Newsletter: California Inc.: Weed industry growing proactive in expanding its customer base

With legal access to cannabis spreading, the marijuana industry is trying to demystify and rebrand the drug in a bid to broaden its reach beyond established stoners.

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.

I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, and here’s a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

Amid so much uncertainty, it’s reassuring to know there’s still a place for Barbie and Hot Wheels. Toy maker Mattel’s stock surged last week after the El Segundo company reported that Barbie alone had generated more than $1 billion in revenue (rock on, girlfriend) and Hot Wheels sales were up 9%, fueled by the brand’s 50th anniversary.



Job openings: We’ll find out Tuesday how many job openings existed last month. A record 39% of small business owners reported openings they couldn’t fill in December, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Consumer prices: The Consumer Price Index will be updated by the Labor Department on Wednesday. In December, consumer prices fell for the first time in nine months amid a plunge in the cost of gasoline. Meanwhile, rental housing and healthcare costs were higher.

Retail sales: Stats on retail sales in December and January will be released Thursday and Friday, catching up after the partial government shutdown. Total sales, excluding automobiles, rose 5.1% between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 from a year earlier, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse. Consumers spent more than $850 billion during the holiday season.

At the movies: Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes “Isn’t It Romantic,” a romantic comedy in which Rebel Wilson awakens after a mugging to discover that her life has become a romantic comedy. Also opening this week is “Alita: Battle Angel,” a sci-fi extravaganza from too-cool filmmakers James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez.



Monday’s Business section goes heavy into weed. With legal access to cannabis spreading, the marijuana industry is trying to demystify and rebrand the drug in a bid to broaden its reach beyond established stoners. Dosing has become a hot topic, part of the pitch to inexperienced cannabis consumers. Meanwhile, the industry is working to develop consumer-friendly cannabis drinks that can compete with alcohol. There’s one problem, though. Pot is nothing like booze.


Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:


Bombshell allegations: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos published an extraordinary blog post, accusing the National Enquirer and its parent company of “extortion and blackmail.” He alleged the Enquirer threatened to publish embarrassing pictures and texts of an extramarital affair he had with former Los Angeles TV anchor Lauren Sanchez unless he abandoned his investigation into how the publication gained possession of the items.

Lines of fire: Southern California Edison plans to cut down tens of thousands of trees, increase power-line inspections and consider electricity shutoffs to reduce the risk of fires sparked by the utility’s infrastructure. Edison’s proposal, required by state law, follows the bankruptcy of Pacific Gas & Electric, which faces billions in wildfire losses. Edison’s electrical equipment may have ignited the Woolsey fire, which killed four people and burned nearly 100,000 acres last year.

Stupor bowl: The lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history turned off fans, with the matchup between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams drawing the game’s smallest TV audience since 2008. The Patriots won their sixth title, but TV’s most-watched annual event drew just 98.2 million viewers, down 5% from last year.

Out of the game: Legendary bond trader Bill Gross has hung up his cleats. Gross had a remarkable five-decade run at Pimco before stepping down in 2014 amid an ugly dispute with partners. Last week, he announced his departure from Janus Henderson after a mediocre four-year stint, raising questions about whether he was pushed out.


Snapping to it: Snap Inc. has been facing crumbling investor confidence for months amid a decline in the number of users on its Snapchat platform following an unpopular redesign and amid a long delay in updating its clunky Android app. But in the fourth quarter, it showed signs of a turnaround with a stable user base of 186 million daily Snapchatters.


And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:

Down on the farm: From the Wall Street Journal, a look at soaring bankruptcies in the farm belt, due in part to slumping commodity prices and increased competition from abroad. “I’ve been through several dips in 40 years,” one farmer says. “This one here is gonna kick my butt.”


Broken machine: Bloomberg Businessweek serves up seven fixes for American capitalism, taken from various ideological perspectives. “We identify potential remedies, name their advocates and explain the schools of thought from which they emerge. We don’t pick favorites — that’s for you to do.”

Tech wrecks: The New York Times examines how state-of-the-art, sensor-equipped windshields can make car repairs a lot more challenging. “A camera that hasn’t been recalibrated after a windshield repair, for example, could mean the difference between keeping you between the lines or steering you off a cliff.”

Open wide: Wired spotlights a potential breakthrough in diabetes treatment — a pill that can deliver insulin injections. “The work is part of a collaboration with Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk, the world’s biggest supplier of insulin. They expect to be testing the capsule in humans within the next two to three years.”

Rare vintage: National Geographic provides a timely reminder that Switzerland this summer will host a wine festival so unusual, it’s only held every 20 years. “So remarkable is the Fête des Vignerons’ cultural scope and spectacle that in 2016 the event was awarded status as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.



A remarkable video highlighted by the Atlantic — a short documentary about Inge Ginsberg, a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor, who uses heavy metal music to make her voice heard. Not to put too fine a point on it, this grandma knows how to rock.

For the latest money news, go to Mad props to Laurence Darmiento for helping put this thing together.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.