Montel Williams among D.C. medical marijuana license seekers

August 16, 2011

Montel Williams, the talk show host, actor and pitchman, is part of a nonprofit group seeking licenses from the District to operate a marijuana dispensary and cultivation facilities.

According to D.C. records, the Abatin Wellness Center has expressed preliminary interest in opening medical marijuana businesses in the city. A dispensary by the same name opened this year in Sacramento with Williams as its public face.

Abatin has hired D.C. lawyer Frederick D. Cooke Jr. to shepherd it through the process. Cooke confirmed Tuesday that Williams, who has multiple sclerosis and is a supporter of medicinal cannabis, has a major role in the group. “He is not the managing director or the driving guy,” Cooke said. “But he is certainly at a level more involved than being a face of the organization. He knows a lot about the organization, and he speaks and gets resources. He does stuff that makes the organization go.”

Jonathan Franks, a Los Angeles-based publicist for Williams and Abatin, said, “This is not a spokesman-for-hire deal,”

Cooke said Williams visited the District this year to show his interest in the city and its marijuana program. “We talked to a few people outside the Wilson Building and inside the Wilson Building. We couldn’t lobby,” he said.

The nonprofit Sacramento dispensary seeks to occupy an upscale niche in the marijuana retail industry. One reviewer recently referred to it as the “Nieman Marcus [sic] Of Marijuana.”

Under the District’s medical marijuana law, people convicted of a felony or drug-related misdemeanor are not allowed to participate in the program. It is unclear whether Williams’s January citation for possession of drug paraphernalia will complicate matters for him. (“I don’t believe that would be an issue,” Cooke said.)

Applications to operate cultivation centers are due Sept. 16. The application period for dispensaries will follow.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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