If you’ve ever used medical marijuana to treat, say, a bad back or sick-as-a-dog nausea, you may have wondered how the collectives and dispensaries that sell medically sanctioned weed are actually run. What goes on inside? you may ask yourself, especially since the use of marijuana for any reason can be prosecuted under federal law, even when a state has legalized pot for medical reasons (as 18 U.S. states have). Seems like a complicated way to make a living, right?
But according to Robert Calkin, president and CEO of the Cannabis Career Institute, there’s growing interest in how to run a successful medical marijuana dispensary, collective, or an edible marijuana (think brownies, cookies, and cake) business. “Aside from having a personal interest in health or the growing of [marijuana], people are realizing that this can be a legitimate lifetime career,” says Calkin, who runs seminars around the country for $249 a pop to teach interested parties the finer points of properly running a medical marijuana business—without running afoul of the law. “Before it was a hobby or a side project you couldn’t tell anybody about,” he says. “There are now paid positions, and that wasn’t the case before.”
In fact, the job can be well-paid. If you become a dispensary manager, you can make $100,000 or more a year, says Calkin. And what duties come with the role? “You’re in charge of buying product and deciding which kind is to be sold by the dispensary, knowing the market value, knowing what strain is in demand by your patients,” explains Calkin, who hastens to add that the big bucks also come with big responsibilities: The dispensary manager is the one who’s likely to be arrested “if there are any arrests,” says Calkin. “They have to answer the hard questions about how the place is operated and take responsibility.” Much of Calkin’s seminar focuses on how to simply be a “good neighbor” as a business and overcoming the stigma associated with purveyors of weed, medical or not.
In addition to Nevada, where Calkin just opened a “budtender school” in Henderson, medical marijuana is legal in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington State, according to ProCon.org. In fall 2012, Washington State and Colorado were the first states to legalize a small amount of pot for personal recreational use.
States vary on how much pot, or marijuana plants, you can have on hand for your own medical use, from one ounce up to 24 ounces in a few states. In 15 of the 18 states patients and/or their caregivers can cultivate plants to grow their own at home. Approved conditions for which weed is allowed as a treatment vary somewhat, but nearly all medical marijuana states include HIV/AIDS, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy and other seizures, glaucoma, severe nausea, and multiple sclerosis. That said, a number define “approved conditions” much more broadly, as including a variety of chronic conditions that “interfere with basic functions of life” and “other chronic or persistent medical symptoms.”
If you do decide to go into the medical marijuana biz yourself, you will need to sign up a physician, who usually sits on the dispensary or cooperative’s board of directors, says Calkin. “They’re usually not on-site, but are there to make sure patients are being treated according to a protocol. It provides assurance to the community, too, that it’s not a drug-dealing shack.”
Typically, a patient will go to a doctor who prescribes medical marijuana and have a physical and/or a medical history taken, explains Calkin. “Then they will ask you whether you think medical marijuana would be a benefit to your current health regimen and then they can agree and say you can try it.” He adds the “average” dispensary isn’t so comprehensive in its assessment of patients, so “it’ll be more legit if you go to a regular doctor,” who is likely to do a more thorough evaluation.
In fact, says Calkin, starting out as a patient who’s seen the benefits of medical marijuana firsthand is the best way to start out in business for yourself. “This is the foundation of your medical marijuana business: It’s being a patient [yourself],” he says. “It’s better if you’re a patient [first]. That’s what we tell people: Start out by getting your doctor’s recommendation, someone who would stand up for you in court” if you need them to. This also helps you understand your customer, he adds: “Everyone you’re going to do business with is a patient.”
Calkin is excited about the idea of more young people getting into his business for themselves because he thinks they’ll be great ambassadors for sharing many more ways that cannabis can be used to promote health, he says. Older people in particular, he says, only know about smoking marijuana. “They don’t know about vaporization, tinctures (an alcohol-based solution taken under the tongue), balms, and oils that don’t get them high but still relieve medical symptoms,” Calkin says. “There’s even juicing, which has no psychoactive properties. That’s the exciting part; there are these tremendous health benefits and all this new stuff going on that people don’t know about, that they don’t need to get high.”
Have you ever tried pot to ease a health problem? Have you ever considered starting a dispensary, cooperative, or collective?
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Lorie A. Parch is a Los Angeles-based writer specializing in health and lifestyle topics. Takepart.com