This month, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed suit against Lowell Herb Co., along with its CEO David Elias, and co-owner Brett Myers Vapnek, for allegedly engaging “in commercial cannabis activity without a license.” The new suit raises questions about the group’s future, as well as its past contributions to the Original Cannabis Cafe, the first nationally-recognized cannabis consumption restaurant that opened in October in West Hollywood.
Becerra’s accusation against the company that originally launched the nation’s first cannabis restaurant could have wider implications for the emerging hospitality field in the future, but in the immediate there is one big question being asked: Did Lowell Herb Co. change the name of the restaurant (it was formerly called Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Restaurant) to the Original Cannabis Cafe on December 1 in order to prepare for the lawsuit? Eater reached out to Lowell Herb Co., but has not heard back.
Some background on the project: Original Cannabis Cafe debuted on October 1 to national fanfare, particularly within cannabis legalization circles. Patrons lined up for hours for an opportunity to eat chef Andrea Drummer’s non-cannabis food menu, all while smoking cannabis in the consumption lounge area of the same property. The place has been a hit ever since, even as Lowell Herb Co. decided to swap names and announce plans to open other projects in Nevada, instead.
Meanwhile, on December 13, attorneys for the State of California filed their claim stating that Lowell Herb Co.’s warehouse in San Luis Obispo had been improperly selling cannabis without a state license. What’s more WEHOville noted a civil suit from the Californian Department of Food and Agriculture stating a similar charge. A March raid by CDFA and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife seized 17,772 pre-rolled cannabis joints, 7,161 jars of flower, and more than 1,400 pounds of other cannabis products the CFDA alleges were illegally processed in 2018.
The lawsuits have potentially endangered the future of Lowell Herb Co., and could have spelled trouble for the Original Cannabis Cafe as well. In its name-change notice, Lowell characterized its relationship to Original Cannabis Cafe merely as a “partnership” that ended on December 1, 2019,” according to WEHOville.
The same article quoted Lowell’s spokesperson Ami Gan: “Moving forward, the Original Cannabis Cafe will have no affiliation with Lowell Herb Co. due in part to their dispute with the State of California over their alleged unlicensed cannabis activities.” It remains to be seen what will come of Lowell Herb Co.’s plans to open a cafe in Las Vegas, and how the Original Cannabis Cafe will continue to fight back against state and federal legislation, lawsuits, and even neighbor complaints.
UPDATE: Original Cannabis Cafe provided the following statement to Eater:
“When this story was published, The Original Cannabis Cafe is a home to the community and cannabis industry as a whole. The establishment launched with Lowell Herb Co as a sponsor but that partnership ended December 1, 2019 when the business relaunched as Original Cannabis Cafe independent from Lowell Herb Co.
Moving forward, the Original Cannabis Cafe will have no affiliation with Lowell Herb Co. due in part to their dispute with the State of California over their alleged unlicensed cannabis activities.
‘For business reasons our Cannabis Cafe launched with a corporate sponsor but now we are excited to focus on our goal of presenting our diners with as diverse a range as possible of cannabis from small independent growers and entrepreneurs,’ said Executive Chef and Partner, Andrea Drummer. The Cannabis Cafe won their historic license as a group of independent partners. Since inception, the cafe has been owned and operated independently by Executive Chef Andrea Drummer and social activist Renee Nahum with the help of 710 Labs, Famous Farms, Mark and Jonnie Houston of Houston Hospitality, Restauranteur Rich Brenner, Cannabis Entrepreneur Courtney Zalewski, Political Activist Sarah Dale and others.
The Original Cannabis Cafe is looking forward to 2020 and continues to welcome neighbors and guests through its doors.