Conversations in Carolina

Traveling to a non-legal state was a reminder of how important education still is

About a week before we started putting the finishing touches on this issue of Marijuana Venture, I took advantage of a rare opportunity to leave the friendly confines of the West Coast and venture into the parts of the country that are still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to cannabis.

I was invited to speak on a panel about cannabis magazines at a conference in South Carolina, hosted by MPA (the Association of Magazine Media). The event featured a few hundred people from all walks of the publishing industry, with speakers talking about a wide range of subjects, including social media, brand loyalty, consumer privacy laws, technology platforms, search engine optimization, video production, membership models and distribution. By contrast, my job was easy: I just talked about cannabis.

The event was fantastic and a really good opportunity to speak to and learn from industry professionals (most “industry” events I attend revolve around cannabis, not media). However, anytime I travel — or speak to people outside the marijuana business — I’m always struck by how little people know about cannabis. It’s easy to forget that for millions of people across the country, it’s not an important or well-researched subject.

In talking with people I met either at the conference, while walking around Charleston or traveling through four airports, I found myself repeatedly answering some very basic questions.

“How many states is it legal now?” Ten, unless you include Vermont, which has yet to legalize retail sales; 32 for medical use.

“Medical marijuana is just a load of hooey, right?” Well, no, cannabis is very legitimately a medicine for many people throughout the world. People use it to treat epilepsy, chronic pain, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder, among many other common ailments.

“I heard hemp is legal now. Isn’t that the same thing is marijuana?” Well, yes, hemp is legal now, but it’s very different than marijuana.

“When did Washington go legal?” Almost seven years ago. (Amazingly, 100% of people know that cannabis is legal in Colorado; that number seemingly drops to 0% for Washington, which passed a legalization measure on the same day.)

“I’ve heard marijuana makes people go crazy.” Deep breath. No, that’s a gross oversimplification of research that links psychosis or schizophrenia to cannabis use. Think about this logically: If marijuana made people crazy, we’d have literally tens of millions of raving lunatics roaming the streets, looking to eat people’s faces. Denver would look like Zombieland.

“Did you bring samples?” Hell no. I know a lot of people travel with cannabis, but I’m not one of them (especially to a state where possession is still a crime).

“Have you heard of this thing called see-bee-dee?” No, I never have. Please, tell me more.

“My uncle has a dispensary license in Oklahoma.” Of course he does; at this point, who doesn’t have a cannabis business license in Oklahoma?

“Is he going to be, like, really rich in a year or so?” Maybe, but probably not. Like any other gold rush, there are going to be people who strike it rich, but it’s not nearly as easy as simply getting a license. Just look at the states that have had operational cannabis businesses for several years; anybody there will tell you it’s a ton of hard work and requires careful planning, the right business plan and a fair amount of luck. In a state like Oklahoma, with more than 5,000 licenses granted and a population of less than 4 million people, many businesses will fail and only a small percentage of the survivors will ultimately hit the jackpot.

The conversations I had weren’t annoying; it was actually nice to be able to (hopefully) correct some misconceptions and provide a better understanding of the plant, the industry and the people involved on so many different levels.

It was a nice reminder that this industry and the legalization movement have so much room to grow simply through persistent education and righting the wrongs of past propaganda.

Like most of Marijuana Venture’s readers, I live and breathe cannabis. As part of the industry for more than five years now, it’s important for me to understand the nuances of the business and stay up to date on legislation. As the editor of a national business magazine, it’s part of the job description — even if most of the information I glean from news articles, documentary films and the numerous interviews and conversations I have never appear in print. Being in this business and living in Washington, one of the first states to legalize adult-use cannabis, it’s easy to forget that I live inside an echo chamber. I’m surrounded by people who are pro-legalization; I live in a world where cannabis retail shops are a normal part of the landscape; I can’t remember the last time I had to argue the case that prohibition causes more problems than it solves. I’ve seen legalization, warts and all, work for most consumers and for the betterment of society in generating tax revenue for the state, reducing law enforcement expenses and creating business opportunities.

In South Carolina, I talked to people who use cannabis, but oppose legalization because they believe everybody would show up to work stoned. I talked to people who didn’t care about the racial disparities of drug-related arrests because they believe minorities who get arrested for simple cannabis possession “were probably doing something else to attract attention from police.” I talked to people who didn’t want cannabis taxed and regulated because they believe the government would ultimately abuse the system through bureaucracy and misuse additional tax revenue (a fair point, actually).

I also talked to people in one of the most traditionally conservative states in the country who fully support legalization. They want it legalized because they don’t believe the government should be able to dictate what people can do in the privacy of their own homes. They want it legalized because it might help their mother feel better during chemotherapy. They want it legalized because it’s less destructive than alcohol, because they’ve seen the damage done by opioids, because they’ve heard the positive impact in Colorado, Washington, Colorado and Oregon. They want it legalized because, yeah, they like to get high.

Most people who are passionate about cannabis believe that education is a huge component of driving legalization forward and eliminating many of the stigmas associated with the long-demonized plant.

This was a common theme that unified many of the interviews we did for this year’s 40 under 40. On the West Coast, where we’ve had some form of marijuana legalization in place for more than two decades, people are a bit more comfortable with the subject. We’ve had more time to dispel the prevailing myths and to educate the general public. The rest of the country has some catching up to do, but momentum is on our side.

And to those companies and individuals who have made education and activism a core component of their business: Keep up the good work.

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