Budding “Cannabusiness” boom begins

Budding “Cannabusiness” boom begins
legal marijuana

The legalization of marijuana has created opportunities and challenges for local government and business.

“Cannabusiness” is booming in California, and that’s not just due to the recent decriminalization of marijuana.

As many as 758,000 people in California hold medical marijuana cards, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, and each one of those is a potential customer at one of thousands of dispensaries in the state.

The business of legalized marijuana has also generated a spin-off economy. Take attorney Michele Brooke.

Since 2011, Brooke has served as the leading cannabis-related business lawyer in the San Gabriel Valley. Brooke says that legal access to marijuana is increasingly threatened by city councils intent on tamping down new businesses focused on recreational users.

“I didn’t want to be one of 700 lawyers in Pasadena practicing family law.” said Brooke, who believes societal disdain for recreational marijuana will eventually disappear.

High Times

“We’re in a historical time in the cannabis industry,” she added.

Marijuana culture has moved from the underground into high-end business, according to Brooke. Her clients have included college grads trying to start a hand-cream business and retirees looking for a smart investment. There’s no unifying demographic, but they often have to overcome stereotypes to make their businesses a reality.

Cities are often unwilling to allow dispensaries to open, associating them with criminal activity, Brooke said.

Banking is also tough for cannabusiness. According to one study sales of legal marijuana totaled $5.4 billion in 2015, however federal law prohibits banks and credit unions from taking marijuana money. As a result, businesses can’t get loans and customers are forced to pay in cash.

Old Issues Persist for “Cannabusiness”

Although Brooke has been involved with efforts to change city ordinances, she said those efforts have been largely ignored. As a result, a black market continues to flourish at the expense of legitimate businesses. And, because cash is involved, it can be a risky business for dispensary employees and customers alike,

Cities like Palm Springs have curbed black markets by licensing and regulating their dispensaries, an example Brooke says other communities would be smart to follow.

“I wish people felt safe enough to approach their city councils to guarantee safe access to marijuana,” Brooke said. “I think that the city governments have an obligation to provide safe access.”

By Hugo Guzman, correspondent