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From the Editor: Your role in uncovering Ukrainian-owned pot shops and breaking MLS news in Sacramento

The Bee newsroom came alive over the weekend when reporters Theresa Clift, Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow worked to bring you an exclusive story about one of the most prominent cannabis dispensary owners in Sacramento.

Their detailed report showed clear links between Sacramento cannabis shops and a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen who has been indicted on campaign finance charges along with associates of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney.

That businessman co-owns a retail cannabis shop in Sacramento with a man who controls nearly a third of the pot storefronts in the city, and who has donated to local politicians, including Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento.

Our story questioned whether the city has failed to adequately oversee its 30 cannabis storefronts. It came on the heels of months of work by the trio of experienced journalists new and familiar to our readers.

A recent Duke University study found local newspapers account for nearly 60 percent of the local news stories in a city – more than all of the other outlet types combined – despite accounting for only 25 percent of the outlets in our cities. While the model for local news is being challenged, our reporting continues to drive results.

This week’s reporting was revelatory, even hard to believe. Steinberg’s spokeswoman told The Bee, “If this story is true, then our cannabis licensing process, which was designed to protect consumers and reward local law-abiding businesses, is being improperly exploited.”

My response: Yes, it’s true.

We fact-check our stories. Our large network of sources is reliable. They answer our questions because they believe you should know about decisions that are being made by Sacramento’s power brokers.

Reporter Sam Stanton followed up Monday with breaking news that the FBI is investigating whether bribes have been paid to city officials for favorable treatment of cannabis businesses.

The Bee’s editorial board wrote that it hopes we’re dealing with incompetence here and not corruption. Me too.

It is easy to take for granted the protections we enjoy and the diversity that defines our community. And the values that we hold up can often feel abstract.

It’s not often that we’re asked to answer the question of what democracy and community mean to us. How hard are we willing to work to protect our principles? Nowhere are these questions more important than in local journalism.

There’s a lot riding on what happens next. Both in our region – as we’ve reported through our Tipping Point project – and beyond.

The decline of resources for local reporting is a real challenge. Studies now affirm this: The erosion of community journalism leads to greater polarization, lower voter turnout, less government accountability and less trust.

Which is perhaps why some now wonder if an exclusive story from the most reputable news organization in town is true. Of course it is.

Bee reporters have been working some stories for years. Take this week’s news that Major League Soccer is awarding an expansion franchise to Sacramento. Marcos Bretón and Tony Bizjak stayed with this story through all the ups and downs over six years. And on Tuesday they had the exclusive and the context: Sacramento will be the 29th city to welcome a major league team.

They broke this news story, just like they’ve been breaking news in the capital region for nearly 30 years.

We’re grateful for your support, which helps us do our jobs.

Our reporting on foreign involvement in our legal marijuana market has already made impact. The mayor announced he wants a second audit of the cannabis licensing system in Sacramento and a top-to-bottom review of how it regulates this industry.

You can expect more great work soon from our team of reporters, from the Tipping Point series to reporting that holds elected leaders to account when they ignore state law. At our Capitol Bureau this week, we dug into the flurry of new laws signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, as well as wasteful spending in state government.

The Sacramento Bee is here for you, and because of you.

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