DC Businesses Try For A Piece Of The Medical Marijuana Action


Graphic: VaporMe.com

​Every new industry is driven by risk-taking pioneers, and it’s no different with medical marijuana in the District of Columbia. Entrepreneurs trying for a piece of the cannabis action in D.C. are crafting business plans, arranging financing, and readying for fierce competition to get licenses to operate five dispensaries and 10 cultivation centers.

Whether motivated by prospective profits or a belief in the medicinal value of marijuana, “everyone is cagey about their plans, because no one is certain who is in the hunt,” reports Paul Schwartzman at the The Washington Post.
“People are hiding in the shadows,” said Alan Amsterdam, co-owner of a hemp store and part of a team hoping to open a marijuana dispensary and cultivation center. “Then they’ll strike like a cobra.”

Photo: Natl NORML
Steph Sherer, ASA: “They have to make a decision about whether they’re willing to take the risk”

Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana patient advocacy organization, has gotten “hundreds of calls” from people interested in opening cannabis businesses in D.C., according to Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA.
But she said those numbers will shrink as people learn that banks are reluctant to lend money to marijuana start-ups, and that pot remains illegal for any purpose under federal law, despite the fact that Obama’s Department of Justice currently isn’t very interested in prosecuting dispensaries.
“What ends up weeding a lot of people out is the realization that they’re committing an act of federal civil disobedience by getting involved,” Sherer said. “They have to make a decision about whether they’re willing to take the risk.”
A medical marijuana business license in D.C. will cost $10,000. Then, of course, there’s the lease, security, staff, lighting, and irrigation systems.
“There are a lot of people who think they’re going to make a lot of money,” Sherer said. “They borrow money from everyone they know. They borrow from their kids’ education funds, and then they find out it’s not that profitable.”
John Wilson, a D.C. real estate broker, said he had fielded calls from at least half a dozen groups looking for space to sell or grow marijuana.
“I’ve fielded a dozen or so calls, serious calls, from people saying ‘We’re ready. We’d like to enter this. We have investors. What do you know?’ ” said Michael Rothman, a Rockville, Maryland defense lawyer who recently added a wing, the Medical Cannabis Law Group, to his practice.
For now, Rothman said he’s happy to provide free information, in part because he supports medical marijuana. But he said he eventually plans to charge for his services.
Among the ambitious entrepreneurs is former D.C. Madam lawyer Montgomery Blair Sibley, who has founded the Medicinal Marijuana Company of America and has bought a warehouse in which it hopes to cultivate pot.
It seems the District is only Stage One of Sibley’s grand plan, which is to turn is marijuana growing operation into a national chain as ubiquitous as McDonald’s. “I want to be the Ray Kroc of medical marijuana,” Sibley told The Post.
But at least one well-known dispensary operator, Steve DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center in Berkeley, California, is no longer interested in doing business in the District. DeAngelo said he was “turned off” by a D.C. Council member’s characterization of him as a “profiteer.”
“I’m the farthest thing from a profiteer,” DeAngelo said. “I have no desire to go where I’m not welcome.”
Although D.C. voters passed a medical marijuana referendum back in 1998, Congress blocked implementation of the law until last year. After Mayor Vincent C. Gray took office, officials reviewed final regulations, and they will solicit proposals and award licenses.
The District’s regulations are more restrictive than most medical marijuana laws, narrowly defining which patients can receive medicinal cannabis and capping at 95 the number of plants cultivators can have at one place (also deftly avoiding federal cultivation mandatory minimums which kick in at 100 plants).