July 3, 2013

Chris Walsh: Cannabis Leaders Threaten Industry Progress By Carrying, Using Marijuana When Traveling

walshmug6
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.


9 Comments:

  1. Try posting “Don’t toke up here” at your conferences. Conferees were smoking at the NYC conference in June.

  2. Try this; get up a national network of lawyers funded by the industry to FIGHT the stupid pigs, rather than lay down again as we are so prone to do. And take a look at the philly smoke-in and the huge law enforcement presence designed to intimidate and abuse. See, what our federal government and associated local and state agencies is doing is ILEGAL under both US and international law, and is also hugely immoral and mainline Christian churches in the US have said as much. Where is the PRIDE folks? And you know what? Who is the a-hole going around determining what “professional” standards are? Back in the day, we were supporting everyone who got the job done, not excluding the poor folks or the ones with the bright colors and the long hair. Gawd, you should have heard this wacko nazi mother rant about how she didn’t want her child ending up a pot-smoking hippie. Would you rather the child ended up a braindead mass murdering psychopathic military-corporate professional. Stop ruminating so much and get the job of getting 1,000,000 real Americans out of jail while growing up a viable future!! Lyle Courtsal
    PS If you haven’t done at least three days in jail, you aren’t a real American in my book.

  3. Remember what George HW Bush says;”don’t get caught”, and yeah, that global defrauding nazi got away clean because he had the money and you didn’t. It doesn’t matter if the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal found that Bush and Blair were guilty of repeat war crimes/crimes against humanity, they were legitimate politicians in the minds of millions of mind-controlled fascist sheep. Get the picture yet?

  4. Maybe a second read is in order for you Rick.
    I think, you may have missed the point this article is making.
    You can not convince the business world of your business’ legitimacy if you take stupid risks and blatantly break the laws. (no matter how archaic) It definitely gives the whole MMJ effort a black eye, and we have been fighting too hard and long to condone these risks.

  5. @golman
    Didn’t miss the point at all. I was at the conference in NYC and think MMJB Daily should have advised attendees of the risks they were taking by smoking at the conference, either on the street on in the lavatories.

  6. Rick – Thanks for your comments. This column is, in part, a reflection of what we saw at our New York events and other industry gatherings. We will adjust our policies/signage accordingly.

  7. What about medical necessity? Discretion ALWAYS by patients, but the event hosts might have accommodated a suite for same. Then, networking opportunities “GROW” exponentially!

  8. Only thing I can think of is to vote with our $ and not travel to said places or to have a network with sources for vpen,edibles. Imagine asking a bunch of brewers at the Great American Beer Festival to not drink when they got together, not going to happen.
    Also, work to get the laws changed everywhere.The people who got up in support for a lower tax rate on Cannabis in Boulder at the City Council were articulate and clear. I know the people I met from NY at the Cannabis Cup were positive about the progress being made there as far as medicinal/recreational. Support them in their efforts but have the meetings in Colorado or WAshington.

  9. Thanks Chris for the article. If MMJ is going to be a professional business, then people involved should act professionally, simple as that. Let’s not give opponents of the industry any additional fire power. It’s important to understand the environment we’re working in. We may get to the point where it’s not an issue, but we are not there yet!

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