COVER STORY

THE POT BUSINESS

How to get rich in the medical marijuana business (or go broke trying)

Shan Stumpf
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Inside a conference room at a Sheraton Hotel in Miami, Bob Calkin paces in front of a small stage, holding a microphone. The 50-year-old Los Angeles cannabis hustler with ’80s rock-band hair flies around the United States, charging folks $299 a head to learn how to make a fortune dealing po — sorry, “dispensing medicine.” Before 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning, 150 wannabe marijuana barons have filed in for a 10-hour crash course put on by Calkin’s company, Cannabis Career Institute.

He’s just raked in $45,000 for a day’s work.

“If I was going to get a business license for my marijuana delivery service,” he tells the audience suggestively, “I would not put ‘marijuana delivery service’ on the form. That is incriminating myself unnecessarily on a public document. I would jot down ‘delivery of home health care products.’ It’s innocuous but honest.”

His talk hints at the weird world of the medical marijuana biz. Pot is still illegal at the federal level but legal as medicine in 21 states and as a recreational drug in two. Meanwhile, county, city and town governments are all struggling to regulate an industry that has suddenly transformed from outlaw venture to respectable business.

This November, Florida could become the 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana if more than 60 percent of voters approve an amendment to the state constitution. The ballot language removes state criminal penalties for patients who have a “debilitating medical condition,” for their physicians and caregivers, and for any “medical marijuana treatment center” that registers with the state of Florida. Amendment 2 specifies that the health department will have six months to set up regulations — including a definition of how much pot is an “adequate supply” of marijuana per patient — and nine months to start issuing patient identification cards.

A “debilitating medical condition” is defined in the amendment to include HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and “other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

Assuming the amendment passes — and there’s a good chance it will, as polls are clocking support between 64 and 78 percent of the vote — anyone who starts a medical marijuana business could make an astronomical amount of money. In Colorado, sales of medical marijuana were $328 million last year. In California, $1 billion. A study by Florida’s Department of Revenue estimates that sales here would be from $137 million to $5.6 billion a year.

Potential entrepreneurs are salivating. Calkin sold out three seminars and plans eight more from now until Election Day.

At the Miami event March 15, dolled-up women in business suits carrying designer handbags sat next to scraggly Rasta dudes with long dreadlocks. Lawyers, doctors and bank officers shared space with general contractors, handymen and guys like Dennis Vallardis, a sunburned Florida lobsterman from Key Largo.

“I’m here to find out how I can make money and create jobs,” Vallardis says.

Commercial real estate investor Mark Santiago, 42, says he’ll open a medical marijuana business near Midtown Miami and claims to have an advantage — “decades of experience in the cultivation of high-end cannabis.”

He’s already inked a deal with Calkin to be the institute’s point man in South Florida. “I have eight figures in the bank,” Santiago brags. “I’m ready to ramp up and run with the big dogs.”

Then again, the whole anticipated pot boom could, in fact, be a bust. Much depends on how rules and regulations get structured at various levels of government. As history has shown in other states, there might be huge opportunities but also hurdles and pitfalls.

One thing is certain: Making it big in the weed biz is going to take more than converting Junior’s bedroom into a greenhouse.

Read the full story on the Miami New Times' website: How to Get Rich in the Medical Marijuana Business (or Go Broke Trying)

Tags: Medical Marijuana, pot, Amendment 2, legalize, John Morgan, United for Care, Florida, Charlie Crist, pot business, law, Florida law, state law, health department, cannabis, ganja, ballot, Cannabis Career Institute, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, People United, Alex Patton, Rick Wilson, Rick Scott, governor,
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