At sum­mit, pot in­dus­try se­ri­ous busi­ness

Re­lated goods, ser­vices passed around

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

DENVER | Those ex­pect­ing to find hip­pies in tie-dyed T-shirts at the in­au­gu­ral Na­tional Cannabis In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion’s Cannabis Busi­ness Sum­mit last week were in for a rude awak­en­ing.

More than 1,000 at­ten­dees wear­ing but­ton-down col­lars and ties gath­ered at the Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter for a two­day con­fab to dis­cuss reg­u­la­tions, bank­ing, prod­uct lines, in­sur­ance, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, hu­man re­sources and other is­sues re­lated to the bur­geon­ing mar­i­juana in­dus­try.

Make no mis­take: Mar­i­juana is big busi­ness. Re­tail­ers in med­i­cal and le­gal­ized recre­ational mar­i­juana are ex­pected to gen­er­ate more than $2.2 bil­lion this year, and en­trepreneur­s na­tion­wide are look­ing for a piece of the ac­tion.

That in­cludes Ca­role Richter, a hu­man re­sources con­sul­tant in Denver, who never at­tended a mar­i­juana-re­lated con­ven­tion un­til last week.

Her first im­pres­sion? “I’m see­ing a lot of suits,” she said with a laugh.

Just like any other busi­ness, mar­i­juana grow­ers and re­tail­ers need help han­dling headaches re­lated to hir­ing and fir­ing, and that is where Ms. Richter comes in.

“If you have em­ploy­ees, you might need my help,” said Ms. Richter. “Ev­ery small­busi­ness owner, they don’t know what they don’t know. Now em­ploy­ees are bang­ing on the doors try­ing to get into the busi­ness, but as more and more states le­gal­ize, it’s go­ing to be more and more com­pet­i­tive. They not only need to at­tract the best people; now they have to think about re­tain­ing the best people by es­tab­lish­ing a good cor­po­rate cul­ture.”

Jeff Her­bert, owner of Wind Or­chard En­ergy in Denver, was pro­mot­ing his so­lar and wind en­ergy sys­tems for mar­i­juana grow­ers.

“I’ve been fol­low­ing what the in­dus­try’s do­ing, and I read that their en­ergy de­mands are out of the roof,” said Mr. Her­bert. “I feel like there’s a real need. It’s a green en­ergy for a green prod­uct and a green in­dus­try.”

It was also his first time at a mar­i­jua­nath­emed con­ven­tion. He found out about it days be­fore­hand and was able to fi­na­gle a booth, even though the event was of­fi­cially full.

“We called, and all the booths were taken, and I said, ‘Oh, come on,’ and they said, ‘Let me make a phone call and I’ll call you back,’” said Mr. Her­bert. “So some­body can­celed and here we are.”

This isn’t the first gath­er­ing of mar­i­juana-re­lated businesses, but it may be the largest, said Patrick McMana­mon of Can­na­sure In­sur­ance Ser­vices LLC in Cleve­land.

He has at­tended 10 busi­ness-re­lated pot gath­er­ings in the past few years. This time, more than 100 busi­ness own­ers gath­ered for his sem­i­nar on in­sur­ance is­sues.

“You’re see­ing people here who aren’t nec­es­sar­ily from the states with le­gal­ized med­i­cal cannabis,” said Mr. McMana­mon. “You see people where they’re in­ter­ested in it be­cause the plant has been a part of their life at some point, it may still be a part of their life, and they want to fig­ure out if they can be a part of the in­dus­try.”

Mar­i­juana businesses face the same is­sues as other in­dus­tries, but with a few caveats. Like the jew­elry in­dus­try, for ex­am­ple, mov­ing the prod­uct can be fraught with risk.

“The trans­porta­tion of prod­uct — it’s kind of like jewel­ers de­liv­er­ing rings and un­cut di­a­monds,” said Mr. McMana­mon. “These guys are de­liv­er­ing prod­uct from the cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­ity to the dis­pen­sary, so they can have a lot of prod­uct in the car. There’s no easy way to do that.”

Mark Gold­fo­gel, CEO of C4EverSys­tems, brought with him an in­ven­tion that he billed as a so­lu­tion to the in­dus­try’s bank­ing woes: a kiosk that ac­cepts pay­ments for mar­i­juana sales, takes a photo of the buyer, records proof of age, and keeps the cash and re­ceipts in a se­cure cash box for pickup by an ar­mored car. The kiosk even makes change. “The banks can go back to reg­u­la­tors and say, ‘Hey, reg­u­la­tors, ev­ery dol­lar that I’m tak­ing and putting in I can guar­an­tee came from a le­git­i­mate trans­ac­tion,’” Mr. Gold­fo­gel said.

Mr. Gold­fo­gel said he al­ready has or­ders for 600 units.

The busi­ness-to-busi­ness events for mar­i­juana used to be “re­ally small,” he said, mak­ing the Denver con­fer­ence unique.

“This has been fas­ci­nat­ing,” he said. “This par­tic­u­lar in­dus­try grew out of drug deal­ers. They were for­mer pot sell­ers who came in with their back­packs and said, ‘I don’t want to get ar­rested any­more.’ And I’ve watched how those people have gen­tri­fied out, and busi­ness people have bought out their stores.”

Hence the NCIA’s con­fer­ence motto: “Where Com­merce Meets a Revo­lu­tion.”

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