As California’s attorney general from 1999 to 2007, Bill Lockyer was the last word in law enforcement during a crucial period in the marijuana legalization movement’s transition into a booming cannabis industry.
In that time, the first storefront dispensaries became legal, and medical marijuana morphed from a hippie curio into a viable, taxpaying business sphere. In that time, state law enforcement authorities answering to Lockyer also participated in raids that shut down dispensaries and sent doctors to prison for recommending marijuana to sick people.
That was all a long time ago, well before marijuana legalization became a nationwide phenomenon supported by a majority of Americans — and before legal cannabis became a hot topic, and worth perhaps $7 billion in California alone.
Today, Lockyer — who is now 76 and retired from a political career that included two terms as state treasurer and stints in the state legislature — is in the weed industry.
And other former law-enforcement officials and officers in Canada, California and other places are following suit.
Examples are abundant, and go to the very top: former DEA agent Patrick Moen recently became the managing director of Privateer Holdings, the parent company of Tilray, Marley Natural, and Leafly.
But what should the cannabis industry think about this? Answers will vary, but cops in cannabis is now absolutely a phenomenon, and not everyone is happy about it, especially because in some cases, cops are cashing in now that the “criminals” they spent a career busting are prohibited from participating.
As the LA Times reported, Lockyer is the co-founder of a state-licensed cannabis distribution firm called C4 Distro. C4 Distro has a warehouse in Los Angeles and plans to distribute cannabis to the roughly 700 dispensaries in the greater LA area. Lockyer and his co-founder Eric Spitz, the former owner of the Orange County Register, hold the official approval.
So what’s in weed for Lockyer? He’s relatively straightforward about it. He’s in it for the money: He needs a source of income to pay for his kids’ college tuition, he told the LA Times, and believe in supporting a new industry transitioning from a black market.
“For me as somebody who was on the law enforcement side for so many years, I saw the inadequacies of the effort to regulate something just by calling it illegal,” Lockyer told the newspaper. “I think legalizing will help stabilize and help legitimize this industry and result in better consumer protection and other public benefits.”
And while no one in the cannabis industry nowadays would argue that keeping marijuana illegal is a viable venture that’s helping anybody, police and their official groups have often taken that exact stance on the anti-side of legalization. This is where the conflict arises. “It’s a mix of hypocrisy and pure profiteering,” Toronto marijuana entrepreneur Jodie Emery told the Guardian in December. Emery, with her husband Marc, have run numerous marijuana businesses, including an illegal dispensary in Toronto — and have the busts, court dates and jail terms to show for it.
Emery has reason to fume. She’s watching former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino — a fellow who once compared marijuana legalization to legalizing murder, and opposed legal cannabis less than two years ago — cruise into Canada’s enormous marijuana market in the months before that country legalizes cannabis, while she and her husband are barred from participating thanks to a recent bust.
A former Conservative MP, Fantino is one of the founders of a company called Aleafia. In addressing his for-profit about-face, Fantino breezily dismissed his very recent past, referring to his time as a legislator pushing harsh criminal penalties on marijuana as “days gone by” and a “certain perception of things.”
Fantino is an extreme example — possibly the most extreme of examples — which makes him very difficult to ignore. Emery in particular can’t ignore him, since she and Marc Emery, owners of the Cannabis Culture magazine and brand, were arrested last March on drug-trafficking charges. At one point, the pair operated a dozen storefront dispensaries across Canada. All of them were illegal, but it’s accepted that such brazen acts of civil disobedience are what compelled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cave and promise to legalize marijuana in the first place.
There’s the rub. In some cases such as the one concerning Fantino and the Emerys in Torontot, it does appear that police are rushing in to the industry precisely because the people they busted are prohibited.
TELL US, what do you think about former police officers entering the cannabis industry?