Pot Predator

Emiel Kandi embarrasses the medical-marijuana movement.

As portrayed in the big Seattle Times exposé on Sunday, Emiel Kandi is the worst kind of predatory lender, someone who seizes upon borrowers' desperation to charge exorbitant rates and cheat people out of their homes. He also, as noted at the end of the Times piece, has opened a medical-marijuana "dispensary." In fact, as several people tell the Weekly, he has quickly become an active, vocal—and now perhaps embarrassing—member of the movement. Though he calls himself "a wolf" in the Times story, his own business is called COBRA Medical Group. And when Tacoma officials threatened to shut down all the city's dispensaries last month, Kandi sent out a call to arms. "We will raise an army," he wrote in the three-page document, threatening to "lay a political siege" to the city's "arbitrary dictatorship." Tacoma officials had maintained that dispensaries—which sell marijuana to multiple patients—are illegal under the state's medical-marijuana law, but have since backed down. The city council is now awaiting the coming state legislative session, where at least one bill will propose that dispensaries be legalized. On the marijuana circuit, Kandi maintains the flashy profile depicted in the Times story. At a meeting of marijuana activists in September to discuss a bill proposed by Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), "he was wearing a three-piece, pinstriped suit," recalls Alison Holcomb, director of the state ACLU's drug-policy program. He was also talking up an alternative bill he had drafted. Holcomb says the proposal Kandi laid out would allow dispensaries to be loosely regulated, for-profit enterprises, whereas Kohl-Welles' bill would have them be nonprofits regulated by the state Department of Health. "The impression I got is that he is more interested in making dispensaries a profitable business . . . than in making sure patients are safe and protected," says Holcomb. That shouldn't exactly come as a surprise to anyone who has read about his work in the lending business. And to some observers, it's downright refreshing. Kandi is part of a new generation of dispensary owners who are "focused on the money and less on the bulllshit and fighting each other" that have derailed those who came before them, says Ben Livingston, a board member of the Cannabis Defense Coalition, a medical-marijuana education and advocacy group. Kandi is also one of about 20 members of another new trade group called the Washington Cannabis Association, according to group spokesperson (and former Seattle Weekly writer) Philip Dawdy, who says his group has no judgment on Kandi's lending career. (Kandi himself could not be reached for comment.) But legislators and the people who vote for them surely will pass judgment, and they might just decide that any industry represented by this kind of unsavory character should not be legitimized. "It's a risk," Holcomb says. She prefers to think that Kandi will instead illustrate just why it's so important to regulate the industry, as Kohl-Welles is proposing. In a comment responding to this post on The Daily Weekly, Ezra Eickmeyer, a lobbyist and political director for Dawdy's group, wrote: "This is really a non-story. Emiel is a member of WCA but is not a representative of the group. I can tell you that he will not have any further public presence with the issue, nor is he a spokesperson . . . Emiel has provided some valuable input for all of his public craziness, but is NOT leading the ship."

 
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