Week in Review: Cannabis Industry Marches Across Nation + Another Entrepreneur With Grand Plans

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The last eight months have been remarkable for the medical marijuana industry, at least when it comes to dispensaries launching in new areas.

Four states – Arizona, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont – have welcomed their first dispensaries since December. And last week, the first three MMJ centers opened in Washington DC, creating yet another new market.

Currently, 12 states plus DC have dispensaries, compared with just eight a year ago.

More are set to join the list in the next year or so, boosting medical cannabis business opportunities across the country.

Connecticut and Massachusetts are laying the groundwork for dispensaries after passing MMJ laws last year. Nevada – which has had medical cannabis laws on the books for more than a decade – finally passed a measure this year that will allow dispensaries to launch (as did Oregon, though the state already has roughly 200 dispensaries that exist amid a lack of enforcement). New Hampshire legalized medical cannabis and a network of dispensaries earlier this summer, while Illinois followed suit last week in a huge win for the industry that paves the way for up to 60 centers and nearly two dozen cultivation operations.

Unfortunately, turmoil in California’s medical marijuana industry means the country will likely see a net decrease in the number of dispensaries this year, perhaps significantly. Hundreds of dispensaries in the state have already closed in 2013, and hundreds more – specifically in Los Angeles – will likely shut down in the months to come.

The opportunities for dispensaries in new states don’t come close to making up for the downsizing in California. Still, the cannabis industry continues to march across the nation, and the launch of dispensaries in new states helps diversify the industry and reduce its reliance on one or two major markets.

Also last week, another entrepreneur has come out of the woodwork promoting grand plans to develop a huge nationwide brand. Brian Laoruangroch wants to turn his company, Prohibition Brands, into the “Marlboro of marijuana” by mass-producing standardized cannabis cigarettes and cigars.

This comes on the heels of plans by a former Microsoft executive to develop a national chain of cannabis dispensaries, becoming the “Starbucks of marijuana,” and similar announcements by others.

Some of the industry’s current leaders are distancing themselves from entrepreneurs making such grand claims, saying they are unrealistic – not to mention naive and out-of-touch with the nuances of operating a cannabis business – at this point given federal cannabis laws. Some of these entrepreneurs also seem more interested in self-promotion than creating serious, viable companies.

In some cases, the people behind these ideas are engaging in or promoting marijuana stereotypes, which can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to credibility. Laoruangroch, for instance, wants to roll the world’s largest joint at Hempfest.

The industry needs bold ideas, and at some point we will likely see major national brands as envisioned by these entrepreneurs. However, it could be a long time, and the people who make it happen will need to approach the idea seriously, professionally and realistically.

Other top stories in Medical Marijuana Business Daily last week:

Court Ruling Gives Some Arizona Dispensaries Reprieve

6 Questions for Privateer Holdings CEO on Investment Climate