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Duke of Pico: From Illegal Pot Dealer to Corporate Cannabis CEO

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

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After thirty years of selling cannabis, Oliver Summers has weighed out bags of marijuana in people's apartments, opened one of the first Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries, and reached the boardroom as a CEO of a publicly traded cannabis company.


Summers has spoken at a variety of events, including Cannagather NY, High Life LA, and California NORML. He has been quoted in a number of national magazines and other publications, including Forbes, High Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

 

Duke of Pico: From Illegal Pot Dealer to Corporate Cannabis CEO

In late 2007, I began writing a book about what it was like to operate one of the first cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles. It was simply intended to chronicle my adventures during the one year that I operated as a consumption lounge in the city.

Oliver Summers protests the DEA
Oliver Summers protests the DEA

I also wanted to tell the stories of the brave entrepreneurs who started retail cannabis businesses with no expectations—besides it all possibly falling apart at any moment. I wanted to document how we went through both the good days and the bad days together (including my shop being shut down).


Living at the Dispensary

Duke of Pico: From Illegal Pot Dealer to Corporate Cannabis CEO. For the following eight years, I practically lived at my dispensary on Melrose Avenue where our community struggled with dozens of DEA raids, good friends being arrested by the feds, violent robberies, burglaries, and untold financial hurdles.


The cannabis story just kept going and I continued writing about all of our challenges. I documented how my friends and I created the cannabis advocacy groups that inevitably faced down the City Council, multiple City Attorneys, and even the LAPD.


"My career as a television cameraman in Hollywood slowly diminished until it culminated with me being fired from the Howard Stern Show in 2009."

My legitimate career as a television cameraman in Hollywood slowly diminished with each year running dispensaries until it finally culminated with me being fired from the Howard Stern Show in 2009. I had given two celebrities goodie bags from my dispensary (on behalf of a mutual friend), for which I was terminated for inappropriate behavior.


Extremely concerned with my future and well-being, my closest friends gave me an intervention for running a dispensary. I was told if I continued, my future would be "jail or death."

Summer's medical cannabis dispensary in LA
Summer's medical cannabis dispensary in LA

Yet, the commitment to the fact that I was doing the right thing made my determination so much stronger. Working with sick people—and seeing the effects that cannabis had on them—solidified it. When you have a widow thank you for making their significant other's final days bearable, it becomes impossible to just walk away.


Proposition 64 in California

Duke of Pico: From Illegal Pot Dealer to Corporate Cannabis CEO. As time progressed, the story took a turn as Proposition 64 came about in California. The "Tax and Regulate" bill was being sold as legalization, which caused the people of the state to go into a frenzy.


Big business moved in quickly and were making any deal they could with anybody they could find. My shop on Melrose was sold to some guys who had just left Goldman Sachs to make their fortunes in cannabis. However, they wound up selling the business a year later.


"When you have a widow thank you for making their significant other's final days bearable, it becomes impossible to just walk away."

Massive purchases ensued across the country and the corporate cannabis model became the new normal. During that transition, I was just running my small mom-and-pop dispensary in the San Fernando Valley. Eventually, I was swept up and hired by a publicly traded company that had just entered into the cannabis fray.


After the honeymoon phase, the chaos of corporate life became abundant and layoffs occurred across the company. The turnover was so immense that, at one point, I was the defacto CEO running the day-to-day operations.

Summers speaks to union workers in LA
Summers speaks to union workers in LA

Not surprisingly, that company exited the cannabis business and I switched to a new micro business. There I found myself involved with a whole new set of corporate insanity born out of this emerging industry. The stories kept accumulating.


I continued documenting everything as best as possible. After many years, I finally managed to collect the stories into a book. I take the reader with me from the days of being an illegal pot dealer through the evolution into the huge business that cannabis is today.


Oliver Summers

 
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