Multiple sources familiar with the situation said City Council President Herb Wesson has tapped Drug Policy Alliance’s Cat Packer as executive director of L.A.’s forthcoming Cannabis Licensing Commission.
While the five-member commission would have final say on licensing, the executive director position would be the day-to-day driver of policy and operations for the city’s cannabis business oversight body. A draft of the ordinance proposing the Cannabis Licensing Commission would require the executive director post, which would also oversee the commission staff, to be filled by July 1.
A spokeswoman for Wesson did not confirm or deny Packer is the frontrunner for the position. Packer, who works out of the alliance’s Echo Park office as the California policy director, declined to confirm or deny the rumors.
Wesson’s spokeswoman said multiple names had been submitted to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has final say on the executive director appointment if and when the council passes a proposed cannabis regulation ordinance.
Garcetti spokesman George Kivork did not respond to questions about whether the mayor had identified candidates for the commission positions or whether he is reviewing names for the executive director post. However, Kivork did issue a statement saying the mayor is waiting to review the council’s ordinance.
Garcetti has been noticeably absent from any discussion of marijuana policy in the city even though he would control the executive director appointment and three of the five appointments to the Cannabis Licensing Commission, with the council controlling the other two.
The city council is working on establishing a full regulatory framework for both medical and recreational marijuana businesses prompted by the March passage of Measure M. That initiative came in the wake of the state legalizing recreational cannabis through a ballot proposition passed in November. Economic estimates peg the California cannabis market reaching $6.5 billion by 2020.
Packer did say in an interview that whether or not she’s selected to head the city’s cannabis regulation efforts, she would advocate for a permitting system that helps minority business owners gain a foothold in the legal marijuana industry.
“One thing that comes up over and over in meetings and at events is that folks want to see some type of program that acknowledges past injustices committed during the war on drugs,” she said. “Minority communities have experienced a huge amount of harm for conduct that is now not only legal but highly profitable.”
Packer said Los Angeles should look to cities such as Oakland, which has established a social justice-based cannabis licensing system. Licenses there are issued to individuals who were either arrested on a marijuana charge after 1996 or who live in areas that have a historically high number of pot enforcement actions, according to Packer.
While she noted Oakland’s system might not work in Los Angeles because the size of the market here is so much larger, Packer said some sort of program should be established to promote minority cannabis business ownership.
“It’s going to be complicated and imperfect,” she said. “But the city needs to express its commitment to some sort of equity licensing.”
Deals & Dealmakers reporter Henry Meier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @henry_meier.