting for Long Beach to lift a temporary moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses in the city.

Adelanto, in San Bernardino County’s high desert, was on the brink of bankruptcy when it started embracing the cannabis industry three years ago. This past summer, the city balanced its last budget on a pledge of cannabis industry tax payments.

Adelanto Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright is now awaiting trial after he was accused in late 2017 of accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent who said he wanted Wright’s help to establish a marijuana distribution business in town.

Patterns of government corruption show that it’s most likely to take place in smaller communities, said UC Irvine’s Hasen, who noted that ever-shrinking media outlets are less likely to keep close tabs on what’s going on in smaller cities.

Such communities also are more likely to be desperate for funds, Hasen said, and to “see dollar signs when they look at the cannabis industry.”

Will cannabis sway elections?

Godwin, the University of La Verne professor, isn’t sure how heavily marijuana – or the industry’s campaign donations – will weigh on voters’ minds.

“There might be a few communities where marijuana becomes a hot spot issue, depending on how much tax revenue is to be gained…  or if problems develop with marijuana stores,” she said.

With a recent Gallup poll showing support for marijuana legalization at a record-high 64 percent, Peterson said he believes candidates who continue to oppose or ignore the industry may be at risk for the first time during the mid-term elections this fall.

He hopes those candidates take notice, both of public opinion and of the money flowing from deep wallets to candidates who support a regulated cannabis industry.

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Hoping to start a marijuana business in California? Secretary of State launches online portal for entrepreneurs

Three weeks from today, on Jan. 1, the state will begin issuing licenses for cannabis businesses and shops will get to start selling recreational marijuana legally for the first time in California.

In anticipation of interest from thousands — or even tens of thousands — of would-be professional cannabis growers, manufacturers and retailers, Secretary of State Alex Padilla has launched an online portal aimed at helping entrepreneurs join California’s emerging $7 billion legal cannabis industry.

“The first stop for any business hoping to start up in California is the Secretary of State’s office,” Padilla said. “With the commercial cannabis businesses, that’s certainly no exception.”

Related: 10 steps to starting a marijuana business in California

The new website, which is called Cannabizfile, walks business owners through the steps they’ll need to take to register their business names and open a cannabis enterprise in California. And — much like the agency’s recently launched Bizfile portal for traditional businesses — it allows entrepreneurs to complete the necessary paperwork entirely online.

“We decided, we can either have them all line up in our office in Sacramento and do this on paper, or we can create a way for them to do it online,” Padilla said. “We’re trying to get ahead of the wave.”

Padilla said his office has been fielding calls for some time from entrepreneurs and their attorneys looking for information about registering business names, converting from nonprofits and filing for trademarks. Those calls, he said, helped inform what’s included in the new portal and how it’s presented.

Many of the steps are the same ones every new venture in California faces, Padilla said, from determining what type of business they want to be to registering their unique name. But they decided they needed a cannabis-specific portal because there are some particular considerations for cannabis businesses, he said, such as the ability to form cannabis cooperative associations. Also, Padilla said there was concern that aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs could bog down or crash the regular Secretary of State’s site come Jan. 1.

“I can’t recall – not only in recent memory, but in a recent decade — any industry of this magnitude that became legal from one day to the next and triggered the number of new businesses expected to start up in a very short time frame,” he said.

The portal is live now, though the Secretary of State won’t start accepting cannabis business registrations until Jan. 1. Padilla said they wanted to put the information out in advance so entrepreneurs can get prepared and understand the entire process.

“We’re the first step, but we’re not the only step,” he said.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control won’t verify business registration before it hands out temporary licenses, according to agency spokesman Alex Traverso. But before businesses can get full annual licenses, Traverso said his staff will check to be sure they’ve filed proper paperwork with the Secretary of State.

To help spread the word, Padilla’s office filmed a short PSA with a special guest: none other than cannabis industry icon, Cheech Marin.

In the video, a spectacled Marin is working a computer at the Secretary of State’s office when a citizen comes in to ask about starting a cannabis business in California. Marin — who Padilla said did the video “pro bono” as a service to the industry — directs her to the secretary’s new portal,

The Secretary of State will also let businesses register trademarks and service marks — such as logos, slogans and products — through its portal starting Jan. 1. But Padilla said there will be limits on what can be trademarked due to federal law.

“Because of the federal status of cannabis as category one drug, a lot of this stuff you can’t trademark,” he said.

Though he expects many would-be entrepreneurs to take advantage of the online portal, Padilla said his staff is gearing up to work New Year’s Day to process paperwork in person at their Sacramento office.

“We know that there’s a lot of interest and anticipation,” he said. “We’ll be ready.”

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10 steps to starting a marijuana business in California

The state is accepting applications for temporary licenses to operate a cannabis business in California.

The first applications came into the California Secretary of State’s office on Friday and thousands more are expected to follow between now and the end of the year, as the state prepares to issue the licenses to legal cannabis enterprises on Jan. 1.

But for a business to be legal under state law, would-be operators need to take a number of steps to comply with rules for registration, taxation and more. These steps are required of every size and type of cannabis business, from cultivators to sellers. And they’re required for new businesses and for businesses emerging from the legal shadows of California’s massive gray market.

Related: Secretary of State launches online portal for entrepreneurs who want to launch marijuana businesses

The Secretary of State’s office wants business owners to take these 10 steps:

1) Choose a business type and name: Along with naming the business, owners will need to decide what type of entity it will be. Is it a sole proprietorship, owned by just one person? A general partnership? A corporation or limited liability company? Each designation comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, from how the business is taxed to who’s liable for debts. Learn more about each option here.

2) Register the business with the Secretary of State: Sole proprietorships don’t have to do this. General partnerships aren’t required to either, though they can. Every other business type must register with the Secretary of State, paying fees of up to $150 and providing basic information such as names and contact information. Cannabis businesses that have been operating as nonprofits also must register to become corporations, companies or cooperatives. Learn more and register here.

3) Register a fictitious business name if necessary: If a business wants or needs to operate under a different name than what’s registered with the state, owners need to file that fictitious business name. That process is handled by the county where the business is located, so check with the local county clerk/recorder for more information.

4) Get proof of local permission to operate: Before any cannabis business can get a license to operate from the state, they must first show that they have permission from their local government. If the business is in a city, owners will need a copy of a license, permit or other written authorization from city officials showing the business is legal under local law. If the business is outside of an incorporated city, that responsibility falls to the county.

5) Get a seller’s permit and, if necessary, a cannabis tax permit: Anyone who wants to sell cannabis products in California needs a seller’s permit from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Learn more about those permits and apply for one here. Cannabis distributors need to also get cannabis tax permits. The link above walks distributors through that process.

6) Get a state license: As of Jan. 1, all cannabis businesses will need a license from the state to legally operate. Applications for temporary licenses, good for four months, are in the works while state agencies finalize complex annual license applications. Retailers, distributors, lab testers, microbusinesses and event organizers can apply now for licenses through the Department of Consumer Affair’s Bureau of Cannabis Control. Cultivators will soon be able to apply for licenses through the Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis division. And manufacturers, who use raw cannabis to make edibles and concentrates, can apply for licenses with the Department of Public Health’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch. The agencies will begin issuing temporary licenses on Jan. 1 and full licenses sometime in early 2018.

7) Meet employer obligations: Any cannabis business that will have employees needs to register for a federal Employer Identification Number. They’ll need to cover payroll taxes. Most will also likely need to register with the Employment Development Department, which comes with requirements for paying unemployment insurance, reporting new workers and more.

8) Consider tax obligations: Businesses need to pay federal taxes, state income tax, state payroll taxes and property taxes, plus follow step five above to register for proper tax permits.

9) Maintain business registration: Businesses need to file Statements of Information with the Secretary of State within 90 days of registering, then update those statements annually or every two years, depending on the business type. Get more information and file paperwork here.

10) Register trademarks and service marks if desired: Cannabis businesses may want to register their trademarks and/or service marks — such as logos and slogans — with the state to distinguish them from other companies and products. The Secretary of State will let businesses register for trademarks or service marks on a first-come basis starting Jan. 1. Learn more and apply here.

For more information on the process, visit the Secretary of State’s new cannabis portal Or check out the California Cannabis Portal at

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Can cannabis help you get in shape?

Before Tyler Hurst sets out for his morning run, he slips on a pair of those shoes that fit each toe like a glove. Then he takes a few hits off a vape pen packed with Agent Orange, a particularly uplifting strain of cannabis.

“The chemicals that are released in our brains when we run are the same ones that are released when we get high,” said Hurst, 28, a freelance writer and recreational runner who lives in Phoenix.

“I just run a lot better once I have my runner’s high.”

Tyler Hurst during the 420 Games in Portland in 2016. Hurst incorporates cannabis into his running routine. (Courtesy of Tyler Hurst)
Tyler Hurst during the 420 Games in Portland in 2016. Hurst incorporates cannabis into his running routine. (Courtesy of Tyler Hurst)

Forget the stereotype that suggests weed creates junk food-loving couch potatoes. Hurst is part of a fast-growing world of athletes – from pros to weekend fitness enthusiasts – who are incorporating cannabis into regular workouts and competitions.

Some are tapping into marijuana’s psychoactive effects to quiet the brain during intense yoga sessions and other mind-oriented sports, such as running or swimming. Others use cannabis products that don’t make them high but instead create effects that users insist help them train harder and longer, with less pain and faster recovery times.

New science is emerging to support some of those claims. Research suggests marijuana can keep muscle spasms at bay, prevent inflammation – even reduce the likelihood of brain injuries.

The governing bodies for most sports still ban cannabis, citing the drug’s complicated legal status while alternately labeling it as either too helpful or too harmful to athletic performance. That’s led to a string of athletes facing fines and suspensions over weed.

But cracks in those bans are starting to appear. Everything from the growing push for marijuana legalization, outrage over the use of prescribed opioids and fears about the long-term effects of concussions are all prompting sports to look again at weed.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which regulates drug use for the Olympics, announced earlier this month that in 2018 it will no longer ban CBD, the compound in cannabis thought to have the most medical benefits without any mind-altering effects. And leaders in the NFL, NBA and other American pro sports leagues are starting to reconsider their cannabis policies.

Another factor is the nature of stories told by retired sports figures who, increasingly, are speaking out about how cannabis helped them.

“We’ve been fundamentally misled,” said Riley Cote, who co-founded Athletes for Care, an organization that helps athletes adjust to life after sports.

Cote said he smoked cannabis throughout his eight seasons in pro hockey, including three years as a left winger for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.

Though weed was (and is) a violation of league policy, Cote said he took the risk because cannabis helped him manage pain, anxiety and sleep issues.

He was hardly alone. In every league, Cote said he found “a decent-sized group of guys” who chose marijuana over painkillers to treat and even prevent injuries on the ice.

“I view cannabis as a holistic phenomena,” Cote said. “This is a universal healer.”

Such voices are helping this trend of mixing weed and fitness catch on, with everyone from elite athletes to regular folk trying to lose a few pounds jumping on board.

Pot Olympics?

In San Francisco, a marijuana-friendly gym is slated to open next year. So-called “infused” yoga classes, in which cannabis consumption is part of the routine, are popping up everywhere. And the 420 Games, a series of runs and other competitions, is an increasingly popular multi-city event aimed at promoting the idea that weed can be part of an athletic lifestyle.

There’s also cannabis-oriented gear and products aimed at people who love sports, including topical creams and recovery serums. And some athletes, such as Tanner Hall – a well-known freestyle skier and former X-Games champion – are coming out with their own marijuana product lines.

Cannabis company Weedmaps recently backed a skateboarding competition at Venice Beach, while Illinois cultivator Cresco Labs has been a sponsor of the Chicago Marathon.

In August, prior to fighting in the undercard for the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor bout in Las Vegas, boxer Andrew Tabiti entered the ring wearing a hat from sponsor FlavRx, a San Diego company that makes cannabis edibles and concentrates.

Ultramarathoner Avery Collins is sponsored by multiple cannabis companies, including Colorado-based edibles company Incredibles.

Collins reached out to Incredibles a couple years ago, company co-founder Bob Eschino said, to let them know he was using their energy bars as fuel before long runs. Eschino said it felt like a “great match” to back the young runner.

“The one thing my company has tried to do is change some of the perspectives that are out there about cannabis users,” Eschino said. “As more and more athletes come out, I think it’s very important to showcase them and help break some of the stereotypes.”

How it works

The pairing of sports and cannabis makes sense to Greg Gerdeman, a Florida neuroscientist who for 20 years has studied how marijuana works in the brain.

He was a graduate student in Vanderbilt University’s pharmacology program in the mid-1990s, when scientists first started to understand the endocannabinoid system.

Humans produce a range of chemical compounds called endocannabinoids. They help keep our bodies stable by binding to receptors on cell membranes and controlling the release of chemical messengers that regulate everything from how we experience pain to our moods.

While our endocannabinoid systems naturally help maintain a state of homeostasis, or stability, we can be thrown off balance by physical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, certain cancer treatments and strenuous physical activity. That’s when introducing cannabinoids produced outside the body might help.

Marijuana contains dozens of cannabinoids – the most well-known of which are CBD and THC, the latter being the compound that makers consumers high. These cannabinoids are not identical to the compounds our bodies produce, but some seem to act in much the same way, helping to reduce swelling, dull nerve pain, improve volatile moods and more.

Gerdeman was involved in a 2012 study suggesting the joy that many runners and other endurance athletes feel is linked to an increase in our bodies’ cannabinoid production. Boosting that effect by adding plant-based cannabinoids might then encourage better health, he said, by making workouts and competitions more enjoyable.

The brain also releases cannabinoids in response to injury, Gerdeman said – whether it’s a stroke or a hard hit from a linebacker. That shows cannabinoids are neuroprotectants, he said, meant to help keep the brain safe. And so – while rigorous research in this area is needed – he said it’s reasonable to argue that using cannabis might help prevent brain injuries in football players and other athletes who regularly take hard hits to the head.

When he played hockey, Cote was known as a fighter, estimating he got into at least 250 fights over the years. He’s convinced that steady cannabis use helped him come out the other end with no signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is plaguing so many athletes in contact sports.

There’s also good evidence that proper doses of cannabis can help reduce anxiety and inflammation, both of which can hold athletes back.

Hurst explains the effect of running on cannabis like this: “I noticed that I feel just as relaxed before a race as I do after. And I feel just as strong after a race as I do at the beginning.”

Tyler Hurst following a race in 2015.The Phoenix resident incorporates cannabis into his running routine. (Courtesy of Tyler Hurst)
Tyler Hurst following a race in 2015.The Phoenix resident incorporates cannabis into his running routine. (Courtesy of Tyler Hurst)

Many of these touted benefits for athletes are still anecdotal, said Dr. Ari Greis, a Pennsylvania physician who specializes in rehabilitative medicine and pain management. He said that’s partly because the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which makes all research – and human trials in particular – extremely difficult.

A study by Australian pharmacologist Michael C. Kennedy, published in September’s Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, found only 15 studies published in English have even examined the impact of THC on exercise.

There are studies showing THC can elevate heart rates, which Greis said could be bad news for someone who already has a heart condition or is new to working out.

Still, some athletes have spoken so fondly about the benefits of cannabis that opponents have suggested it should be considered a performance-enhancing drug.

But Kennedy’s review of the research done so far found that THC doesn’t enhance either strength or aerobic endurance.

Greis also points out that THC can impact motor coordination and reaction times, which is why people can’t legally drive while high. So, even though some experienced consumers can function at very high levels, he said it doesn’t make sense that athletes would perform better after smoking weed that’s potent in THC.

Hurst, the runner from Phoenix, agrees.

“There’s nothing I can do high that I can’t do sober,” Hurst said. “It just feels better.”

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