West Hollywood’s Zen pot dispensary moment

zendecision
July 10, 2014

By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California

Faced with a decision to suspend or revoke license allowing the medical marijuana dispensary Zen Healing Collective to operate in West Hollywood, the Business License Commission on Tuesday took a considered approach to seek additional information – mainly with an eye to ensuring that the convicted felon (or his family members) who once ran it have not and do not reap financial benefits from the non-profit.

For Andrew Kramer, everything was coming up pot and roses until he began acting in a criminal fashion.

For Andrew Kramer, everything was coming up pot and roses until he began acting in a criminal fashion.

Still operating at 8464 Santa Monica Boulevard, the supposedly non-profit medical marijuana dispensary is owned by Andrew Kramer, now a 26-count felon.

His guilty plea approved language from the District Attorney’s Office that said he was a primary, “conspirator in a sophisticated criminal enterprise…” who ran “multiple retail marijuana dispensaries, which engaged in violence and intimidation to expand its operations and dissuade competition.”

Mr. Kramer gave up his Sunset Strip dispensary in 2007-9, and because zoning code sets the land-use permanently (or until voted changed by commission or council), the building owners, George and Nansee Lanning, continued to operate the dispensary there.

Mr. Kramer, flush with the Lannings $1 million purchase of the Sunset Shoppe plus a year’s worth of consulting fees and holding a permit to open a dispensary in the city, took over the Zen location in 2009.

A number of crimes cropped up on the Sunset Shoppe’s or the Lanning’s doorstep, literally. The dispensary was firebombed, as was a West Hollywood Lanning house undergoing renovation.

A peek inside a medical marijuana dispensary.

A peek inside a medical marijuana dispensary.

During this time, the Lannings’ Beverly Hills home was set afire twice. On another occasion, four men burst into the Lanning’s Beverly Hills home and struck Mr.  Lanning’s wife, Nansee, in the head with a metal bar, also punching and kicking his son, Justin.

Mr. Kramer admitted directing a crew of criminals that included Ronald Samuel, 40; Rene Johnson, 50; Grace Cox, 49; and Jonathan Livingston, 43. He received a 25 year sentence.

“While the licensee was purporting to operate a marijuana dispensary as permitted under state and local law, he was in fact a conspirator in a sophisticated criminal enterprise involved in the operation of multiple retail marijuana dispensaries, which engaged in violence and intimidation to expand its operations and dissuade competition,” said the staff report, mirroring language contained in the indictment against him.

That expansion included Brazil, where DEA agents believe he was bent on, if not already, farming marijuana there. In addition, the DEA said at the time, “[Mr.] Kramer also directed and/or is involved in the distribution of marijuana to other areas of the United States, including New Jersey, South Carolina, and North Carolina.”

Casting him as a modern marijuana mobster, the FBI and DEA are still following the money trail. DEA Southern California chief  Patrick Kelly says he has financial evidence showing that since 2006 in excess of $2.25 million in marijuana-derived money have been seized from Mr. Kramer by the federal government, including one $1.25 million seizure in 2011.

The location where it all began is also shuttered - because of the legal process, took the city years to get that done, as well.

The location where it all began is also shuttered – because of the legal process, took the city years to get that done, as well.

Mr. Kelly estimated that Mr. Kramer had squirrelled away millions before his arrest, saying, “ As a likely result of multiple monetary seizures by law enforcement during the last several years and his arrest in April 2013 on arson and attempted murder related charges being currently prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, [Mr.] Kramer has taken several measures to hide the existence of his assets with the use of family members, businesses, and in and out of state corporations.”

West Hollywood’s code compliance director, Jeffrey Auble, would like to know much more about the finances of the dispensary before suggesting a course of action.

The commission agreed.

While revocation seems likely, the commission seems to want their decision to be made iron-clad and appeal-proof.

Staff will return to another meeting with the requested information, the evidence that Mr. Kramer and family members do not benefit financially in any way from Zen and a a look at the business’s accounts.

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