Never get high on your own supply. That classic piece of advice comes from Tony Montana in Scarface. But Pejman "Vincent" Mehdizadeh, a 36-year-old medical marijuana entrepreneur based out of Los Angeles, thinks the credo applies to dispensary workers just as much as cocaine kingpins.
In fact, the way he sees it, business owners would be better off relying on a giant safe than a human being. That was the idea behind Medbox -- the Redbox of medical weed.
"It's the equivalent of having an onsite auditor that doesn't take a break, require a salary, and doesn't steal," he says.
Mehdizadeh says that he's sold about 200 pot vending machines, for $50,000 apiece, and that his company also offers consulting services. As he tells it, Medbox is the most valuable medical marijuana company in its sector and is still growing.
On the surface, the business does seem to be booming: He's just hired Mitch Lowe, the ex-president of Redbox, and Ned L. Siegel, a Boca businessman and former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas. As such, the board of directors is looking pretty stacked.
Mehdizadeh says he's donated more than $1 million to causes like the Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access, and Law Enforcement Officers Against Prohibition. And that he's looking for both investors and customers in Florida.
But critics say the company is a sham and point to Mehdizadeh's criminal and legal past as evidence that Floridians should keep their money as far away from him as possible.
"He's got a very shady background," says Roddy Boyd, a former reporter for Fortune and now the head of the nonprofit Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, which has published articles questioning Mehdizadeh's claims. "The fact that he sees fit not to disclose this to investors is ridiculous. Even if you were dating the guy and found out about it, you'd think it was appalling."
To begin with, Mehdizadeh is a felon, for having misrepresented himself as a lawyer. Last year, he pleaded no contest to stealing $450,000 from more than a dozen victims, according to a news release from the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. A 2010 bankruptcy filing shows he didn't pay taxes for three years in a row.
What's probably more relevant to investors, though, is that Medbox is rapidly losing value. In 2012, it was trading at $215 a share. Today, each share is worth a little more than $11. Boyd thinks Mehdizadeh is a Jordan Belfort character hoping to cash in on a "green rush."
"They're losing money hand over fist and from every corner," he says. "Medbox is in active collapse. At the end of the day, these guys are penny-stock operators, and their company is going to go the way all penny stocks go." Boyd wants investors to be wary.
Mehdizadeh, in turn, says that Boyd's investigation was a "farce" and that it hasn't slowed him down.
"He's pretty much a pathological liar," the businessman concludes. "I didn't know that was going to be an angle for this story, so I'm going to conclude this interview."
Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.
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