Voters in Arizona last month passed Proposition 203, an initiative that makes Arizona the 15th state to approve medical marijuana. State officials now have a little more than three months to come up with rules and regulations to implement the program, but budding medical marijuana entrepreneurs are not just twiddling their thumbs in the meantime.
While businesspeople are eager to start serving the community and making money, they also worry about their investments. They look to states like California and Colorado, which also allow for dispensaries, but which have also seen significant blowback from communities that have felt overwhelmed -- Los Angeles, for example, where the city council responded to the nearly a thousand dispensaries that popped up in the area by cutting their numbers back dramatically.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is reporting that its phones are ringing off the hook with calls from people wanting to know how to go about setting up businesses that cater to the medical marijuana community. And MPP executive director Rob Kampia told the Chronicle the group is responding with a December 13 evening forum on the medical marijuana business in Phoenix.
"We've been getting lots of phone calls and emails from people in Arizona, as well as places like Colorado, who want to know all about this new law we just passed," Kampia explained. "These are entrepreneurs who smell opportunity and want a crash course on what the law would do and what the prospects are that the health department or city councils might mess with it. When a bunch of people are contacting you asking for guidance, you can either blow them off or you can field each call individually and have your organization come to a screaming halt. We chose a third alternative."
That would be the December 13 forum. In true entrepreneurial spirit, MPP will charge the would-be cannabis businesses $300 per individual or $500 for two people. A web site for the forum will be up shortly, but in the meantime, people who are interesting in attending should send an email to PhoenixForum@mpp.org.
"This will be a money-maker for MPP," said Kampia. "We'll use the money for lobbying efforts in Arizona and elsewhere."
But of course, it's not just a money-maker. "It's about educating the community," Kampia said. "One byproduct of education is that people will be less likely to creatively interpret the law."
That has been a problem in non-dispensary states, such as Montana and Michigan, where the cutting edge of medical marijuana entrepreneurship is bumping up against hostile state and local governments and recalcitrant law enforcement officials. Similarly, in California, where dispensaries are not licensed by the state, dispensaries face restrictions and even bans from local governments. Even in Colorado, which, like Arizona, features state licensing of dispensaries, conflicts have arisen.
"We will be giving words of warning at the forum, particularly about Michigan and Montana," said Kampia. "In Michigan, there are people who think the law allows for the unlimited operation of dispensaries, and as a result, the legislature will try to roll back the law. In Montana, you have that traveling circus giving group physician recommendations to patients, and that's causing similar backlash in the state legislature. There are already bills pre-filed to rollback or repeal the Montana law."
Some of the messages the forum will put out may seem obvious, but they aren't so obvious that somebody somewhere hasn’t gotten into trouble for not heeding them. "Don't put on a traveling road show, don't open a dispensary without a permit, don't do inappropriate advertising," Kampia ticked off in rapid-fire order.
Kampia will be at the forum in Phoenix to discuss the relationship between federal law and Prop 203. He will be joined by MPP's Karen O'Keefe, who co-authored the newly-passed initiative; Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente, who will explain how dispensaries work in Colorado, and a representative of the Phoenix consulting firm that worked with MPP to pass the law, who will discuss how Arizona law will change and how state and local authorities might respond.
Medical marijuana as a business opportunity may seem crass to a sizeable segment of the community, but that is the American way. If people don't think sick people should have to pay for their medicine, that's a defensible position, but in the meanwhile it is probably unfair to expect medical marijuana providers to be the only ones not getting paid.