Cannabis Cartel: Weeding out Local Farmers
Mercy Wellness opened the first and only cannabis consumption lounge within the County of Sonoma
By Adina Flores, May 8, 2023
As of December 2022, Santa Rosa-based Sonoma Lab Works has officially closed their doors. Just before Christmas, employees were laid off with virtually no notice. According to Green Market Report, “the lab’s owner, businessman Darius Anderson, could not immediately be reached for comment”. In recent weeks, Mr. Anderson has been frequently referenced in The California Globe with a tight knit bond involving Governor Gavin Newsom. Kenwood Investments, owned by Mr. Anderson is the parent company to Sonoma Lab Works. Other projects in the portfolio have included Treasure Island which was considered a specter of conflict of interest, as referenced in SF Gate. Kenwood Investments also houses Sonoma Media Investments, the major media source covering the North Bay. When referring the cannabis industry, the Sonoma County news coverage by the aforementioned sources has been continually biased while omitting key facts.
Per the LinkedIn profile, “Sonoma Lab Works started in 2014 as part of CannaCraft. In 2018, it was taken over by a new owner to be compliant with the state’s transitioning cannabis licensing program.”
“We believe that our origin as an in-house lab to one of Northern California’s largest manufacturers gives us a special insight to both our clients’ needs for timely and consistent turn around times, and the importance of R&D testing in product development”.
Cannacraft possesses a grandeur variety of brands under their umbrella:
- Farmer and the Felon
- Care By Design
- Hi-Fi Sessions
- Humboldt Terp Council, etc.
Darius Anderson’s brother, Mr. Kirk Anderson, happened to be the Chief Operations Office of Cannacraft from 2016-2018. It is uncommon to operate a facility which conducts both the manufacturing and licensing of cannabis products under one roof. As of May, 2022, the County of Sonoma has selected Ms. Kathy Parnell as the new Assistant Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector. This was curious since she was the former Vice President, Treasurer to CannaCraft. The smaller cannabis farmers and retailers who have been denied permits and/or product licensing may be concerned about these overlapping connections.
According to the Neighborhood Coalition Sonoma County, “Sonoma County has succeeded in rapidly accelerating cannabis permitting by issuing ministerial Zoning Permits (ZP), cannabis permits that violate Sonoma County’s cannabis ordinance. Instead of benefiting small family farmers, purportedly the group Sonoma County Supervisors want to encourage, the County’s actions have in its place benefitted large cannabis operators such as CannaCraft and SPARC“.
“CannaCraft and SPARC, large corporate cannabis operators, are two examples of egregious violators of state and local laws. CannaCraft and SPARC have obtained multiple large scale permits under different LLCs and corporate names, which all are directly connected to their businesses. These issued permits violate both County regulations prohibiting more than one acre of cannabis cultivation per person, and the prohibition against ministerial permits for more than 10,000 square feet of outdoor cultivation on any one parcel.”
There were 63 ministerial cannabis permits Sonoma County issued in 2021 (through August 28, 2021). Of those permits, 28 of the cannabis permits were pulled by CannaCraft related business entities.
Despite negative feedback from the stakeholders, the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors has repeatedly referred to SPARC/Cannacraft as consultants.
Robert Jacob is the former Mayor of the City of Sebastopol and former CEO of SPARC Dispensaries. As recently published in The Washington Examiner, “the former mayor of a Northern California city will serve seven years in prison for sex crimes committed with a young boy he met on the dating app Grindr.”
“Robert Jacob, 45, agreed to the sentence in a plea bargain last week on multiple charges of sexual assault that included penetration with a foreign object. The plea came as a jury trial was scheduled to begin. Jacob, who owns a marijuana dispensary business, paid the boy $75 for each in-person sexual encounter.”
Erich Pearson, current CEO and Chairman of Sparc also holds a questionable past. Per Mr. Pearson’s candidate statement to the National Cannabis Industry Association, “I recruited the founder of Peace in Medicine, now Sebastopol Mayor Robert Jacob, to bring SPARC to the next level.”
As referenced in SF Weekly, Mr. Pearson was arrested in 2011 with multiple felony charges due to operating illegal marijuana grow burns within the County of Sonoma.
While just a hop, skip and jump away from the City of Sebastopol, there are several conflicts of interest present in relation to Cloverdale Unified School District Board Trustee Preston Addison, and the cannabis sector.
From 2018 – 2019, Mr. Addison was involved with voting on several School Board motions pertaining to manufacturing, testing, storage, distribution, etc. of cannabis. According to the Board Minutes from 12.12.2018:
“Trustee Addison commented about being the spokesperson for the Board during the cannabis issue. He reported the Board was found not to have any Brown Act or Fair Political Practices violations. He also commented there have been no findings of Conflict of Interest for any Board members and reported feeling this matter is closed and he will not further discuss. He reported attending a cannabis workshop at the CSBA conference and that all cities across the state are going through the ordinance issues.”
Trustee Addison failed to abstain from the following motion, and voted in support:
“Consideration of Discussion and Approval of Revisions to Resolution 218-16 to Include Language Stating ‘Whereas Business Licensers for Commercial Cannabis Includes Commercial Cannabis Microbusiness Licenses for Manufacturing, Testing, Storage, Distribution, and Delivery.’ Per page 20 of the October 9, 2018 Cloverdale City Council Packet, ‘since there are some questions regarding the ownership of The Ice House, the building is owned by Bendan LLC, and managed by Skuld, LLC. Old River Road Inc is a tenant of Skuld, LLC.’”
According to the December 12, 2018 Cloverdale Unified School District Board Meeting minutes:
“Jon Lambert, community member, reported he had concerns with the distance between Jefferson School and the Ice House building. He reported the business in the Ice House is cannabis related and asked the Board to look into it further. Kris Beylikjian, community member, reported concerns that there is not a 600-foot setback between Jefferson School to the Ice House location.”
Preston Addison owns Skuld, LLC as indicated in the corporate filing with the California Secretary of State. Old River Road, Inc. is dba Garden Society, owned by Ms. Erin Gore, sister-in-law of Board Supervisor James Gore. Per numerous public complaints, Ms. Gore did not appear to possess the proper licensing to operate her cannabis facility, nor did she meet the appropriate facility requirements to manufacture on site.
The registered agents for Old River Road have included both Erin Gore and Supervisor Gore’s brother-in-law, Jake McKee. Mr. McKee was previously appointed to the County of Sonoma Fish and Wildlife Commission by his own brother-in-law, James Gore. While serving on the commission, he did not disclose that he is a partner to Wayfinder LLC. Wayfinder is a California land use consulting company. Their major projects include: cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and retail applications.
The Commission oversees matters including cannabis drone surveillance, and protecting the natural habitat which could essentially be used to create bias when approving permits or taking enforcement action. A multitude of individuals from the County of Sonoma have come forth regarding extortion and illegal practices within the permitting department, yet the County has refused to take action on this matter.
Tyra Harrington, head of code enforcement for Permit Sonoma, has repeatedly given approval for Mr. Mckee’s requests. Just last fall, the City of Santa Rosa Code Enforcement Officer, Kelley Aboudara was arrested for extortion. Oddly enough, Ms. Aboudara previously shared the same residential address as Ms. Virginia Rahmn, Sonoma County Supervisor Gore’s grandmother. The media sources owned by Mr. Anderson refused to cover this story despite numerous requests from the people. Ms. Harrington has been at the epicenter of the public’s complaints, as it appears that the County is hand selecting who receives permits based on their personal network and ulterior motives.
Mr. Mckee’s consulting firm, Wayfinder LLC, has been working hand in hand with 421 Group, national cannabis consultancy, founded by Former Sebastopol Mayor Craig Litwin. Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) Board President Herman Hernandez is also a Partner to 421 Group which he omitted from his statement of economic interest for all years. As current Board President of SCOE, he also omitted the fact that he was the Former Campaign Director for Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and State Senator Mike McGuire while serving simultaneously on the Board.
421 Group has advocated in support of Garden Society as documented in previous Cloverdale City Council minutes. 421 Group also holds Mercy Wellness as a client, owned by Brandon Levine. Last year, Mercy opened the first and only cannabis consumption lounge within the County of Sonoma.
Questions have arisen as to how a consumption lounge was considered legal, as no other cannabis clubs in the surrounding area have been afforded this opportunity. Mercy Wellness and associated individuals are currently under investigation with the California Cannabis Control Bureau (ENF-23-0000658-COMP), and the case has not yet reached a resolution. Mr. Mckee (COM: 2023-00044) and Mr. Hernandez (COM: 2023-00270) are currently under investigation with the Fair Political Practices Commission due to their financial omissions from their statements of economic interest.
Adina Flores is a biracial civil rights activist, investigative journalist, advocate for natural wellness and former government employee based out of the SF Bay Area. By means of satire and hard data, Ms. Flores is inspired to bring transparency in politics to the people.