When Midwesterner Stephanie Smith moved to find her place in the Californian Dream, she never realized it would metastasize into a real-life nightmare: her home in El Medio Bluffs, a safe place for her children, being raided by the FBI.
That day last December was terrifying.
“Raiding a woman and toddlers with SWAT in full gear and guns is absurd,” she exploded on social media.
The tall, sports-loving girl from an impeccably liberal family had abruptly found herself at the heart of a federal investigation into cannabis farms in the Inland Empire. It propelled her into the international media under the unwelcome sobriquet of “Pot Queen Pin.”
It was only the start of a cascade of absurdities and media shaming.
But now, in an exclusive interview with the Palisadian-Post, Smith has decided to put the record straight, and explain how she became entangled with a city mayor and his cultural agenda in San Bernardino.
A county where a senior official has recently been arrested for taking bribes from some cannabis growers to entangle their rivals in red tape—a challenge when a once-underground libertarian culture is suddenly at the mercy of heavy-handed public regulators.
From when she was a child, Smith knew she wanted to inspire change around her.
She also wanted to escape the struggling lifestyle that her “liberal hippie family” in Minnesota had endured.
After moving to Boston for a degree in liberal arts, Smith was ready to get out of the cold and landed in Arizona to pursue a professional golf career.
Quickly seeing they were happy enough with their handicaps, she left for California to attend business school at UCLA and fell in with Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Craig Bittner.
Smith, who at the time held her legal name Stephanie Darcy, found herself facing her first media storm when three women filed lawsuits claiming they had been disfigured. They said she had performed liposuction without a license. She paid a fine.
But then it emerged they had used human fat to fuel their Ford SUV.
It sounded ghoulish, but it was serious-minded research covered in Forbes magazine. The triglycerides can, like beef tallow and chicken waste, be used alongside soy as biofuel.
Smith said the material came from volunteers. “Turning human fat into biofuel is a science experiment. It’s a very small science experiment,” she said.
“What still surprises me is that people don’t see the humor in it.”
At the same time, Smith began to sell off her property ahead of the financial crisis. As she waited for things to stabilize, she and the doctor traveled around the world for two years, living in Brazil for a short time.
She kept busy buying distressed properties across California over the net.
“I didn’t want to do homes because I didn’t have a great sense of how the housing market was going to work out … so I did industrial and commercial properties,” Smith said.
“They’d have a couple of photos and an address and I would just buy them without having seen them. That’s actually how I bought this [Palisadian] house—over the internet. I don’t think I saw it in real life for a few years.”
Smith recently won an appeal hearing before the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission to demolish the aging house and build a 12,000-square-foot mansion overlooking the ocean.
“I’ve always been active in social justice causes, and cannabis for me was a social justice cause … I was really happy when [Prop 215, a California law allowing the use of medical cannabis] passed in 1996 but that was a pretty incomplete regulatory framework. There was no way to be fully compliant.”
Then she came across a green entrepreneur looking for a place to grow medical cannabis.
This was at a time when most landlords were hesitant to let the crop grow on their property. Federal politicians who normally shout states’ rights are still resisting it, but Smith welcomed it with open arms.
The business owner vacated the property after two years, according to Smith, but left behind a prime location for cannabis growing.
Forty-five minutes after advertising the facility, Smith had a bidding war—and a realization that there was a whole flock of people looking to get into California’s cannabis industry.
“[The mayor of San Bernardino was really against] any kind of regulation or taxation scheme. He really wanted to continue the prohibition, and so he was not happy,” Smith said.
Even after Measure O was passed in 2016, allowing marijuana dispensaries to win business permits, the city council blocked it. The business remains in legal limbo.
“Since 1996 until now, you’ve had these regulatory gaps. It’s not the fault of the people in the industry—it is completely the fault of governments not getting their acts together,” Smith said.
“And that was the case in San Bernardino. The citizens want this law enacted, it was a very clear law. It was ratified by the city, and the city failed to enact it.
“I began pushing legally on them to do so with lawsuits and letters and protests and I began giving money strongly to candidates in the area … who were not going to stymie the process who were going to enact the laws that the citizens have asked for.
“The mayor [was] not super happy about that.”
Smith said that her attorney Ben Eilenberg was at city hall on Dec. 12, 2017, inviting officials to tour their facilities, an offer they declined due to what they said was a lack of budget.
The very next day, three of her buildings and her Palisades home were raided by law enforcement officials. Thousands of cannabis plants were seized from the facilities, but Smith said the raid on her properties and home were just a show of force.
“I think of this raid as sort of the last hurrah of that type of anti-cannabis politician. A week later, all of the tenants happened to get all of the permits.
“And that is a two-year process. So, they knew they were going to get it. They wanted to make a statement. They knew exactly who I was.”
She recalled finding herself in the headlines, painted as a drug lord and morally shamed for having five children via surrogates.
But in person, Smith only lives up to one word used in the headlines at the time: “mom.”
Her home is littered with toys, her schedule revolves around when she has to pick up her kids from school. She even named the property-holding business where thousands of plants were confiscated by police after her daughter’s nickname: Bubba Likes Tortillas.
In the Palisades, she has been a member of the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club and the Everychild Foundation, an organization aimed at raising money for children in need.
Yet she is still fighting what she sees as the good fight.
Since the debacle last winter, Smith has gone on the offensive seeking the fair distribution of cannabis permits and filing lawsuits against the cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Hemet and Moreno Valley. She is supporting political candidates who do the same.
One day Smith could be respected as a revolutionary who joined the long walk out of a socially unjust and wasteful era of prohibition.
The Minnesota child who wanted to inspire the world would be happy with that.