California Politician Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Cannabis Bribe and Arson Plot
The legal weed industry is one of the most tightly regulated — and monitored by law enforcement — in the US.
Published on October 7, 2022

Jermaine Wright, the former acting mayor pro tem of Adelanto, California, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for allegedly accepting a $10,000 bribe from a would-be cannabis entrepreneur and planning an arson on his own restaurant to fraudulently collect the insurance, the LA Times reported.

According to the attorney for Jermaine Wright, the defense team is pleased with the judge’s decision, which gave Wright the minimum amount of jail time allowed and did not present him with any fees.

Wright was also a city council member until the scandal broke.

Seemingly, the demanding process behind getting a cannabis business license in Adelanto is fertile ground for political corruption. In 2021, the city’s former Mayor Richard Kerr was also arrested by FBI agents for allegedly accepting $60,000 in cannabis-related bribes.

But Adelanto is far from the only town that has seen officials brought down over cannabis corruption. In 2018, a Humboldt County building inspector was arrested under suspicions of taking $100,000 in weed bribes.

This marijuana bribe problem spans coast-to-coast. In 2019, the former mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, Jasiel Correia was arrested for the second time on corruption charges, and for the first time for a weed-related act. Allegedly, Correia's eagerness to accept bribes blew Wright's out of the water: Correia was accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs. Though he avoided prison time for years, Correia reported for his six-year sentence at a New Hampshire federal prison in April.

A former state delegate in Maryland was sentenced to two years in prison for accepting bribes from medical marijuana companies in 2020. That same year, the governor of Missouri’s office was the subject of a probe into its implementation of the state’s medical cannabis system.

The FBI launched a nationwide investigation into corruption in the cannabis industry in 2019.

“As an increasing number of states change their marijuana legislation, the FBI is seeing a public corruption threat emerge in the expanding cannabis industry,” said agency spokesperson Mollie Halpern at the time.

Wright’s trial took six days, after which the court convicted him on charges of bribery and attempted arson. The story told by prosecutors painted him as a man who was unafraid of the consequences of his decidedly not-great-for-public-interest actions, and who was the subject of a complex FBI sting. 

In early 2017, the FBI sent an undercover officer to Wright’s restaurant Fat Boyz Grill pretending to move his cultivation business to Adelanto. The informant’s “strategy” was to buy property for the project outside the area currently zoned for marijuana production. Wright offered to grease the wheels with the planning department, giving the agent a quote of $20,000 to properly zone the property.

Wright then contacted another unidentified FBI informant to help him carry out the plan, offering to split the paycheck with the agent and set up a fake non-profit organization to help them receive the funds.

Some put the blame for rampant cannabis corruption on a state-by-state legalization system that “put million-dollar decisions in the hands of relatively small-time political figures,” as one Politico report summarized.

Follow Caitlin on Instagram, and catch her Spanish-language podcast Crónica on Spotify and Mixcloud.

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Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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