Charting the Rise of Medical Cannabis

An interview with author John Geluardi.

Decorated Bay Area news man John Geluardi released his first book, Cannabiz: The Explosive Rise of the Medical Marijuana Industry in October. A former staff writer for the SF Weekly and current East Bay Express contributor, Geluardi saw so much momentum building behind medical pot, he researched and reported a two-hundred-page nonfiction paperback, which was released by Pollipoint Press of Sausalito, and is available nationwide and online. An essential primer to the rise of and challenges facing the sector, Cannabiz offers a front-row seat to one of America’s historic new movements. Geluardi talks with Legalization Nation about investing in pot, economies of scale, and new fissures in the field in this Q&A, edited for length and clarity. Find the whole interview on our web site.

Legalization Nation: Americans for Safe Access estimates there are over 300,000 qualified patients in California. I suspect you don’t see that number leveling off.

John Geluardi: I think there’s tremendous momentum behind the industry. Not only does it have momentum, but it’s become very muscular. The medical marijuana industry, any time it goes into a new town, it’s not met with open arms. There’s always a fistfight with the law enforcement, city council, county supervisors, and the industry has become very adept at winning those fights. I think the industry is definitely going to continue to grow, the question is: How fast?

LN: It sounds like the dispensaries’ next conquest is the chamber of commerce.

John Geluardi: That’s one of those things I write about in the book. There’s a tremendous effort to try and get dispensary owners involved in their communities. They’re trying to get them to be much more open, to get to know their neighbors, and not act furtively the way that some dispensary owners feel like they have to act. Every time they attend city council meetings on a regular basis they’re becoming a more intrinsic part of the communities they operate in. It just reaffirms this notion that city councils and the county board of supervisors can’t just say no to medical marijuana.

In the book I look at two cities, one is Oakland and the other is Los Angeles. Oakland is the city that did it right. Los Angeles is the city that didn’t do it right. And one of the things that Oakland did right was by being fairly muscular in their regulations. For its international reputation, Oakland only has four approved dispensaries and it’s hugely popular in Oakland.

LN: So you got any investor tips? Are you putting your money where your book is?

John Geluardi: I have not put my money where my book is yet. I’m not quite sure how to do that. It’s still a little nebulous. I think if you’re going to invest in marijuana and you want to invest in publicly traded companies like Medical Marijuana, Inc., you’d have to look at sidelines, the sort of things that support the industry, not the marijuana itself: testing equipment, publications — newsprint is dying around the country, [but] marijuana publications are thriving largely because there’s so much money in this. It’s the only way that a lot of dispensaries can advertise. As well as marijuana attorneys; hydroponics companies, that’s a good investment right there. Look at the success of iGrow, now they’re WeGrow, and within a year they’ve already started to expand.

LN: Is this why Esquire Magazine named marijuana lobbyist a top ten ‘New Job for Men’?

John Geluardi: I think so, because of the way medical marijuana laws are written each community has to address their own issues, so dispensaries are hiring PR people and lobbyists like crazy, and it is an interesting job.

Legalization Nation: Do you think the DEA will raid permitted large-scale grows in Oakland?

John Geluardi: It remains to be seen. You never know how the DEA is going to react. If you look at history, the DEA has a tendency to avoid busting dispensaries where there’s a lot of symbiotic relationships with the communities they operate in. They don’t usually bust dispensaries in cities that sanction them.

Legalization Nation: It does seem like the trick is to pay taxes — pay for protection if you will — and once cities get hooked on that tax revenue, they’ll never turn it down.

John Geluardi: I think elected officials at the city and county level, they say, ‘No, no, no’ and they really mean ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ They see it, they want it. There’s money, there’s jobs, there’s an infrastructure of highly motivated people who could walk precincts and make phone calls and contribute money, and they want all that, but they haven’t quite yet grown the balls to embrace it. Unless you’ve got, like, a Rebecca Kaplan. Here’s a young politician that vigorously represents this younger, new side of Oakland and she didn’t hesitate to embrace it and she almost won mayor.

Seeds & Stems

It appears as if Arizona will become the fifteenth state to legalize medical marijuana, after a narrow victory for Proposition 203 on November 3rd. The ballot initiative staunchly opposed by leading Republicans passed by 4,341 votes — a minuscule margin of 50.15 percent, the Arizona Republic reports. … Sebastopol city leaders are crafting historic medical cannabis cultivation regulations, following in the footsteps of Oakland and Berkeley. … And Oakland police endured another round of excoriation after shooting and killing an unarmed man fleeing arrest Monday, November 8. Police killed Derrick Jones, 37, after he reportedly reached into his waistband, where he was carrying a tiny, silver digital scale and a small amount of pot. The shooting is under review.

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