MMJ Lawyer to HempCon Crowd: Success Hinges on Keeping Low Profile, Professionalism

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To succeed as a dispensary owner, you need to keep a relatively low profile and apply the same level of professionalism required for any other type of business, a medical marijuana lawyer said at HempCon 2011 in Denver over the weekend.

Attorney Joel Russman told a group of roughly 40 HempCon attendees – including about a dozen people interested in starting up a dispensary – that it’s not a good idea to boast on TV about how you’re essentially breaking federal law.

“Don’t have a high profile, because you don’t want to attract a bunch of extra attention,” Russman said. “Don’t go on the six o’clock news.”

The Denver lawyer added that the way to thrive in the medical marijuana industry is “by running your business really well.”

“Be a good businessman or businesswoman and you’ll make money,” he said.

Russman, who spoke Saturday afternoon as part of a session titled “Know Your Rights,” touched on other areas as well. Here are some highlights:

– He said the number one question he gets as a lawyer is “How do I comply with the law and legally make money selling marijuana?”

– Russman advised those considering launching a dispensary in Colorado to “sit back and relax, because you cannot even submit an application (with the state) until July of next year.”

– One of the biggest headaches for dispensary owners in Colorado has been smoothing over their relationships with growers. Many were forced into “shotgun marriages” because of new state rules that require every MMC to grow at least 70 percent of the marijuana they sell. So dispensaries that were buying their product from growers had to essentially find merger partners quickly. That’s led to numerous problems – and even lawsuits – as the two sides approach things from completely different perspectives, he said. “It really has to be one business,” Russman said. “You can’t view it as this is my dispensary, and this is my grow. The mindset has to change.”

– The banking situation in the industry is “ridiculous.” Dispensaries are forced to either offer up a misleading description of their business (not letting on that they are in the medical marijuana industry) or establish a bank account under the radar by using personal connections. “If you know a banker, sometimes they work with you in kind of a wink-wink, nod-nod situation.”