Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Perils of Potpreneurship Redux: Yan Ebyam Arrested

We're still waiting for all the details about this, but apparently a well-known medical marijuana entrepreneur, Yan Ebyam, was arrested by Yuba-Sutter drug enforcement agents in Sacramento on Tuesday, along with eleven others. He's since been released on $150,000 bond.

According to the Orland Press Register, Ebyam was running a massive growing operation in Sacramento and Sutter Counties; the paper reports that 2,168 marijuana plants were seized at the Jopson family farm in Rio Oso, along with 3,305 plants at the Cal-Nevada Wholesale Florist in Sacramento. The Jopsons, a well-respected Sutter County farming family, had switched from tomato to marijuana cultivation in late 2010, with hopes of harvesting a $24 million crop in the first year and retiring on the proceeds. Apparently, the night-time glow of growing lights in the farm's greenhouses attracted the attention of a County deputy, and the scarcity of actual flowers at Cal-Nevada aroused further suspicion; subsequent surveillance flyovers revealed the operation's massive scale. While the Jopson farm claimed to operate as a collective within the scope of Prop 215, it had no members, and investigators have identified a number of bank accounts containing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We wrote about Ebyam last month, and while this news is unfortunate for medical marijuana advocates, it's far from surprising, as Ebyam is hardly the world's most savvy businessman. His first venture, a decade ago, involved buying used computer equipment from bankrupt start-ups in Silicon Valley; it ended in two and a half years in federal prison after a guilty plea for money laundering associated with sales of stolen routers and servers. Three years ago, he re-emerged in Oakland and attempted to start a large pot-growing operation; this effort fell apart after the first crop was destroyed by bugs and Ebyam clashed with a business partner. His next venture, involving large-scale cultivation in a 40,000 square foot Oakland warehouse, made national news, as he hired union workers and as Oakland city officials publicized the facility as part of their plan to issue limited growing permits. Unfortunately, with the publicity came break-ins and theft, leading Ebyam to move into the warehouse to stand guard at night. In addition to losing over $125,000 worth of marijuana to thieves, the city bowed to pressure from federal drug authorities and abandoned their plans to issue permits. So, if anyone was going to clash with his partners and move half his growing operation into a florist shop, and then tip off law enforcement by forgetting to grow flowers there, it would be Ebyam.

Still, it's hard to put all the blame on people like Ebyam, when the regulatory climate for medical marijuana is such a mess. It should be noted, in Ebyam's defense, that he has never tried to grow marijuana for recreational users; his crops have been meant for medical use, which is supposed to be legal in California. Yet, as we've seen in Fresno County and San Jose in recent months, you get arrests like these when cultivation and sale are governed by the "collective, cooperative cultivation projects" language in SB 420 (the law that "clarified" how the state would implement Prop 215). Aside from the fact that the law defies economic reality (it's simply not reasonable to expect the product to be cultivated effectively if it's illegal to profit from doing so), it's so vague as to allow almost unlimited harassment from law enforcement.

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