Cat Packer stepped down from her role as executive director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR), home to one of the largest, most challenging cannabis markets in the world. It is with gratitude that we thank her for her service as the city’s first “cannabis czar.”
Packer served nearly five years, as the first person to assume the role of executive director of the DCR. The department is responsible for administering the cannabis licensing and regulatory program established by the Los Angeles City Council.
DCR processes all applications for thousands of cannabis licenses in the City of Los Angeles, makes licensing decisions or licensing recommendations to the Cannabis Regulation Commission and regulates the operations of licensed cannabis businesses in the city.
Under the title, Packer advised Los Angeles officials on cannabis law, policy and regulation, and oversaw the city’s licensed commercial cannabis market. It was a challenging position for anyone to tackle. Over 1,200 business licenses were granted with Packer at the helm.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti first announced her departure on Twitter. “Under Cat’s leadership, DCR issued over 1,200 licenses, with over 350 granted to Social Equity applicants,” Garcetti wrote in a tweet. “DCR has generated over $320M in tax revenue since 2018. Cat’s tenure at DCR made the department a national model in establishing equitable cannabis policy and implementation.”
Packer wrote a resignation announcement on March 14, outlining some of her accomplishments during her tenure as executive director. “I am confident that the City will continue to deepen its commitment to address cannabis policy reforms and the disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs, and to improve upon existing efforts that make cannabis public policy more responsible and equitable,” Packer wrote. “Furthermore, I trust that DCR will continue to keep equity at the center of its mission, and expand and improve cannabis programs and services.”
Ironing Out Licensing Hurdles
Garcetti appointed Packer to the position in August 2017, after city voters approved the local regulation and taxation of adult-use cannabis earlier that year.
Packer faced overwhelming odds and pressure during her reign, with challenges that could be expected in America’s second-largest city. Licensing processes were under constant fire. In 2020, for instance, cannabis business license applicants in Los Angeles sued the city, claiming the process for applying for a license is flawed.
A lawsuit was filed by the Social Equity Owners and Workers Association—demanding that the city vet all applications based on a first-come-first-served basis or come up with a new system that is more equal and transparent.
Virgil Grant, co-founder of the California Minority Alliance, said Packer is the “fall person” who took the blame for various problems from the get-go, according to The EUR/Electronic Urban Report, while others cited other issues.
“It took a considerable amount of time for us to get the resources, whether it be staff or otherwise, to put our licensing program forward,” Packer told High Times last July. Packer’s staff was eventually tripled to meet the growing needs. As of last year, her team grew from a tiny five-person staff to a more reasonable 15-person staff.
Initially, Packer sought out to become a civil rights attorney focusing on LGBTQ rights. But things changed in 2012 when Colorado and Washington legalized adult-use cannabis. While aware of the issue, she didn’t think critically about the topic for a few more years.
But then in 2015, her final year in law school, Cat Packer began taking courses on how the law impacted everyday people. Once she was introduced to The New Jim Crow by civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, a professor at the university, she said her eyes were opened. She agreed that nothing had contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs.
In 2016, while working with Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, Packer campaigned for Proposition 64 with the Roll Up the Vote party with The Game and DJ Nitrane. It was around that time that High Times received emails from her and her campaign, urging volunteers to make calls to voters and get to work.
In the meantime, Michelle Garakian, assistant executive director of the Department of Cannabis Regulation, has been appointed interim executive director. Garakian was also a frequent correspondent with cannabis-related media.
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.