7/31/2014

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Entrepreneurs looking to cash in on Washington's new pot law

Entrepreneurs looking to cash in on Washington's new pot law

VANCOUVER, Wash. – The historic haze lingers as people celebrate a landmark marijuana law in Washington.

State leaders are now struggling to hammer out regulations, and entrepreneurs are looking for ways to cash in.

It will be at least another year for the state to establish rules on the budding marijuana industry, including licensing businesses to grow or sell marijuana for recreational use.

"At this point we're taking a wait and see approach," said Chad Eiken with city of Vancouver Business Development.

City business development managers are in limbo until they figure out what's legal and what's not.

"There's no ability to grow or sell marijuana legally under the initiative," Eiken said. "The state Department of Liquor Control has a year to come up with rules and regulations around who can sell, who can grow and who can distribute."

Already there's concern that criminals will try to corner the new market.

"I certainly would urge individuals not to go out and to purchase marijuana from illegal sellers, because it is illegal for that individual to sell that marijuana; it's an illegal activity," said John Fairgrieve, Clark County chief deputy prosecuting attorney. "Unfortunately, buyers of controlled substances or drugs get robbed on a pretty regular basis."

But it may be capitalism, not cops, that best safeguards would-be pot smokers. Wall Street-style capitalists and entrepreneurs also have their eyes on this new cash crop.

Like cannabis coffee houses in Amsterdam, Jamen Shively has a vision for high-end pot houses catered to marijuana smokers with discerning pallets.

"The main reason for me is about transforming our society's relationship with this incredible herb called marijuana, transforming it from one of criminality, where we are arresting 800,000 people a year and destroying people's lives, to making it something that is tolerated and actually controlled. The time is now to take advantage of this momentum," Shively said.

In fact, a major Wall Street trader just signed on to support Shively's vision of opening a Starbucks-like chain of stores. And two Yale MBAs have started a company called Privateer Holdings, which is the first equity firm in the nation to focus exclusively on making money by investing in marijuana businesses – all of which is actually a major concern for the grassroots folks who've been pushing pot.

"We don't want large corporations in here taking over these businesses," said Madeline Martinez, a National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws board member. "We want to run them, and we want to run them better than we see other corporations running or other businesses in running in this country. And there is that danger."

Martinez worries mega-pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness giants, investment firms and tobacco manufacturers will drive local business owners out of the emerging market.

Business owners like Tim Berg, a longtime glass blower who used his skills to start a shop after medical marijuana laws passed, said he's noticed the number of manufacturers of pot-related products is getting higher as more states legalize pot for medical and recreational use.

"Before the medical marijuana happened, you would never see that product on the shelf, because it has been tailored to the medical marijuana community," Berg said, owner of "Vaporized" Pipe Shop. "Now there are dozens of companies out there."

At least one person in the local legal community agrees the new law is written to let conglomerates take over the market and treat mom-and-pop operations like moonshiners.  He plans to file the first legal challenge to Washington's marijuana law Friday morning.

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