One of the first people in Los Angeles County expected to receive bona fide licenses for growing and manufacturing marijuana products is a Latina woman. That's important because when voters legalized recreational marijuana in November, they were pitched the story of minorities excessively criminalized by black-market drug sales but often shut out of the legalized cannabis revolution. Proposition 64 would open the "green rush" to people of color, backers argued.
Forty applicants vied for permits in Lynwood, which, along with Maywood, was one of the first cities in Los Angeles County to begin in earnest a licensing process designed to make the legal cannabis trade active by the time the recreational pot business is allowed to proceed under Proposition 64 on Jan. 1.
Cali Premium Produce CEO Priscilla Vilchis said via email, "I am very proud to be on the forefront of America's newest multibillion-dollar industry. I managed to accomplish something that is very difficult by receiving two medical cannabis licenses in Nevada and now preliminary approval for adult-use cannabis licenses in Lynwood."
"One of my goals is to educate the public about the benefits of cannabis and, as a Latina, I am especially excited to begin outreach efforts with my Hispanic community," she said.
The Lynwood City Council recently gave preliminary approval to 13 marijuana cultivation and production applicants. Vilchis received the green light for two licenses — for cultivation and manufacturing. Final approval was expected next month.
"It's a big step forward for diversity," said cannabis entrepreneur Bonita "Bo" Money, founder of Women Abuv Ground, a group dedicated to educating and supporting fellow women of color who hope to break into the business. "This is something we've been fighting for for a long time."
Because the Southeastern city is one of the local pioneers in licensing — the initial approvals are for medical marijuana concerns that are likely to be "grandfathered" in to recreational entities — the jurisdiction has become a hot spot for real estate dedicated to legal cannabis uses. Marijuana real estate firm CalCann Holdings is involved in a 47,500-square-foot, pot-centric facility in Lynwood that will be home to at least one licensee, says attorney and CalCann principal Aaron Herzberg. Real estate in the area "is starting to go nuts" as a result of the relatively early licensing, he says.
With the spotlight on southeast L.A. cities such as Lynwood and Maywood, "I think it's very important that there be diversity," says Herzberg, who was involved last year in pushing Lynwood to get into the legal cannabis arena. "Lynwood is truly on the forefront of licensing."
Vilchis believes Cali Premium Produce can earn $25 million in a year. Her applications cost between $150,000 and $200,000 total, she said. And her 11,000-square-foot facility in Lynwood could cost nearly $3 million to develop. Vilchis Lynwood applications included documentation of $12 million in liquid assets. Her company scored two licenses in Nevada in 2014, so she's apparently been churning out weed revenue.
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"The applicant’s selection is contingent on passing comprehensive background checks and demonstrating to the city’s satisfaction the applicant’s financial stability," according to a Lynwood document on the process. "The approach adopted by the city of Lynwood is the smart and fair way to ensure that all in the cannabis industry are playing by the same set of rules while ensuring the safety of our residents," Mayor Maria Santillan Beas said in a statement.
Vilchis' spokeswoman said she hopes to bring one of her Nevada marijuana brands, Queen of the Desert, to California as well. But Vilchis is not only confronting a white boys' club in local marijuana sales, she's battling her community's perception of pot as a loser's drug.
"Before entering this industry I had a long discussion with my parents, who are traditionally more conservative, and I'm happy to say they are in full support of my business goals and mission to promote cannabis as an alternative to opioids," she said. "Being a pioneer in this space also helps pave a path for other women and minorities to get involved."