As the green rush shifts to high gear in California in anticipation of recreational marijuana sales that are scheduled to launch Jan. 1, the pool of celebrities diving into the business is getting crowded.
The latest to back a cannabis product line is television personality Montel Williams. However, his elixirs, launched in Southern California this week under the name LenitivLabs, don't come in packages with Williams' name on them. And he's no newcomer to the marijuana game.
Williams has supported legalization, decriminalization and the medical use of pot for nearly two decades, thanks to his own multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis in 1999. His enthusiasm for the drug has been so high-profile that he was the subject of a skit performed by Jordan Peele on the defunct Fox show Mad TV.
This week, he made the rounds with area reporters and visited dispensaries to promote the firm he founded, Lenitiv Scientific LLC. He's not just another weed seller looking to profit off of California legalization, he says. The company, based in the Bay Area, is also opening a Los Angeles office.
"Montel is just one of a long and growing list of celebrities that are producing branded lines. Snoop Dogg, the Marley family, Melissa Ethridge, Willie Nelson and Whoopi Goldberg were just some of the earliest movers in an increasingly crowded market," John Kagia, executive vice president of pot business analysis firm New Frontier Data, said via email. "While none of these are solely responsible for the mainstreaming of legal cannabis, their endorsements as affiliation with cannabis will play an important role in accelerating public acceptance of legal cannabis."
Williams says his products will nonetheless stand out.
"A lot of people are jumping into the green rush and want to make as much cash as fast as they can," Williams says. "I am a person who helped create this green rush. But I want to sell medication. You want to buy some Bob Marley or some O.G. Kush — go ahead. If you want to pick up something for your aunt who has epilepsy, get something produced with the highest standards."
The line, available at select local dispensaries, includes drink "shots" and cannabinoid oils of varying potency. He explained, for example, that some of the oils were offered in combinations that include 70 percent THC, the active, high-creating ingredient in marijuana, and 30 percent CBD, a cannabinoid claimed by some to be effective in treating ailments such as seizures and post-traumatic stress disorder. Customers can opt for the opposite ratio so that they're getting more of the non-psychotropic CBD. "You can buffer down some of that psychotropic effect," Williams says.
"It's packaged so people understand what's in it," he says. "I couldn't dump a baggie into a bowl — I can't do that. I want a product for people like me."
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Lenitiv's advisory board has attracted legit players, including former CIA director R. James Woolsey, retired vice admiral Edward M. Straw, former congressman Wilbert Tauzin and ex-NFL player Marvin Washington.
Los Angeles–area cannabis entrepreneur Bonita "Bo" Money has presented Williams at a few of her Women Abuv Ground mixers and discussions, where she encourages fellow minority women to get into the legal cannabis business. People of color have long been disproportionately prosecuted for marijuana crimes in the past, so proponents of legalization and decriminalization have promised that legit marijuana enterprises would be more open to minorities.
"Because he's so well-respected, it's important that he supports the diversity movement," Money says. "And he does. He's crucial to our movement."
Williams says he, Money and Washington "have been working together to make sure that more minorities enter this space. We need to make it happen."