Kristina Etter   |   October 12, 2022

The Accidental Advocate: An Interview with Kyle Kazan

From law enforcement to cannabis CEO Kyle Kazan from Glasshouse Group talks about the a-ha moment that eventually led to his transition.
Kristina Etter spent 20 years in corporate IT with a niche in mobile technology and IoT in agriculture. Today, she combines her love of technology with a passion for cannabis as the Editorial Director for Cannabis Tech.

In 1994, as Kyle Kazan’s wife pinned his LAPD badge on his chest for the first time, he recalled, “I thought I was going to help save people from bad people and bad outcomes.”  

Kazan didn’t realize how often he would be tasked with saving people from themselves. He mocked, “Hey… what do you have in your pocket? This could hurt you; you’re going to jail.”

He continued, “I am in favor of personal responsibility and the government staying out of your freedoms, protecting your rights, and ensuring you don’t impede on anybody else’s.”

Since that day in 1994, Kyle’s career progressed in a way no one saw coming. During the interview with Cannabis Tech, we asked Kyle to explain how he transitioned from L.A. cop to the CEO of Glasshouse Group, the largest legal cannabis operation in the world.

The Casualties of the War on Drugs

As a lifelong over-achiever as an athlete, schoolteacher, and cop, Kazan admits he always tried to give each role his all. He would do whatever was necessary to be successful. As a Los Angeles police officer, that unit of measure came in the form of arrests.

While the “low-hanging fruit” was illicit drugs, Kazan admits, “I was also dealing with gangbangers, guns, pedophiles.”

One night, one of Kazan’s informants contacted him in the middle of the night in crisis.

“I’m ready,” the informant told him.

Kazan replied, “What are you ready for?”

“Rehab. I’m ready for rehab. Can you take me to rehab?”

And Kazan realized he was not adequately equipped to help the man. “I told him, ‘All I have are handcuffs,’ and at that point, I realized I’m doing more than harm than good, and this is a bad investment for society.”

“He had a very reasonable request,” Kazan stated. “And I, as a representative of the government, was not looking out for his best interests in any way, shape, or form.”

The Judgments Come from Both Sides

When Kazan started advocating for cannabis and drug decriminalization in the United States, he became the quintessential “Benedict Arnold” to many of his colleagues and a contradiction in the media.

“I was very searchable. I was on CNN and Fox, all the local channels here in Southern California,” he stated.

Even within his own family, Kazan received backlash. But he tried to explain it from a personal perspective by bringing it home.

“We had a close relative who was addicted to alcohol and opioids, so I said, ‘Would he have benefited from jail?’ and the answer is always, ‘Absolutely not,’” Kazan explained.

He conveyed incredible empathy as he spoke, “If someone has a problem and they’re having difficulty, we need to get them help because any one of us could become addicted to almost anything.”

On the flip side, Kyle has also faced backlash for being a former cop infiltrating the cannabis space.

“If someone has a problem with law enforcement, they have a problem with law enforcement. I am a human being who wore a badge and a gun for five years. I made drug arrests, and I’ve been very public about it,” he admits. “But I also did a lot of good and took some very dangerous people off the streets. I’m proud of my service in law enforcement.”

Ending Careers Before They Start

Ironically, Kazan admits, he almost didn’t get his job in law enforcement for simply admitting that he smoked cannabis a handful of times in high school. “They put me through a lie detector test of about 80 questions or more,” he explained. “There were five we needed to talk about, and they were all cannabis-related.”

Convinced he smoked more cannabis than he admitted to, Kazan began to wonder if he would be disqualified over a simple high school indiscretion as they continued their interrogation.

“Now, 1994 was a different time; I would imagine almost every police department didn’t want to hire someone that had used cannabis,” Kazan added.

But unfortunately, the hypocrisy continues today, as the Biden administration eliminated several incoming White House staffers for prior cannabis use despite running on a platform supported by cannabis reform.

Kazan lamented, “I couldn’t imagine it – You’re getting your dream job at the White House, you went to a very good school, you’ve done all the right things, you were told that this wouldn’t disqualify you, and then suddenly, it did.”

“In my opinion, they were treated quite unfairly, especially given all the rhetoric,” he scorned.

Legislation Must Change

Asking Kyle to provide his best prediction for the cannabis industry, he believes everyone will have some type of relationship with cannabis in the future. “It might be medicinal, it might be recreational, or it may be a commercial interest,” he noted.

But federal legislation must change first. Using Iowa as an example, Kazan explained, “Could you imagine if all the corn grown in Iowa had to be consumed in Iowa? Can you imagine what that would do to the corn growers?”

Without federal changes, that is essentially what’s happening in California, and according to Kazan, “it’s turned into a terrible knife fight, and everybody’s angry.”

He continued, “That’s the hardest part, watching our government continue to fail us and ignore the voters.”

In conclusion, Kyle spoke to the hypocrisy of cannabis laws in the United States by advocating for Jose Bolero, Jr. calling the mismatch of laws “insane” and the reason why so many people don’t trust law enforcement or the system.

“I’m the CEO of a company with six million square feet of greenhouse. Technically I should be in prison,” he elaborated. “Not someone like Jose Bolero, Jr., who was sentenced this year in Florida for less than 8 pounds, and he’s in a maximum-security federal prison for the next seven years.”

 

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