By Chris Walsh
Get a group of medical marijuana professionals together, and it’s just a matter of time before someone flicks a lighter and sends the unmistakable scent of cannabis wafting through the air.
Consuming marijuana openly – and often somewhat publicly – has always been a big part of any gathering in the cannabis community, be it a festival, private party, happy hour, networking event or business conference.
And it’s certainly still the case today: You’re just as likely to see a well-known medical marijuana businessman light up with a group of peers outside an industry conference or pop some marijuana-infused candies before giving a speech as you are to see a stoner smoking at a festival. This holds true in states with MMJ laws as well as those without. In fact, some cannabis professionals travel all over the country for business and vacation with marijuana, pipes, edibles, tinctures and other infused products in tow – violating various laws in the process.
These practices are becoming a bigger issue now that the industry is standing at the doorstep of national legitimacy and serious businesspeople, investors and other “outsiders” who aren’t immersed in the cannabis culture get involved.
There are a handful of reasons why professionals take on sizable risks that include jail time, fines and the potential for professional repercussions. For one, many of them are patients themselves. Additionally, smoking cannabis is an indelible part of the social side of the industry. Consuming marijuana often replaces hoisting beers or sipping cocktails, and many business deals have been struck over a joint. And then of course many dispensary owners, growers and infused-product manufacturers want to show off their product to others.
But it’s one thing to openly smoke marijuana on the streets outside an industry conference in Denver or Seattle, where general marijuana use is now legal and the populace is more accepting of cannabis. It’s another thing entirely to do so in states like New York – where the possession or public use of marijuana could mean jail time – or bring it with you while traveling, which could land you in a federal court for transportation of an illegal substance across state lines.
This leads to some important questions for traveling MMJ professionals.
Is violating state laws by smoking publicly or carrying marijuana-infused goodies – be it at a conference or while on vacation – worth the personal, professional and industry-related risks in the current climate? Is it still acceptable for MMJ business owners who strive to become the face of industry legitimacy and preach the need for best practices to bring marijuana to a professional industry event in a state where doing so is illegal?
Does it send the wrong message to the local media, the public, and potential business partners or customers?
Or is this simply an important aspect of the cannabis business culture that will always remain?
If you’re struggling to answer this question, talk to Tripp Keber.
The head of Dixie Elixirs and Edibles – which makes a host of infused products – has built his reputation as a serious, responsible businessman in an industry filled with unprofessional, inexperienced players. Keber even has stated numerous times that he doesn’t typically use cannabis himself, giving him even more credibility to the outside world.
So it came as a big surprise when Keber was arrested recently for having a topical and a tin of infused mints on him while at a music festival in Alabama, where he was vacationing. Of course, medical marijuana is not legal in Alabama or anywhere else in the South. In fact, it’s probably one of the most MMJ-unfriendly regions of the country.
Keber admits it was an irresponsible decision for someone in his shoes even though he was on vacation and it wasn’t business-related, saying he let his guard down – just like many cannabis professionals do on a routine basis.
“It was cavalier and arrogant to possess marijuana in a state where it’s illegal, whether in Alabama or anywhere else,” Keber said. “It was an error in judgment. You become so used to being surrounded by cannabis, for better or for worse, that you potentially take liberties that no one else would.”
Keber was somewhat lucky: He served 18 hours in a county jail and is now on probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession, though he must refrain from using marijuana as well as alcohol for two years, phone an Alabama court officer daily and submit to random drug and alcohol test. There’s a good chance his probation will be cut short – and the charge wiped from his record – for good behavior if he stays out of trouble. Keber also said that there haven’t been any business repercussions, and the misdemeanor won’t affect his MMJ business license in Colorado.
But it does reflect negatively on the industry, and it could have been much worse.
“Let me be a friendly reminder that you’re putting yourself at great risk because you as a business person are under greater scrutiny, and you have more to lose,” Keber said. “Remember that in New York, for instance, there are a couple hundred thousand people in state prisons for the possession of marijuana.”
Given current social consumption practices around the industry, there’s a good chance more high-profile medical marijuana executives and business owners will get busted. That, in turn, could make it harder for cannabis supporters to push through marijuana-related lobbying efforts in states without cannabis laws. It also adds to the industry’s credibility problem and could lead to business repercussions if scarce funding or hard-won bank accounts disappear because of an infraction. Cannabis is a sensitive issue, and every negative headline gives the other side more ammo.
Business owners should therefore exercise more caution when traveling with cannabis, and especially when attending professional business-related events in another state. It’s unrealistic to think everyone will refrain entirely from consuming marijuana in these circumstances. But at the very least, it’s better to do so in private quarters and refrain from traveling with it to minimize risks – to the individual, the industry as a whole and the progress the movement has made.
Remember: The medical marijuana card you hold in one state is not a get-out-of-jail-free card in another.