By Dan Frosch, originally published in the New York Times
It is being called the green rush. With more states moving to legalize medical marijuana, the business of growing and dispensing it is booming, even as much of the rest of the economy struggles
Now, flush with financial clout, and with their eyes on pushing Congress to further loosen laws, medical marijuana industry leaders are forming a national trade association. While there are smaller, local trade groups, organizers around the country say this will be the first business organization working on the national level.
Based in Washington, the group, the National Cannabis Industry Association, will focus primarily on lobbying, but will also help medical marijuana businesses navigate a patchwork of laws that differ depending on location.
“This is an industry that is emerging — from the dispensaries to the ancillary businesses that are now coming out of the shadows,” said Aaron Smith, a medical marijuana advocate in Phoenix and the group’s executive director. “While there is good work being done, there isn’t anyone out there representing the industry’s interests directly.”
The group’s board members, which include some of the more prominent names in the medical marijuana industry, say the need for a national association has become increasingly apparent with the explosion of the legal marijuana business. Such businesses include dispensaries, growing facilities and equipment suppliers.
J. B. Woods, a former insurance agent for Allstate who now sells property and product-liability insurance to medical marijuana businesses in Colorado and other states, is one of the 23 board members. Mr. Woods said the industry had grown so quickly and laws had changed so rapidly that it can be difficult for medical marijuana businesses — and the property owners and banks they deal with — to know if they are operating legally.
“A lot of times these dispensaries can make a huge capital investment only to find out that the local municipality changed its rules, and they have to close down,” he said. “You are in an industry that is very complicated, and ultimately it’s about having a source of credible information.”
The group will officially begin at a national convention in Denver next month.
“This is an industry in its infancy,” said Bob Selan, a board member and chief executive of Kush magazine, a medical marijuana lifestyle publication. “But it is an industry now.”