The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Cannabis Scandal in Sonoma

There are good people doing good things in this industry. In the 30+ years spent advocating for medicinal marijuana, I have been fortunate to work with many right-minded, compassionate, ethical human beings who labor very hard every day to provide relief for those most in need. They include multi-generational craft cultivators, conscientious edible manufactures and honest retailers. There are also very good people who are attorneys and legislators and advocates and activists who have fought for truly fair, equitable access to cannabis.

But, like most industries, the cannabis trade harbors its share of pretenders and opportunists, greedy to exploit any opportunity to make a buck at the expense of vulnerable patients and consumers.

Nor is government exempt from the temptation to profit. From the halls of state capitols, to county and city council chambers, whether it’s Fall River, Mass, or Adelanto, Ca, news stories about corruption and its corrosive effects abound, serving to undermine public trust in government and the industry.

Though it may be arguable that the city of Sonoma has been guilty of some degree of corruption around money and power in its management of the dispensary issue, it has most certainly succumbed to a corruption of conscience.

Regarding money and corruption, let’s not forget the conflict-of-interest charge alleging that former council member Rachel E Hundley’s spouse may have contracted with Sparc to manage the No on Measure Y campaign – this at the service of Erich Pearson and Amy O’Gorman Jenkins’ desire to dominate the local cannabis space. Let’s also recall former council member Amy Harrington’s questions around awarding a monopoly to Mr. Pearson and the possibility of backroom manipulations among certain principals to ensure the permit.

But it’s the corruption of conscience in the Sonoma City Council that has been the most disturbing and damaging to optimum access to cannabis for Sonoma’s citizens. For the past year, the city council has acted in bad faith by looking for pretexts to stall the process for a second dispensary. Its out-of-touch tactics have included minimizing the issue and ignoring those who would benefit from competitive pricing, products and services. The council’s pernicious attitude toward reasonableness is difficult to fathom.

Consider the hypocrisy of permitting 30+ wine tasting rooms on and around the Plaza, or the lip service council members pay to the medical benefits of cannabis. Consider, too, the council’s inability and/or unwillingness to become better informed, its denial that the public has any interest in a second outlet, the twisting of facts regarding the current state of the local industry, the questionable campaign contributions, the willingness to be misled by Erich Pearson in order to table the RFP, and Amy O’Gorman Jenkins’ attempt to gaslight SVCG to the realities of the dispensary business while pushing for a delivery ban in cities and counties across California.

These are the ingredients for bad policy. But never mind the fear and loathing in the city council, don’t push too hard, don’t hold people accountable, better to play the game and maybe you’ll get what you want… Who would bet on that as an outcome, given the twenty-year history of cannabis politics in this city? Why should the present iteration of the city council be any different from those of the past that stonewalled the will of the people before finally permitting one single dispensary?

A few have criticized this latest take on cannabis and Sonoma. Regarding the money/corruption reference, I’ve been told it’s “sad” that two years later, I continue to perpetuate something that they feel was made up, that I need to get my facts right. The only fact I stated was that an allegation was made. I did not dive into the details of the story; those are for others to research and read at the Sonoma Index-Tribune.

Others have suggested it is again, “sad”, that not all of us celebrate Sonoma’s new dispensary. Yes, a dispensary in Sonoma is a good thing and after 4 years of lobbying the city council, the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group will take a fair amount of credit for that. Credit, as well, to former city council members who were instrumental in the success.

By all means, please take advantage of the dispensary for your needs, that’s what we fought for. But know also that it comes at a price.

As well-meaning as some on the city council may have been, they also dropped the ball on doing their due diligence on Erich Pearson and ignored the warning signs that the permit process may have become corrupted. The result is we are now saddled with a business owner whose concerns for himself and his bottom line supersede those of Sonoma Valley patients and consumers.

The Sonoma Index-Tribune has expended a lot of digital ink crowing about “Sonoma’s first marijuana dispensary” in articles that amount to promotional journalism, an unfortunate hybrid of hard news and advertising. Think Darius Anderson, Managing Member of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Sonoma Index-Tribune. Darius Anderson is also CEO of Platinum Advisors, a major Sacramento lobbying firm and cannabis power broker for whom Amy O’Gorman Jenkins once worked before forming her own lobbying company that includes sparc as a client.

An sf-ethics-lobbyist disclosure-datasets excel sheet created in 2017 listed Anderson’s Platinum Advisors as a lobbyist for sparc.

So, it appears, at one time or another, a lot of folks have shared the same bed. Whether the sheets are “clean” or not, I could not say.

All of the above is only to illustrate that the history of cannabis in Sonoma is as long and storied as it is indispensible and complex. Though the truths embedded in that history may be inconvenient for some, to ignore the facts diminishes them and weakens our understanding of the how and why.


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