Legal Cannabis 2016: a Movement Becomes an Industry

Legal Cannabis 2016: a Movement Becomes an Industry

May day is jay day - ninth annual Central Park smoke in, 1976 - Bugs Bramley
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by Brian Bahouth
@MJ_public_media
An audio interview with Executive Chancellor of Oaksterdam University, Dale Sky Jones … 

The 5th annual Marijuana Business Conference & Expo made the vast halls of the glitzy Rio Las Vegas Hotel and Casino seem small.  The lack of mannerly space between people waiting in the registration line provided an accurate measure of the mania to know more about and participate in the booming legal cannabis industry.

That voters in Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and giant California decided to join Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in the legalization of cannabis for adults has provided the election day lightening bolt to ignite a once smaller and more tentative industry.

Upwards of 7,500 attendees packed and scoured hangar-sized exhibition halls lined with more than 300 cannabis industry vendors, a 30% jump from the year before.

Scores of workshops and seminars reflected the seasoned industry understanding of editors and reporters at the eminent Marijuana Business Daily, organizer of the event.  From nuts-and-bolts tax workshops to a standing-room-only cultivation seminar, the conference was a massive and well informed crash course in the commercialization of cannabis.

At this stage of legalization in the United States, there are large and small cannabis product companies, but on a national corporate scale, the largest marijuana company is tiny.  What legal cannabis means for the broader economy was evident in the exhibition halls where medium to small size companies vied to serve the plant-based industry.

There were steel building contractors, security system experts, automated packaging machines, product storage systems, testing laboratories, bud trimming gizmos, lighting galore, pumps, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and a cannabis general contractor who provides a customer with an entire grow and processing facility, structure, utilities, permits – a turnkey cannabis company, if you have a license and the money.

A macro takeaway from the 2016 conference is that the reduced risk of legality and expanded markets equal greater entrepreneurial interest, and where there is money, there is more money, and judging by the size and ebullient mood of the crowd, it does not require Warren Buffet to know that global corporate interests will eventually embrace cannabis when the risk to benefit ratio meets the necessary calculus.

But there was a wait-and-see attitude toward a President Trump and his nominee for Attorney General, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, a noted pot hater, but few I spoke with believe Trump will exact the messy federal law enforcement war required to reverse legal cannabis and kill countless homegrown jobs in direct opposition to the will of voters, yet Sessions is a Drug War ideologue and southern moralist who is not a good sign for legal cannabis or race relations, even as a nominee.

Marijuana Business and Conference Expo organizers generously donated $100,000 dollars to cannabis advocacy groups, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Marijuana Policy Project each had a table among the many vendors, but their presence somehow seemed lost in the glare and economic rush they created.

When in world history has a social movement become an industry?  The legalization and commercialization of cannabis creates an unprecedented intersection between social activism and commerce.  Will a movement so rooted in principled civic activism become an industry with a similar conscience?

Dale Sky Jones is the Executive Chancellor of Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California and a long-time leader in the effort to legalize cannabis in California and across the nation.  For a couple years leading up to the 2016 elections, as part of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR), she and Dale Gieringer, Director of California NORML, held a series of lively public meetings across California to hear and note what citizens wanted in a legalization initiative.  Divisiveness within the California cannabis community helped sink Proposition 19 in 2010, and advocates wanted to better incorporate the needs of widely diverse stakeholders in a 2016 initiative.

The CCPR initiative never made it to the ballot, and in the name of a unified and successful front, organizers gave their notes and support to the initiative funded by Napster founder and Facebook executive Sean Parker, Proposition 64.  Initiative authors at the Drug Policy Alliance used the CCPR information in writing what some view as the future of cannabis legalization.

For some context on the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, I spoke with Dale Sky Jones … 9:52 …

Music credit:
Song: All the Jive is Gone
Artist: Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy