L.A. marijuana delivery lawsuit could be flashpoint among industry stakeholders

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(This story has been updated with a comment from Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition.)

The most recent legal fight facing Los Angeles’ marijuana licensing process is a lawsuit seeking to overturn a new requirement that all delivery permits go only to qualified social equity applicants.

The legal action has divided the social equity community.

The plaintiffs in the case – primarily Zach Pitts, who began delivering cannabis in L.A. in 2011 – say they have no desire to usurp social equity licenses.

Rather, Pitts said his goal is to return to the original plan from 2017 of a 2-to-1 ratio of social equity licenses to regular permits because, as the city law stands, he won’t be eligible for a delivery permit until 2025.

Pitts was joined in the suit by the Southern California Coalition and the California Cannabis Couriers Association.

Kika Keith, a Black woman who is one of 200 social equity retail license recipients in L.A., doesn’t have an issue with the involvement of Pitts and the Couriers Association in the suit, saying it’s only natural the trade association would fight for a stake in the L.A. market.

But she took exception with the SCC’s role as a plaintiff because the trade group was an initial proponent of social equity in Los Angeles. Keith called the association’s involvement “offensive.”

“The one time we have a market advantage, they file a lawsuit?” Keith said of the SCC. “To me, that’s a conflict and a contradiction of what they originally stood for.”

Not everyone in the social equity community feels the same, however.

Virgil Grant, who is Black and a co-founder of both the SCC and the California Minority Alliance, said he has no such issue with the lawsuit.

Grants argues it’s only fair to award licenses to operators such as Pitts, who relocated outside the city after the 2017 ordinance took effect and has been awaiting an opportunity to reenter the market legally.

Grant noted that the first round of business permits in L.A. went to so-called “legacy operators” like him who were in operation for years before the establishment of the city’s current regulatory system.

“The legacy operators should have their path to licensure in this program a lot quicker. Because they’ve been around, they’ve been operating,” Grant said. “It’s only fair.”

The SCC’s executive director, Adam Spiker, wrote in a statement Friday that he regrets if Keith or others were offended but believes the industry should focus its frustration on “government’s actions” that have erected barriers to the city’s social equity program.

“The best friend to the social equity program is the advice, mentorship and support of legacy operators that have struggled through many years of trying to survive in an unregulated” market, Spiker wrote.