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CROSSROADS: Ode to Entrepreneurs

Nov 07, 2017 08:33PM ● Published by Ricardo Baca

In Merriam-Webster speak, la-la land is “a euphoric dreamlike mental state detached from the harsher re- alities of life.” And it’s hard to argue with that as a mind-set, right?

But when the film La La Land came out and reframed the phrase as more of a tribute to the dreamers, to those folks stepping out of their comfort zones on a daily basis to make big things happen, I found myself thinking about how the countless entrepreneurs cautiously making their way in the evolving world of legal cannabis are forced to live and work in a kind of la-la land themselves.

The courage and commitment required to navigate this new cannabis frontier takes la-la land to a whole new level, though. These risk-takers are doing all the things an everyday entrepreneur would do, but they’re doing it in a uniquely semi-legal environment, often with their very livelihoods (and sometimes personal freedom) on the line.

In any realm, entrepreneurs push the planet forward. They stimulate economic growth as they encourage change and create jobs. They innovate and revolutionize the way we do things. They further research and development, and they build foundations and legacies. And they do all of this while passionately pursuing their dreams.

Cannabis entrepreneurs aren’t just dreamers, though. Cannabis entrepreneurs are doers. 

To succeed, dreamers have to do the work—and it’s hard work. They conceive and plan, hustle and scrape, strive and overcome, crash and burn, fall and fall and fall, and keep getting up. There are sleepless nights, jaw-clenching days, and a fair number of tears. They do it with families and health issues and funding problems and never enough time, and then one day they wake up to a comment from the US Attorney General that is the equivalent of a Hippies-Go-the-Fuck-Home sign.

 The risks these dreamers take are very real. Operating as a cash-only enterprise is nerve-racking in a safety sense, and the compliance rules often seem designed specifically to sabotage. Meanwhile, Internal Revenue Code Section 280E basically says that any business “trafficking in controlled substances”— which on a federal level, marijuana still is, remember—cannot take
any deductions. 

Try running your non-cannabis business with that kind of restriction. Not a day goes by that someone some- where in the trade doesn’t wonder, “Is the government going to go after us and shut us down?” It’s a real concern, especially with an anti-industry Trump administration scrutinizing their every move with a magnifying glass.

And then there’s the stigma that persists in portraying people in the biz as potheads with no ambition, stinky stoners lying around in their parents’ basements with no jobs or future prospects, rather than the existing reality that members of the cannabis community comprise some of the most successful and ambitious people in this country.

But despite these incessant hurdles, there are hundreds of thousands of dreamers in the cannabis industry right now. Dreamers who get up at 5 a.m. to check CO2 levels, and dreamers who fall into bed at midnight still covered in dirt and stinking of fish emulsion. Dreamers who investigate cleaner options for extraction and less environmentally harsh nutrients. Dreamers who lobby for more leeway, and dreamers who spend endless hours poring over case law. Dreamers who fill rooms with easels and paint and joints and joy, and dreamers who connect us all for cocktails and elaborately conceived meals.

These are the people I’ve met through my work in the industry, of course, but they’re also some of my closest friends—people whom I’ve known for a decade-plus who were previously lawyers and journalists. One of these friends is the general counsel for an industry-leading cannabis brand in Colorado, a mild-mannered gent who surprised himself when he ended up scoring a public-facing job for a large cannabis brand.

Another is a former colleague who left journalism and Colorado behind as she moved to Oregon to grow CBD-rich hemp in that state’s regulated market, where she has hit every snag imaginable, including being kicked out of a credit union, snubbed by neighbors, and turned away by gardening centers that blatantly refused to sell things like drip irrigation tape and nutrient-dosing equipment to “pot farmers.”

And then there’s me, a longtime reporter and editor who created what became an industry-leading cannabis news site—only to leave it behind in favor of creating my own marijuana-centric content agency. I’m a storyteller by trade, and now my thought-leadership work with brands and executives provides me with the opportunity to tell more of these compelling stories—ensuring that these cannabis entrepreneurs are properly connecting with their peers and their customers. But we also know that the payoff will propel us toward a future where cannabis is accepted as a normal part of our lives, and we celebrate the small and large victories—like the fact that 29 states and the District of Columbia currently have legal marijuana in some form, 

Are we foolish? Not at all. Are we crazy? Probably.


   

But we also know that the payoff will propel us toward a future where cannabis is accepted as a normal part of our lives, and we celebrate the small and large victories—like the fact that 29 states and the District of Columbia currently have legal marijuana in some form, with seven states and D.C. offering expansive legalization and some states decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. So, here’s to the ones that dream, all right. We’re here because they did. 

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