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How the campaign to legalize retail cannabis in the South Bay turned into a ‘knife battle’

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Political efforts to legalize retail cannabis dispensaries in Four Beach Cities in South Bay It turned into what one consultant referred to as a “knife fight” mired in personal attacks, infighting, and a bitter recall attempt for a city councilman.

At the center of the controversy is Elliot Lewis, CEO of Catalyst Cannabis Co. , who described herself as a “scraper” is not shy about his tendency to respond with verbal punches when challenged. His critics blame his aggressive style – which includes posting expletive-laden shutdowns on Instagram – for the resulting fierce opposition from local officials. And they say his bold personality drove his early supporters to shy away from the initiatives now.

One of the petitions filed in El Segundo collapsed in part due to infighting.

Lewis admits that his character may have played a role in the escalation, saying he probably uses too few “f-bombs,” but says that’s just his character.

“I really think we’re the good guys being inappropriately labeled the bad guys because of our style,” Lewis said.

He claims that “bad intelligence” led his side to believe that their cannabis initiatives would be welcomed by elected officials in El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach. It’s been a tried-and-true formula that has worked elsewhere, and voters in beach towns have been strong supporters of Proposition 64, the 2016 measure to legalize cannabis in California.

Elliot Lewis of Catalyst Cannabis Co. (Credit: Nathan Avila)

At best, a favorable city council—or at least one who sees the writing on the wall—could choose to adopt an approved initiative as soon as it is presented rather than sending the case to voters. This is what happened in Almonte When Lewis and Catalyst introduced a voting initiative there. Despite similar accusations of bullying, Louis and his allies It ended up being arrested A large portion of the licenses too, including one that was later granted by a judge due to errors in the selection process.

“Our goal is not to go to the ballot, or if we’re going to the ballot, it’s not so controversial,” Lewis said.

If this strategy had worked, it would have saved a lot of time and money for its supporters; They have independently spent nearly $1 million together on initiatives and recalls, according to campaign filings.

But disagreement would be an understatement to describe the fight now. Each of the beach towns targeted by Catalyst has either presented their own cities polling measurement – Including one to follow total ban In Manhattan Beach – or separate laws were introduced to regulate cannabis use in the hope of pleasing voters.

Redondo has taken the extra step of setting up a cannabis initiative and calling one of its board members funded by Catalyst on Special poll on October 19, a move that has raised allegations that officials are deliberately trying to limit the number and type of voters who will turn out. The other three cities will go before the voters in November, including A A city-supported initiative Presented in opposition in El Segundo.

How did the fight start?

Efforts to bring recreational cannabis dispensaries to the South Bay began at least three years ago. Adam Spiker, a consultant with Spiker Rendon, said his company had another person lined up to fund the batch in 2019 before it collapsed. Subsequently, Spaker and Manhattan Beach Council member Richard Montgomery met with South Bay officials throughout 2021 to gauge how the initiatives were being received, the two men said in separate interviews.

Catalyst was asked to join a collaboration that included the High Times and Dub Brothers once it “felt” the timing was right to give a presentation, according to Spiker. The collection was kept small to avoid disputes over the limited number of licenses available in each city. Their targets originally included Hawthorne and Torrance as well.

The High Times later left the group, but Spaker said he couldn’t reveal the reason.

Catalyst has dispensaries across California and has been the driving force behind similar initiatives in a dozen cities, including seven different initiatives set to appear on ballots this election season alone.

Spiker, once an ally of Catalyst, is now calling working with the Catalyst CEO one of his “biggest regrets”.

“When all the enthusiasm and all eyes were placed on Elliot, he doubled and tripled on his Weed for the People character and these insulting videos,” said Spipper.

Rifaat Spaker’s aunt, Sandra Spaker, and Later retreated The initiative is led by a catalyst in El Segundo. Spaker said she is out of state and is no longer eligible to serve as the petitioner. He said his aunt and other family members weren’t happy with the publicity surrounding the matter either.

“They didn’t want to be involved, which created a lot of panic in our family,” said Spaker, who denies asking them to back off.

Despite his fear, Spiker believes in the politics behind Catalyst-backed initiatives, which he describes as following industry best practices.

“If they vote to reject it, in my opinion, that would be a complete byproduct of Elliott and not politics,” he said.

what happened

Supporters refer to the start of the war and their first appearance at a November 2021 city council meeting in Redondo Beach as “The Red Wedding” – a reference to the “Game of Thrones” episode involving shocking, bloody betrayal.

“We rode anticipating a bar tape and we didn’t get it,” said Barry Walker, co-founder of Dub Brothers and Tradecraft Farms, the other company that funds the effort along with Catalyst. “I would say this is where I headed south.”

In hindsight, Walker regrets how personal the battle is, though he said he has no regrets about his partnership with Catalyst or his involvement in the initiatives. He said the two sides could have handled the differences better.

“We’ve done this before, there was smoke and explosions,” Walker said. “It’s not always easy at first, but once everything is done, the licensing process is over and we start generating revenue, we are everyone’s best friend.”

Lewis blames false expectations on Spiker.

Spiker helped Catalyst appear before the board and claimed to have warned the company to expect resistance based on discussions at the previous Redondo meeting. However, he said, no one could have foreseen the snowball effect that eventually poisoned the efforts in nearby cities as well.

The two sides then parted ways, although each said they broke off the arrangement.

Red wedding

A recording of the Redondo Beach Board meeting indicates that attorney Damian Martin, author of the Four Initiatives and Lewis’ frequent partner, was not expecting a political death squad. Martin offered to guide board members through each component of the initiatives and answer any questions. Instead, he was given a 15-minute deadline – half of what he said he needed – and faced immediate accusations that the company’s signature collectors were misleading residents.

Council members, who unanimously mocked the initiative, pointed to inflammatory videos posted by Lewis and Catalyst Date From deposit Lawsuits Against cities that refused to grant them a cannabis license.

“We’re really trying to make peace with this and I hope you take it honestly, because that’s the point,” Martin said at one point.

Council member Christian Horvath replied: “I’ve also seen videos of your partner and he doesn’t seem to come to terms with any jurisdiction that doesn’t agree with you 100%.”

Martin clearly became more and more frustrated as the meeting went on and his sometimes abrasive attempts to try to regain control only led to more fire.

“It’s not going well, is it?” asked Councilman Todd Lowenstein.

Both sides considered the meeting an ambush. Council members claimed that they were surprised by the files and wondered why no one had consulted them beforehand.

“We’ve relied on a third party to do this, we should know better now,” Lewis said in an interview. “There wasn’t really enough involvement, I’ll take full responsibility for that.”

According to Lewis, offers to meet after the event went nowhere and everyone retreated to their corners.

Redondo Beach City Council is considering how to proceed with the impeachment vote for Councilman Zane Obagi Jr. now that supporters of the effort have collected enough signatures from city voters.  (politeness)
Redondo Beach Council member Zen Obagi Jr. faces an impeachment election on October 19. (Courtesy)

The attacks focused on the council member

Lewis next attacked, targeting Redondo Beach Council member Zen Obagi. A Christmas email last year put Obagi’s face on “The Grinch” and sparked allegations against him by the state bar.

In a recent Instagram post, Lewis, tattooed and shirtless, referred to Obagi as a “monotonous idiot.” Another accused him of bidding for special interests in southern Redondo and likened it to a felatio.

“Obaji is not the first person to taste some freedom of speech,” Lewis said in an interview.

He’s facing Obagi now try to summon Fully funded by The Lewis Companies. Campaign filings show that South Cord Holdings LLC, the parent company of Catalyst, has spent $356,000 so far on recall efforts.

Obagi, a newcomer who won his seat by just 33 votes nearly a year ago, vehemently opposed the initiatives during the “Red Wedding” meeting in November, accusing Martin of adapting the registration system in favor of Catalyst and adding language to allow anyone to sue for a license if the city refused to apply it.

Lewis said there’s no denying that the initiatives give Catalyst some advantages, but there’s no guarantee. He acknowledged that Catalyst likely benefits from upfront knowledge of eligible retail properties and from the requirements of high business standards.

“I would be a moron if I spent a huge amount of money on the initiative and didn’t build some useful things for us,” he said.

He added that all provisions, including one regarding compensating cities for any suits challenging licensing decisions, are still good for local agencies and workers. The Democratic Party of Los Angeles County Supports all three Catalyst initiatives.

Obagi, an attorney, has previously successfully sued Lewis on behalf of a former tenant and believes Lewis is bitter about it.

“He wants to prove to every town he goes to that you don’t stand up to a catalyst when they come to your town,” Obagi said. “I think that’s the main message he’s trying to achieve here – that he can summon any council member he chooses.”

Lewis expresses that he initially went after Obagi to respond to how the meeting was going, but after sending the Grinch mail, others expressed their dissatisfaction with the new councilman and Lewis saw an opportunity to bring down someone he described as a hypocrite.

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