For some people, it really doesn’t matter what kind of company you manage. All that matters is that you’re getting paid. This maxim is also one woefully relevant to cannabis right now.
While some view the battle to provide safe and affordable access to cannabis for all as their life’s work, others see a burgeoning industry dripping with lucrative opportunities. This grossly unethical approach as applied to a plant cherished by many as medicine is precisely the credo by which Ignite CEO Dan Bilzerian has chosen to live his life.
A screenwriter looking to craft the backstory for a modern-day villain of privilege need look no further than Bilzerian’s own trust fund-aided ride to the top. Prior to founding his cannabis enterprise, Ignite International Brands, Ltd., Bilzerian was known for his “work” as an Instagram celebrity and poker player.
If these credentials appear insufficient to operate a major company, the news wasn’t shared with Bilzerian.
In a feature for Forbes eviscerating Bilzerian’s financial blunders, Chris Roberts details how the Ignite exec essentially collected money from investors and then spent it lavishly on himself.
“Ignite ‘made’ money in two ways last year,” Roberts explains. “The company issued and sold shares of its company stock, and the company also raised money via debt. As per its annual filing, Ignite recorded $25 million from ‘proceeds of issuance of shares,’ $19.9 million from ‘convertible debt,’ and $23.7 million from a ‘short-term promissory note.’ That is, Dan Bilzerian’s company has (had) a lot of other peoples’ money. With that money, Ignite went on a spending spree, even as its stock tanked.”
But to be fair, Bilzerian was living to excess far before Ignite. His Instagram feed (where he’s somewhat inexplicably attracted 31.9 million followers) is full of expensive yachts, scantily-clad women, and the requisite shots of Bilzerian holding or posing with ostentatious amounts of cash.
However many hearts these posts may earn, it’s doubtful Bilzerian’s fans online are aware that almost all of the money the influencer periodically flashes for the camera comes courtesy of his father, Paul Bilzerian. Fun fact: the older Bilzerian is a felon with an outstanding debt of $62 million owed to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Maybe pops should borrow some of those stacks being waved in his son’s posts?
Sadly for the Bilzerians, harder times have at last arrived.
In a lawsuit filed by a former Ignite executive against the company, vice-president Curtis Heffernan alleges he was fired for trying to “flag a proposal to misclassify a government Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan as ‘miscellaneous income’,” according to Law360. This legal action has brought to light some of the claims against Bilzerian.
They include traveling the world with a “harem of models” that “would make Hugh Hefner jealous,” with Bilzerian expecting Ignite to cover all the costs. Another is that Bilzerian pressured Heffernan to approve “$350,000 in expenditures on Bilzerian’s Los Angeles home, including a paintball field, a rock climbing wall, a game room and a $15,000 ping pong table.”
Law360 reports that Bilzerian claimed business-related pool parties thrown at his home justified the above costs. Speaking of his home, Ignite has been paying for that too! And at $200,000 a month, that’s quite the rent to absorb when your company reported a net loss of $50 million in 2019. Unsurprisingly to all except perhaps Bilzerian, the former CEO has since been fired.
Even so, Bilzarian’s tenure with Ignite is a case study in how easily the legal cannabis industry can go astray.
It doesn’t take TMZ-worthy extravagance to see that many of the wealthy, white, male executives anchoring the biggest operations in the market are in this for the profit and the profit alone. With moral concerns suspended for a moment, who can blame them? The way the industry has been engineered, those with immediate resources are poised to flourish. Ironically, the very people supposedly meant to benefit from cannabis legalization are thus instead left once more on the outside looking in.
Even for those who have successfully navigated the challenges of city and county equity programs mean to give those most negatively impacted by past drug policy (meaning Black and brown communities) the first chance at opening a legal business, oftentimes a wealthy, external partner is required. What’s left is people like Dan Bilzerian, who buy their way into relevance with no regard for the very thing they’re supposedly in business to do.
Enough with the Dan Bilzerians. It’s time to learn some new names, don’t you think?