Article Thumbnail

My 420 Sesh with the Country’s Top Weed Attorneys

“Let’s sesh” is Stoner 101, right up there with apple pipes, gravity bongs and hotboxing in the 420-friendly lexicon. But receiving an invitation to sesh with Margolin & Lawrence, the top cannabis law firm in L.A.? That’s dank in a uniquely 2018 way.

Since founding their firm in 2009, Allison Margolin and J. Raza Lawrence, both Harvard Law alum, have earned a reputation as the most effective cannabis lawyers in L.A. While the majority of their clients are now concerned with commercial licensing and regulatory law — i.e., business operations, contracting and compliance advice and trademark and business dispute suits — their office also remains a trusted resource for people facing criminal charges at both the state and federal level.

The invitation to their event — which started at, you guessed it, 4:20 p.m. — gave the impression that it was at the actual Margolin & Lawrence offices, which struck me as an inherently hilarious place to get faded. But when I arrived, it was just a big downtown warehouse space.

The first thing I noticed was a tater-tot truck boasting spud options such as those topped with grilled garlic shrimp, lemon pinot grigio sauce and scallions. With munchies like these, you’d think weed would be abundant, but unfortunately, there was a complete lack of sesh going on. Medicated popcorn and weed grinders were present — as well as the occasional dude hitting the vape pen — but there was absolutely no big, community smoke sesh like I’d expected. Instead, it was all business. That is, this sesh intended to make connections between different members of the weed community, including Margolin & Lawrence’s team of lawyers, staff, clients and potential clients and general interest stoners such as myself.

Margolin was there in her Harvard sweats, making introductions between the different guests, which included a number of parents with their children — both youngsters running around indulging in the non-popcorn snacks and grown adults who had gone into the family weed business.

The down-to-earth nature of the event was refreshing, but surprising given how spoiled I’ve been by other players in the desperate-to-seem-legit-and-luxurious cannabis space. In the last year alone, I’ve attended a weed-infused brunch, received a CBD massage and had subscription boxes of dozens of weed products delivered directly to my doorstep. I’ve also attended a lively party at Clark Gable’s 1928 Hollywood Hills mansion, where I was encouraged to indulge in as many pre-rolled joints and terpene-infused cocktails as my stoner heart desired. That’s not counting the CBD-infused muscle balms, body lotions, eye serums, bubble baths and mascara (all of which came in gorgeous, expensive packaging) I’ve placed upon my body either.

I guess that’s why I expected, at the very least, a mason jar full of weed.

I chatted up a couple people, but I mostly scoured the room for a packed bong — or an equivalent — with my friend, who had eaten more than a few servings of the caramel corn and thought she spotted Eric Benét. Despite all of the popcorn, she wasn’t seeing things. The R&B singer was there in a slightly shimmery rose-gold jacket, styled with a nice belt and a number of other subtle accessories. It turns out he and a business partner are working on launching their own dispensary in Chatsworth early next year. They all agreed a lawyer is an absolute necessity if you’re a cannabis entrepreneur today. In the past, people making money off weed usually only hired lawyers when shit went down. Now, you hire a lawyer to make sure shit doesn’t go down.

A common assumption from people outside of the weed business is that once California legalized weed, longtime cannabis entrepreneurs got to wake up and experience the tranquility of their industry going “legit.” But the reality is, most of those who run smaller weed operations haven’t had an easy time navigating the seemingly endless ins and outs of this new phase of the industry. “Right now, a lot of what we have is doodles on paper,” former L.A. mayor Anthony Villaraigosa explained to the L.A. Times last week, after announcing he was joining the board of MedMen, the huge weed company with assets and operations throughout the country (in both recreational and medical-law states). Last month, MedMen reported $19.2 million in retail sales in the third quarter alone — keep in mind, too, that the third quarter isn’t even over yet. (Reportedly, that’s more than they earned in all of 2017.)

Along with Big Weed, smaller and mid-size marijuana companies have Big Tobacco and Big Booze to worry about as well. A couple of examples from this summer: 1) A division of the British parent company that owns Winston and Kool cigarettes joined Snoop Dogg’s VC firm Casa Verde in investing $10 million in Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies, a British medical marijuana research and biotechnology organization; and 2) Constellation Brands, the corporation behind Corona, Svedka and a number of other alcohol lines invested $4 billion in Canopy Growth, a Canadian cannabis company that trades publicly — the largest investment in any cannabis business in history.

“When I think about where this industry is headed, it’s like when you look at the dog food shelf at the store and there’s 18 different brands but they’re all owned by the same person,” Matt tells me.

I met Matt and his girlfriend, both of whom have worked in illegal weed operations in Northern California and were in town dealing with their criminal cases, after parting ways with Benet and securing an order of Hot Cheetos-flavored tater tots. “We’re from Green Valley, a small wine town near Napa that got its start as a Gold Rush town. A lot of people in this business are calling what’s happening now the Green Rush, but in Green Valley, the Green Rush began in the 1960s and our local economy has enormously benefited from pot,” Matt tells me. “People from all over the world come through to work on weed grows, which also employ locals and gets the money they can spend in town.”

Matt was certain his mother would have lost their house by now if she didn’t have the marijuana trimming business to bolster her finances. And he smiled proudly when he told me that his grandma is in her 90s and still trims weed. But the Green Rush in Green Valley is ending — due to, of all things, legalization. You see, the older, conservative members of the Green Valley community have prevented the legal, recreational sale of marijuana in their county (the same with Beverly Hills and Burbank).

“Restaurants and stores are closing because the county hasn’t allowed for recreational weed,” he explains. “A lot of people in the weed industry are leaving to neighboring areas, and the town is hurting. But weed isn’t what’s hurting our town. Weed increases our property value and puts money into the hands of other small business owners.” (Matt faces felony charges for his small, former weed operation, as does his girlfriend, since she knew about it taking place on their property in a county where it’s not allowed.)

Still, Matt admits it’s not so easy in counties where it’s legal either. “The policies are so wishy-washy. For example, you’re allowed a certain number of plants at one time. Each illegal plant law enforcement finds will cost you $1,000 in fines. So if they find you with 30 plants [over the limit], you owe them $30,000, which could be way more than you would have made even if you sold all of that weed. That alone is enough to ruin a lot of people’s lives.”

He’s also positive that bigger isn’t better. He says that corporate grows, where thousands of plants are crammed together and sprayed with chemicals, are “ruining the sanctity of growing the plant,” the very spiritual essence shared by all the green-thumbed and red-eyed people his hometown has long attracted with its promises of fertile soil and killer seshes. Now void of the personalized relationship California growers have always had with their crops, he says weed is going the Walmart route. Just like our food and everything else we grow in bulk in this country, pot will be full of pesticides that strip the terpenes off the plants, meaning they’ll need to get sprayed with artificial essential oils for scent and flavor.

All of which leaves a very cynical taste in his — and my — mouth. “Sometimes it makes us wonder, ‘Did such-and-such county just need money, so they had a bunch of people invest in licensed commercial farms?’”

It was, as I finished my tater tots, one last sobering thought to a surprisingly sobering night.