James Slatic: 5 Medical Marijuana Professionals, Cannabis Advocates to Watch in 2012

Wow, what a year! While medical cannabis continues to fatten the wallets of lawyers nationwide, the marijuana industry passed the crucial “tipping point” in 2011, where it is now too big to fail and provides too many jobs to be shut down.

Last year, we saw several major positive developments for medical marijuana:

– On June 2, the Global Commission on Drug Policy called the modern drug war an utter failure. The group issued a report that concluded with such luminaries as Kofi Annan, George Shultz and Richard Branson endorsing the decriminalization of marijuana. Shortly afterwards, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter followed suit.

– Attorney General Kamala Harris recently urged California lawmakers to get serious about clarifying the state’s 15-year-old medical marijuana law, saying that numerous holes in the notoriously liberal statute have left law enforcement and legitimate patients in a constant state of uncertainty.

– In Arizona, a U.S. District Judge ruled that Gov. Jan Brewer’s “stonewall tactics” are unconstitutional. The judge wound up dismissing her lawsuit, saying that she didn’t prove that federal prosecution of state employees seeking to implement the will of voters is a genuine threat.

– The perception that Colorado is an “untouchable” state because of its strict laws on medical marijuana was badly shaken at the end of last year, when inside sources warned that the government was considering a crackdown on the industry.  The news sent chills throughout the state as medical pot professionals braced themselves for the fallout. Several weeks later, when the calendar turned to 2012, the government sent threatening letters to some medical marijuana centers (MMCs) that were previously compliant with local laws, warning that they would be shut down if they didn’t close or move.

So what’s in store for 2012? I believe we’ll hear plenty about several individuals who will prove vital to progress in the medical marijuana industry. While I of course can’t predict the future, I think that these medical marijuana proponents will propel cannabis forward and usher in a new era for MMJ.

Without further ado, here are my five people to watch in medical marijuana in 2012:

#1. Rob Kampia, co-founder of the Marijuana Policy Project – This Washington DC resident – who actually went to jail back in the day for growing cannabis – helped start MPP in 1995 (which is practically pre-historic in this movement). Rob has testified before Congress and co-authored various legislative bills adopted in 15 states. Surviving and thriving after a 2010 sexual harassment scandal that threatened his career, Rob is a brilliant lobbyist for our movement who understands the ways of Washington and state governments.

#2. Jared Polis, Colorado Congressman – Princeton educated  and one of the wealthiest members of Congress due to his enormous success in the business world, Polis has an inspiring willingness to fight the federal government on behalf of his constituents. For this reason, I call him “Mr. Cannabis.” The video of him on YouTube questioning Attorney General Eric Holder is awesome. If everyone in our industry demanded that their representatives fought for them and not the federal government, we would be much further along, and we certainly wouldn’t be sending 789,000 of our fellow citizens to jail for possession of a humble plant.

#3. Steve DeAngelo, owner of Harborside Health Center – Love him or hate him, “Stevie D” can’t be ignored. The Discovery Channel show “Weed Wars” raised the visibility of our industry without a doubt (wish I knew why there were only four episodes). Steve set off a firestorm after declaring that he was against the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, with some even branding him as a traitor to the movement. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, as “recreational” is a loaded term. Having said that, to me it is indeed important to win the political point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with responsible marijuana use by adults, and it is none of the government’s business whether we smoke or why. Regardless, expect Steve to make even more headlines this year. He always does, after all.

#4. Dale Sky Jones, medical marijuana advocate – Talk about a potential game -changer for our industry. Amazingly well spoken, Sky Jones comes from an entertainment family and is comfortable in front of the camera. Richard Lee of Oaksterdam University had the great sense to use her as the school’s public face, and her common-sense presentations of medical cannabis issues resonate well with the soccer moms who need to be comfortable that we are not a bunch of pot-smoking hippies. I expect big things from DSJ, and she’s the perfect representative for the industry.

#5. Tom Sterlacci, owner of Dr. J’s Hash Infusion – The first business in Colorado to receive a state license as a Marijuana Infused Product (or MIP) manufacturer, Tom has built Dr. J’s into a top-notch MMJ company with products in more than 230 dispensaries. A poster boy for doing things the right way, Tom has created jobs while at the same time helping patients, who love the company’s products for their taste and consistency. But it likely hasn’t reached its full potential. Keep an eye on Dr. J’s and some other Colorado MIPs – like Dixie Elixirs and OrganaLabs – which have the potential to go nationwide as barriers fall.

James Slatic is CEO of Potbottles.com, which sells medical marijuana containers, bags, labels and related products.