Yacht Wars: Pot Company Kicked off San Diego Dock during Comic-Con

Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb

Who booted Budtrader.com off a ritzy yacht dock during Comic-Con last weekend—and why? Nobody will say, so now lawyers are involved.

Without a doubt, the place to be during Comic-Con in San Diego last week was the Fifth Avenue Landing marina.

The dockyard of choice for any super-yachts in town at any time, Fifth Avenue is within sight and sound of Comic-Con’s main events at the San Diego Convention Center. It’s the best place to spot celebrities—Justin Timberlake had disembarked here at Comic-Cons past, and this was where Conan O’Brien would anchor his star-studded coverage for TBS—as well as the after-hours party place of choice. IMDB had its invitation-only party here, and the party yachts for content magnates like Amazon.com would be docked here all weekend long.

It made perfect sense, then, for Brad McLaughlin, CEO of medical-marijuana marketplace Budtrader.com—a “Craigslist for weed” active in every state where cannabis is legal in some form (31 and counting)—to pick Fifth Avenue as the place to make a big splash for his company’s brand.

To do that—to “crash an A-list Hollywood yacht party,” and maybe impress some investors in the process—he would do it right. McLaughlin rented a super-yacht of his own, the 125-foot “Liquidity.” That wasn’t easy or cheap. 

Just being there required a stroke of luck—another yacht had canceled at the last minute, according to McLaughlin, leaving a slim window of opportunity—and merely having a yacht on hand for show, no cruises or sailing allowed, ran him $42,000, including a $3,000 cash payment to the harbormaster.

At first, it was well worth it. Budtrader set up a smoking tent on the dock—positioned to blow “exhaust” towards the ocean, laid in a substantial supply of pre-rolled joints and edibles to give away (a legal act in California these days, as long as the recipient is 21 or over), deployed its signature “Budtrader babes,” loaded a t-shirt cannon, prepared a few air horns, and at 20 minutes past 4 p.m. on Thursday, the party began.

Celebrities came through—cast members from “Game of Thrones” were spotted boarding the Liquidity, and, some Budtrader employees posed for photos with the cast of truTV’s Impractical Jokers—and a few guests from the nearby IMDB, Amazon and TBS yacht parties snuck away to board the Budtrader boat, McLaughlin told High Times. (Maybe it was the pre-rolls.)

Things got icy almost immediately.

On Friday, security guards from the nearby yachts warned McLaughlin and the Budtrader team that any “disrupting” of their A-list events would result in the Liquidity’s removal from the dock. Like a house party going on next door to a convent, Budtrader agreed to turn down the music and cut off the flow of alcohol. 

Aside from another polite ask from neighboring boats to please try to blow the marijuana smoke towards the Pacific, all was peace through Friday night, according to McLaughlin. Budtrader even earned some positive press from the San Diego Union Tribune.

“We had no dab bar, no craziness, no smoke-out room,” McLaughin told High Times. “Someone from the Office was on our yacht. We had comedians. Everyone was taking pictures.”

Then something happened. Something bad.

McLaughlin still isn’t sure what it was or who made the call, but when he and the rest of the Budtrader team returned to the dock on Saturday morning, the Liquidity had been taken over. 

All of Budtrader’s gear was removed from the boat and unceremoniously dumped on the pier. The company was given strict marching orders: The rest of their stay on the Liquidity was canceled. They had to leave the dock, security guards in “combat gear” told them. Events for Saturday and Sunday—the biggest day on Budtrader’s boat calendar—would have to be canceled, vendors refunded and partygoers turned away.

The party—and the party-crashing—was over. And now, the drama.

“We were thrown off the dock, and no one will tell us why,” said McLaughlin, who sent a formal request to Fifth Avenue Landing’s management and San Diego Marine Services, the entity from which he rented the Liquidity, demanding both an explanation and a full refund. 

So far, he’s received no answer—and no satisfaction.

“We’re still missing tools, we’re missing equipment,” he said. “This is not cool. This is messed up.”

“We want to know exactly whose decision it was to get us kicked out, take all of our shit and throw it onto the dock.”

Reached via telephone on Monday, Neil Wilson, the marina manager at Fifth Avenue Landing, declined to comment to High Times. A telephone message left at a listing for San Diego Marine Services, the entity from which McLaughlin rented the boat, was not returned.

According to a copy of the rental agreement shared with High Times, there were no stipulations against marijuana use. Which is good, considering the yacht was rented to a marijuana company. 

McLaughlin has a few theories as to what happened. And there’s at least some evidence.

When Budtrader.com employees were haggling with security guards on the dock Saturday, seeking the return of property that was on board the yacht, people aboard the TBS yacht could be seen “gloating” and “high-fiving one another,” McLaughlin said—an outburst borne out of pure jealousy. 

Part of it was that were too many visitors to the other yachts were boarding the Liquidity to snake a pre-roll, McLaughlin said. Another part was party envy.

“Their boats were dead. Our boat had people on it, having a fun. It was a good vibe,” he said. “TBS and Amazon were spending $1 million to be there for a week. We’re not spending anywhere near that.”

“BudTrader’s 1 million plus registered users (which is probably larger then TBS’s entire audience LOL) would be disappointed to find out that TBS had something to do with the removal of BudTrader from 5th Avenue Landing and the Liquidty.” McLaughlin wrote in a demand letter sent to the harbor and yacht-rental companies.

But according to screenshots of a text message conversation with a security supervisor for Amazon, whose yacht was docked next door to the Liquidity, the Budtrader yacht was thrown off the dock by the marina harbormaster for “violation of their policies.”

“Amazon and our team never had any issues with your event,” wrote Samuel Hamilton, a Seattle-based manager of security at Amazon Studios.

As for those policies? There’s at least some evidence suggesting the harbor’s owners might have taken unkindly to a cannabis company.

According to public records on file with the California state attorney general, Fifth Avenue Landing LLC is owned by Arthur Engel of Coronado, California, just across the bay from San Diego.

Engel, a prominent player in waterfront real estate in San Diego and CEO of a San Diego-area cruise ship company, is also a regular contributor to conservative political causes, according to campaign finance records, including a $1,000 donation to the Republican Party of San Diego, and an $800 check to Donald Trump’s campaign, written last October.

The Trump administration has been no friend to drug-policy reform, despite supportive statements towards medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

Does Engel hate weed? Maybe—he’s also contributed money to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a San Francisco Democrat who is nonetheless a sworn enemy of marijuana legalization and almost anything else resembling modest drug-policy reform.

Was it Trump? Was it TBS? Was it simply a case of the snobs taking a poor view of the upstarts sidling up to their yacht?

Whatever it is, McLaughlin said, he plans to find answers and satisfaction—through the courts, or through the media.

At one point, McLaughlin said, an executive from TBS informed Budtrader that they simply didn’t fit in. The Fifth Avenue Landing and Comic-Con were simply no place for a cannabis company, the TBS representative said, according to McLaughlin.

“If you don’t know how marijuana fits into Comic-Con, then you don’t know Comic-Con,” he said. “To say that means you’re totally out of touch with the Comic-Con community.”

Even if you still have a boat.

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