UKIAH, Calif. – A routine traffic stop by a California Highway Patrol officer on the 101 near Ukiah last Friday resulted in coverage by the Associated Press, something not seen every day. The unusual media attention is the result of California’s imminent transition into recreational sales, the comprehensive regulations that come with it, and the confusion and pain felt by people and companies caught in the middle. The AP headline spoke to that confusion: “California company has pot license; workers still arrested.”
The company, Old Kai Distribution, already possesses a license to distribute cannabis issued by Mendocino County, the first step to receiving a distribution license from the state. But the local permit and supporting documents were not enough to prevent the officer on the scene from arresting Old Kai’s employees and confiscating 1.875 pounds of cannabis and the truck transporting the herb.
“Old Kai founders Lucas Seymour and his business partner, Matthew Mandelker, say law enforcement investigators are operating on outdated rules and undermining California’s years-long effort to get local cannabis operators to join the newly regulated market,” reported The Press Democrat, which broke the story Dec. 26.
“We’re a licensed entity,” Seymour said. “We have all the paperwork. All of our employees are aboveboard. We have payroll, pay stubs, workers’ comp. We’re not trying to scam anyone.”
Local law enforcement had a different perspective. “Officer Jake Slates, a spokesman for the CHP’s Ukiah office, said he couldn’t comment on the case because the investigating officer was out of the office,” the Democrat noted. “Speaking generally, Slates said there is no lawful avenue to transport commercial marijuana until 2018.”
Slates elaborated, “Let’s say they went through and got all the documentation and it’s 100 percent legal — it’s still illegal because it’s before Jan. 1, 2018.”
The operative term there is “commercial marijuana.” Medical marijuana businesses with local licenses and permits can now legally operate, said a spokesperson for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control.
Old Kai’s attorney, longtime cannabis lawyer Joe Rogoway, is not letting the CHP off the hook. According to the Democrat, Rogoway “issued a letter Dec. 25 to the CHP and several Mendocino County departments, including the Sheriff’s Office and Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, demanding law enforcement preserve the evidence. Rogoway said he spoke with Mendocino County lawyers who said they would try to ensure the evidence is preserved and not destroyed.”
The fallout from the arrest extends beyond the impact to Old Kai. Most of the seized cannabis came from one farm, noted the Democrat, adding “it would be difficult to estimate the monetary value of the crop before it was sold to the manufacturers, which was slated to occur early in 2018. As a distributor, Old Kai takes plant material from farmers and brings it to a warehouse for sorting, with samples sent to a laboratory. Then, Old Kai representatives arrange for the cannabis to be purchased by manufacturers.”
The farmer, Joshua Artman, said the event leaves his future in doubt. “If I lose my crop … my family, what do I tell my wife and kids?” Artman said. “It’s tough. Honestly, I’m not sure what to do. Hopefully some good will come out of this; we can set a precedent and it won’t happen again. But this has massive repercussions for the county of Mendocino.”
Rogoway expressed a similar sentiment to the AP. “This incident highlights the fear that many people have,” he said. “It takes a lot to be a compliant operator. Even if they follow through with the whole process, something bad can happen. This is a perfect example.”